Housing Industry Reacts to State of the Union

Housing featured prominently in
President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.  The President made two specific proposals,
one to deal with the ghosts of housing past, the other to provide expanded
credit to homeowners.

In contrast to the settlement with banks
that Obama was widely rumored to announce
at the State of the Union, he instead directed Attorney General Eric Holder to
create a new office on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses.  The President said, “The American people
deserve a robust and comprehensive investigation into the global financial meltdown
to ensure nothing like it ever happens again.”

According to the Huffington Post, the new
office will take a three-pronged approach to the issue, holding financial
institutions accountable for abuses, compensating victims, and providing relief
for homeowners, and will operate as part of the existing Financial Fraud
Enforcement Task Force.  On Wednesday several
news outlets were reporting that the unit will be chaired by State Attorney
General Eric Schneiderman, who has been regarded as among the toughest of state
law enforcement officers with Lanny Breuer, an assistant attorney general in
the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) as co-chair.  Others reported to be in the group are Robert
Khuzami, director of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission,
U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Tony West, assistant AG, DOJ. 

The President’s second and more
broad-reaching proposal was for a massive refinancing of mortgage loans that
would reach beyond the current government initiates such as the Home Affordable
Refinance Program (HARP).  While few
details are available, the President said that his proposed initiative would
cut red tape and could save homeowners about $3,000 a year on their mortgage
payments because of the current historically low rates.  Unlike HARP, the program would apply to all
borrowers whether or not their current mortgages are government-backed and
would be paid for by a small fee on the largest financial institutions. Obama
did not mention principal reduction in his proposal.

Bloomberg is reporting that the program is
Obama’s response to a call by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in a paper sent to Congress
earlier this month for the administration to offer more aid for housing.   While largely dealing with the need to
convert excess housing inventory to rental property, the paper also touched on
the benefits of easing refinancing beyond the HARP program.

Bloomberg also outlined some of the
tradeoffs of a super-refinancing program saying it may damage investors in
government-backed securities by more quickly paying off those with high coupons
and limited default risk while aiding holders of other home-loan securities and
banks.  Word that such a proposal might be
forthcoming in the President’s speech, Bloomberg said, “Roiled the market for
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities according to a note to clients by Bank of
America Corp.”

The Associated Press quoted Stan
Humphries, chief economist at Zillow as saying the refinancing could allow 10
million more homeowners to refinance and, by preventing foreclosures and
freeing up money for Americans to spend, could give the economy a $40 to $75
billion jolt.  The Federal Reserve, the
AP said, was more cautious, estimating that 2.5 million additional homeowners
might be able to refinance.

The refinancing initiative would require
approval by Congress, however the day after the speech the focus was on other issues
such as tax reform and we could not find any reaction from members of Congress
specific to the refinancing issue.  Even the
Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) issued a statement from its president David
H. Stevens which did not mention the refinancing program, obliquely addressing
instead the creation of the mortgage fraud office.    

“Like the
President, we believe it is time to move forward with rebuilding this nation’s
housing market and that lenders and borrowers alike contributed to the housing
crisis we are currently in.  Let there also be no mistake, those who
committed illegal acts ought to face the consequences, if they haven’t already.”

Stevens
then called for a clear national housing policy “that establishes certainty for
lenders and borrowers alike.”  This,
according to MBA, requires finalizing the Risk Retention/Qualified Residential
Mortgage (QRM) rule “in a way that ensures access to credit for all qualified
borrowers,” establishing working national servicing standards, developing a
legal safe-harbor for Dodd-Frank QRM/Ability to Repay requirements, and “Move(ing)
quickly to determine the proper role of the federal government in the mortgage market
in order to ensure sufficient mortgage liquidity through all markets, good and
bad.

Creation
of the fraud office generated substantial comment, much of which was
unfavorable.  A lot of the criticism
focused on the lack of prosecutions that have emerged from the existing fraud
task force and there was a strong suspicion voiced by the liberal blogosphere
that the new office was merely a cover for pushing the DOJ/50-state attorneys
general settlement with major banks.  However,
one analysis, written by Shahien Nasiripour in U.S. Politics and Policies pointed out the wider powers of
enforcement available to attorneys general in some states such as New York’s
Martin Act and how the states and federal government might use the new office
to pool their powers and responsibilities to the benefit of each.  

The new
office will not lure California Attorney General Kamala Harris back into the
fold.  Harris and Schneiderman both
withdrew from the national foreclosure settlement last year, feeling that it
did not represent the interest of their respective states.  Despite the appointment of Schneiderman to
head the new office, Harris announced on Wednesday that she would not be
rejoining her fellow AGs
in their negotiations saying that the latest
settlement proposal was inadequate for California.  A spokesman for her office said, “Our
state has been clear about what any multistate settlement must contain:
transparency, relief going to the most distressed homeowners, and meaningful
enforcement that ensures accountability. At this point, this deal does not
suffice for California.”

Here’s the video of the speech beginning at the point discussing housing related issues…

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HUD CHARGES MASSACHUSETTS APARTMENT BUILDING OWNER WITH DISCRIMINATING AGAINST FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it is charging the owner of a 24-unit apartment building in Holyoke, Massachusetts, with housing discrimination for denying units to families that have children. HUD’s charge alleges that Nilma Fichera, who owns and manages New York-based N.A.G. Realty, LLC, violated the Fair Housing Act when she refused to show or rent apartments to families with children because she could not certify that the building was free of lead-based paint.

District Court Upholds MERS Rights to Assign and Foreclose

Mortgage Electronic Registration
Systems, Inc. better known as MERS won a significant victory in court on
Tuesday as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Judicial Circuit validated
its rights to assign a security deed and/or foreclose on secured property.  The decision upheld the decision of the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Smith V. Saxon Mortgage.

The plaintiff in the original case had
contested the foreclosure of her home on the grounds that:

1).   The assignment of the security deed was
invalid because MERS, as nominee of a defunct lender could not assign the documents
of its own volition.

2.
    The “splitting” of the mortgage and
the note rendered the mortgage null and void and therefore notices of
foreclosure were invalid as not coming from a secured creditor.

In the original District Court opinion in March 2011, U.S. Magistrate Judge
Janet F. King pointed to the standard language in the Georgia security deed
signed by all borrowers at closing which grants MERS the power to act on behalf
of the current and future owners of the loan. 
.   “Unless the instrument
creating the power specifically provides to the contrary . . . an assignee
thereof . . . may exercise any power therein contained,” Judge King wrote.
“[T]he Security Deed . . . transfers rights to MERS, and MERS’ assigns may
exercise any power contained therein.”

The 11th District Court which has jurisdiction over federal cases
originating in the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, agreed with Judge
King’s recommendation.  “It is not
disputed that plaintiff executed the Security Deed which granted MERS the power
to sell the Property, if plaintiff was not able to comply with the terms of the
Note,” Senior U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley wrote. “Furthermore, the
Security Deed expressly states that it applies to MERS ‘[and] to the . . .
assigns of MERS.’ Pursuant to the terms of the Security Deed, MERS had
authority to assign the Security Deed.”

MERS issued the following statement in response to the District Court
decision. 

“A significant body of clear and specific federal case law is coming
together with this decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, along with
favorable rulings from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth circuit
appellate courts and U.S. District Courts in a number of states,” said Janis L.
Smith, MERSCORP’s vice president of corporate communications. “The 11th
Circuit’s ruling underscores the soundness of MERS’ business model by
solidifying the legality of MERS’ role in the security deed, explaining how
that role came about, and clarifying MERS’ power to act on behalf of the
lender.”

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FREE Accessibility Training Federal Design and Construction Requirements under the Fair Housing Act Friday, March 23, 2012, Portland, Oregon.

FREE Accessibility Training Federal Design and Construction Requirements under the Fair Housing Act Friday, March 23, 2012, Portland, Oregon.

FDIC Invites Comments on Stress Test Rules

The Federal Deposit Insurance
Corporation (FDIC) has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) for
comment.  The NPR would require the
larger of the banks it regulates to conduct annual capital-adequacy stress
tests.  The tests are one requirement of
the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and will affect FDIC-insured banks and
savings institutions with assets of more than $10 billion.  The FDIC currently has 23 financial
institutions meeting that criterion

The proposed rule focuses on capital
adequacy and defines a stress test as a process to assess the potential impact
on the bank of economic and financial conditions (“scenarios”) on the
consolidated earnings, losses, and capital of the covered bank over a set
planning horizon.  FDIC said that these
stress tests would be one component of the broader stress testing activities
conducted by the banks which should address the impact of a broad range of
potentially negative outcomes across a broad set of risk types with impacts
beyond capital adequacy along.  These,
however, are beyond the scope of the proposed rule.

Under the NPR each covered bank
would be required to conduct the test annually using the bank’s financial data
as of September 30 of that year.  Where
the parent company structure of the covered bank includes one or more financial
companies, each with assets greater than the $10 billion threshold, the stress
test requirement applies to the parent and to each subsidiary meeting the threshold,
however the FDIC will coordinate with other regulatory agencies to minimize
complexity or duplication of effort.

As proposed, FDIC would provide each
covered bank with a minimum of three sets of scenarios representing baseline,
adverse, and severely adverse economic and financial conditions and each bank would
use these scenarios to calculate the impact on its potential losses,
pre-provision revenues, loan loss reserves and pro forma capital positions for each quarter end within the
planning horizon.

The NPR also describes the content
of the reports institutions are required to publish, and the timeline for
conducting the stress tests and producing the required reports.

FDIC Acting Chairman Martin J.
Gruenberg said, “Both the FDIC and the institutions being tested will
benefit from the forward-looking results that the stress tests will provide.
The results will assist in ensuring an institution’s financial stability by
helping determine whether it has sufficient capital levels to withstand a
period of economic stress.”

The FDIC’s proposal will be
published in the Federal Register with a 60-day public comment period.

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