With policymakers gearing up to reform the housing finance system, it is worth revisiting one of the issues that stymied negotiators in the reform effort of 2014: how to ensure adequate access to credit in the new system. The political landscape has changed substantially since 2014. For those who are focused on financing affordable housing and promoting access to mortgage credit, the status quo—the continued conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—may no longer be as appealing as it was during those negotiations. This brief draws upon the lessons learned from that experience to outline a framework for bipartisan consensus in this transformed political environment.
The “middle-way” approach described here is not dependent upon any one structure or future role for the government-sponsored enterprises, though it does assume the continuation of a government guarantee of qualified mortgage-backed securities. It is this guarantee that forms the basis of the obligation to ensure that the benefits flowing from the government backstop are as broadly available as possible, consistent with safety and soundness and taxpayer protection.
In recent months, at least three such proposals have been developed that preserve a federal backstop (see Mortgage Bankers Association, Bright and DeMarco, and Parrott et al. proposals). Should the administration and Congress pursue a strict privatization approach to reform, lacking a guarantee, it’s unlikely that any affordable housing obligations would be imposed in the reformed system.
The aim of this brief is to suggest a path forward to ensure that any reformed housing finance system meets the nation’s access and affordability needs, and gains bipartisan support.