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  • DOJ Announces Settlements with Non-Bank Mortgage Lender to Resolve Alleged False Claims Act Violations

    Lending

    On August 8, the DOJ announced a $74.5 million settlement with a non-bank mortgage lender and certain affiliates to resolve potential claims that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and underwriting mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration (VA), and by selling certain loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that did not meet applicable requirements. According to the terms of the two settlement agreements, $65 million of the settlement will be paid to resolve allegations relating to FHA loans, and $9.45 million will be paid to resolve potential civil claims relating to certain specified VA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac loans. The settlements also fully resolved a False Claims Act qui tam lawsuit that had been pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

    The settlement included no admission of liability by the lender. The lender issued a statement responding to the settlements: “We have agreed to resolve these matters, which cover certain legacy origination and underwriting activities, without admitting liability, in order to avoid the distraction and expense of potential litigation. While we cooperated fully in these investigations since receiving subpoenas in 2013, we concluded that settling these matters is in the best interest of [the company] and its constituents.”

    Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Mortgage Origination HUD Fannie Mae Freddie Mac FHA Settlement DOJ Nonbank Supervision

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  • FHFA Reports Results of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Annual Stress Tests

    Federal Issues

    One August 7, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) published a report providing the results of the fourth annual stress tests conducted by government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). In March 2017, the FHFA issued orders directing the GSEs to report the results of the required Dodd-Frank Act stress test to enable financial regulators to determine whether the companies have sufficient capital to support operations in adverse or severely adverse economic conditions. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the report, Dodd-Frank Act Stress Tests Results – Severely Adverse Scenario—which provides modeled projections on possible ranges of future financial results and does not define the entirety of possible outcomes—the GSEs will need to draw between $34.8 billion and $99.6 billion in incremental Treasury aid under a “severely adverse” economic crisis, depending on how deferred tax assets are treated. The losses would leave $158.4 billion to $223.2 billion available to the companies under their current funding commitment agreements. Notably, the projected bailout need is lower than what the FHFA reported last year, which ranged between $49.2 billion and $125.8 billion.

    Federal Issues Lending Mortgages Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Stress Test Dodd-Frank FHFA

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  • FHFA Releases Q1 2017 Credit Risk Transfer Progress Report; Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Transfer $5.5 Billion in Risk to Investors

    Lending

    On July 26, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released its Credit Risk Transfer Progress Report, presenting a comprehensive overview of the status and volume of credit risk transfer transactions to the private sector by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) through the first quarter of 2017 in the single-family market. As outlined in the progress report, since the beginning of the Enterprises’ Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer Programs in 2013 through March 2017, the Enterprises have transferred more than $54.2 billion in credit risk to private investors, amounting to about 3.4 percent of $1.6 trillion in unpaid principal balance. In Q1 the Enterprises transferred about $5.5 billion worth of credit risk. Transfers occurred through “debt issuances, insurance/reinsurance transactions, senior-subordinate securitizations, and a variety of lender collateralized recourse transactions.” Additionally, the report examines the role of primary mortgage insurance in credit risk transfer transactions and the Enterprises’ debt issuances.

    Lending FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac

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  • Small Lenders Call for Restraint on Housing Finance Reform During Senate Banking Committee Hearing

    Federal Issues

    On July 20, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (Committee) held a hearing entitled, “Housing Finance Reform: Maintaining Access for Small Lenders.” Frequent topics of discussion in the hearing included, among other things, housing finance reform, secondary market access, affordable housing, access to credit in rural areas, mortgage insurance, and mortgage backed securities issued by government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), operating under conservatorship since 2008.

    Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Chairman of the Committee, remarked in his opening statement that “small lenders play a critical role in the mortgage market,” and that a need exists to preserve access to the secondary market. However, Sen. Crapo asserted that although GSEs are currently earning profits, a risk exists for taxpayers if there is a market downturn. “A mortgage market dominated by two huge government-sponsored companies in conservatorship is not a long-term solution, and is not in the best interest of consumers, taxpayers, lenders, investors, or the broader economy,” Sen. Crapo stated.

    Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Committee, released an opening statement in which he stated, “[S]mall lenders are often the only lenders willing to go the extra mile to underwrite mortgages . . . in cities’ urban core and in rural communities. . . . As we continue to debate the role of the GSEs, private capital, and large financial institutions in providing access to affordable mortgages, we cannot create a system that allows the GSEs or new players to use a business model that serves only the largest lenders, the highest income borrowers, or the well-off pockets of our country.”

    The coalition of consumer groups and small lenders present at the hearing supported GSE reform, sought additional support for small lenders, and called for prompt government action relative to housing finance reform.

    The July 20 hearing—a video of which can be accessed here—included testimony from the following witnesses:

    • Ms. Brenda Hughes, Senior Vice President and Director of Mortgage and Retail Lending, First Federal Savings Bank of Twin Falls, on behalf of the American Bankers Association (testimony)
    • Mr. Tim Mislansky, Senior Vice President and Chief Lending Officer, Wright-Patt Credit Union and President and CEO, myCUmortgage, LLC on behalf of the Credit Union National Association (testimony)
    • Mr. Jack E. Hopkins, President and CEO, CorTrust Bank, N.A., on behalf of the Independent Community Bankers of America (testimony)
    • Mr. Charles M. Pruvis, President and CEO, Coastal Federal Credit Union, on behalf of the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (testimony)
    • Mr. Wes Hunt, President, Homestar Financial Corporation, on behalf of the Community Mortgage Lenders of America (testimony)
    • Mr. Bill Giambrone, President and CEO, Platinum Home Mortgage and President, Community Home Lenders Association (testimony)

    Federal Issues Lending Mortgages Fair Lending Fannie Mae Freddie Mac ABA CUNA ICBA NAFCU

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  • International Bank Settles RMBS Claims with FHFA for $5.5 Billion

    Securities

    On July 12, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), announced a $5.5 billion settlement with an international bank. The settlement resolves FHFA’s claims, lodged in a federal lawsuit in the District of Connecticut, that the bank violated federal and state securities laws in relation to residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) trusts purchased by the GSEs between 2005 and 2007. The settlement covers all RMBS “issued, sponsored, sold, or underwritten by . . . [d]efendant between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2008,” which is intended to include all securities for which FHFA brought claims against the bank in the District of Connecticut action. Under the terms of the agreement, the bank will pay $4.525 billion of the settlement amount to Freddie Mac, and approximately $975 million to Fannie Mae.

    Securities Federal Issues Settlement RMBS Freddie Mac Fannie Mae FHFA Litigation

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  • Industry Groups Submit Comments on FHFA’s Proposed Evaluation Guidance for “Duty to Serve” Provisions

    Lending

    As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) published a final rule last December implementing certain “Duty to Serve” provisions of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Among other things, the rule requires that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Enterprises) adopt formal plans to improve the availability of mortgage financing in a “safe and sound manner” for residential properties that serve “very low-, low-, and moderate-income families” in three specified underserved markets: manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural markets. The FHFA also published a Proposed Evaluation Guidance to outline the following: (i) FHFA's expectations regarding the development of such Underserved Markets Plans, and (ii) the process by which FHFA will evaluate annually Fannie’s and Freddie’s achievements under their Plans. The deadline to submit comments was June 7.

    Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Letter. In its June 7 comment letter, the MBA stated that it commends efforts undertaken by the FHFA to develop a framework of requirements for the Enterprises to follow when preparing their Underserved Market Plans, as well as an evaluation system to rate implementation progress. Particularly, the MBA noted that, based on its data, the U.S. “will see 15.9 million additional households formed over the decade ending in 2024 . . . [which] will increase the need for all types of housing, including already limited affordable housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income borrowers.” Furthermore, “manufactured home financing, affordable housing preservation, and additional rural housing opportunities can play a key role in providing both first-time home-buying opportunities and affordable rental options for consumers in these underserved markets.” With respect to the Proposed Evaluation Guidance, the MBA stressed the importance of flexibility so adjustments can be made for “unanticipated obstacles or opportunities caused by significant changes in market conditions that arise.”

    Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) Letter. Also on June 7, CRL issued a comment letter to the Proposed Guidance in which it offered recommendations concerning “public input and transparency, assessing the contents of the plants to ensure meaningful objectives, and the evaluation and scoring process.” Specifically, CRL noted that while the Enterprises have taken measures such as reinstating lower down payment programs and creating pilot programs to address the underserved markets, it believes a “robust duty to serve process will further access credit initiatives by promoting and incentivizing responsible and sustainable lending to lower wealth households.” However, the CRL also raised several issues over the Proposed Evaluation Guidance, specifically in terms of the proposed scoring system. Under current FHFA guidance, Enterprises’ plans are scored on three factors: progress, impact, and effort/implementation. Conversely, under the proposed scoring system, failure only occurs due to a lack of progress because the impact and effort criteria are assessed only after the Enterprise receives a pass/fail determination. In reaction, CRL raised the following concerns: (i) “What guards against Enterprises putting only low impact objectives in the plan?” (ii) “What incentives do Enterprises have to score highly (above minimally passing)?” and (iii) “What guards against only proposing easily achievable objectives?” In addition to scoring methodology changes, CRL recommended that the FHFA implement a more rigorous loan product and loan purchase evaluation process and increase transparency.

    Lending Mortgages FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Stress Test Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Affordable Housing

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  • Fannie, Freddie to Allow Electronically Recorded Mortgage Copies

    FinTech

    On May 10, Fannie Mae announced it would begin accepting copies of electronically recorded mortgages rather than original wet-signed documents. This follows a prior September 2016 announcement from Freddie Mac, which changed its policy on the electronic recording of paper closing documents.

    Fannie Mae. As set forth in Section A2-5.2-01 of its Servicing Guide, Fannie Mae says that electronic records may be delivered and retained as part of an electronic transaction by the seller/servicer to the servicer, document custodian or Fannie Mae, or by a third party, as long as the methods are compatible with all involved parties. Additionally, the electronic records must be in compliance with the requirements and standards set forth in ESIGN and, when applicable, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, as “adopted by the state in which the subject property secures by the mortgage loan associated with the electronic record is located.”

    Freddie Mac. A bulletin released last September updated Sections 1401.14 and 15 of Freddie Mac’s Servicing Guide by removing the requirement that a seller/servicer retain the original paper security instrument signed by the borrower if an electronic copy of the original security instrument is electronically recorded at the recorder’s office, provided the following conditions are met:

    • The seller securely stores along with the other eMortgage documents either (i) “the electronically recorded copy of the original security instrument,” or (ii) “the recorder’s office other form of recording confirmation with the recording information thereon”; and
    • Storage of the original security instrument signed by the borrower is not required by applicable law.

    According to Freddie Mac, “Removing this requirement addresses one of the barriers for eMortgage adoption in the industry, permitting more [m]ortgage file documents to be [e]lectronic and reducing some storage costs for [s]eller/[s]ervicers.”

    Fintech Electronic Signatures Fannie Mae Freddie Mac ESIGN

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  • FHFA Director Testifies Before Senate Banking Committee, Provides Overview of Housing Finance System and Prospects for Reform

    Federal Issues

    On May 11, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing at which FHFA Director Mel Watt fielded questions from lawmakers about the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) and prospects for housing finance reform. In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) noted that Fannie and Freddie have been in conservatorship for close to nine years, and stated that “a housing finance system dependent on two government sponsored enterprises in perpetual conservatorship is not a sustainable solution.” According to Sen. Crapo, because approximately 70 percent of mortgages are backed by the federal government, “if the housing market experiences a downturn, taxpayers could again be on the hook for billions of dollars.” Ultimately, the Chairman set forth his position that housing finance reform should be considered the “most significant piece of unfinished business following the financial crisis.” 

    Meanwhile, FHFA Director Watt testified that, under his leadership, FHFA has “responsibly balanced” and met its “multiple statutory mandates to manage the Enterprises’ day-to-day operations.” He also identified some of the key changes and reforms that have taken place during the conservatorships, including: (i) requiring the Enterprises to emphasize sound underwriting practices in their purchase guidelines; (ii) reducing the Enterprises’ retained portfolios by over sixty percent since 2009; and (iii) developing effective loss mitigation programs, which include aligning the Enterprises’ loss mitigation standards and developing updated loan modification and streamlined refinance products to follow the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Home Affordable Refinance Program.

    Director Watt also acknowledged that “FHFA knows probably better than anyone that these conservatorships are not sustainable” and urged Congress to act on several issues related to housing finance reform, including:

    • developing a transition process to a new housing finance system to avoid disruption to the housing finance market;
    • determining whether the federal government should provide taxpayer backing for the conservatorship, and if so, in what form;
    • addressing the role the Enterprises might play in the reformed housing finance system and what statutory changes to their organizational structures, purposes, ownership and operations will be needed to ensure that they play their assigned roles effectively; and
    • identifying what regulatory and supervisory structure and authorities will be needed in a reformed system, and who will have responsibility to exercise those authorities.

    Furthermore, Director Watt noted that under the provisions of the Enterprises’ Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, on January 1, 2018 the $1.2 billion buffer protecting the Enterprises against having to make additional draws of taxpayer support in the event of an operating loss in any quarter would be reduced to zero, at which time “neither Enterprise will have the ability to weather any loss it experiences in any quarter without drawing further on taxpayer support.” Director Watt warned that such a situation could erode investor confidence and “stifle liquidity in ways that could increase the cost of mortgage credit to borrowers.” Accordingly, the Director argued that the Enterprises “need some kind of [capital] buffer to shield against short-term operating losses” that could “result in an additional draw of taxpayer support and reduce the fixed dollar commitment Treasury has made to support the Enterprises.”

    Reaction of Industry Organizations. In a statement issued shortly after the hearing, Camden R. Fine, President and CEO of Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), expressed support for Director Watt after his testimony, agreeing about the need for Fannie and Freddie “to retain their earnings and to start rebuilding their capital buffers.” Meanwhile, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) financial policy expert John Berlau was critical of what he called “an unfair, ongoing government policy of confiscating all Fannie/Freddie shareholder profits.” According to Mr. Berlau, the Enterprises’ “perilous financial state is the direct result of the Obama administration’s 2012‘Third Amendment’ policy, which confiscates all of Fannie and Freddie’s profits for the US Treasury.” He argued that curtailing this policy would allow the Enterprises to “retain some earnings and build capital to spare taxpayers another bailout.”

    Federal Issues FHFA Senate Banking Committee Fannie Mae Freddie Mac ICBA Treasury Department

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  • FHFA Director Appeared Before the Senate Banking Committee on May 11; Discussed Fannie/Freddie, Proposed "Underserved Markets Plans"

    Federal Issues

    On May 11, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs met in open session at 10:00 a.m. to discuss “The Status of the Housing Finance System After Nine Years of Conservatorship.” Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mel Watt was the only witness scheduled to testify.

    The hearing comes after Fannie Mae (Fannie) and Freddie Mac (Freddie) published their first quarter financial reports. On May 2, Freddie announced $2.2 billion in net income in the first quarter—all of which Freddie expects to distribute to the Treasury, bringing the total to $108.2 billion in dividends. (See also Q1 2017 Supplement.) Notably, the $2.2 billion figure was down from its fourth quarter net income of $4.8 billion. Similarly, on May 5, Fannie reported net income of $2.8 billion in the first three months of 2017, money that will be sent to Treasury, which brings its total payments to $162.7 billion. The net income was a significant decline from the $5 billion it reported for the fourth quarter of 2016.

    Fannie and Freddie also recently released their respective “Underserved Markets Plans” for public comment. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FHFA published a final rule in the December 18 Federal Register implementing certain Duty to Serve provisions of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Among other things, these provisions require Fannie and Freddie to each adopt a formal “Underserved Markets Plan” to improve the availability of mortgage financing for residential properties that serve “very low-, low-, and moderate-income families” in three specified underserved markets: manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural markets. The Plans can be accessed through the following links:

    As explained on the FHFA’s DTS Underserved Markets Plan page, the activities and objectives in each of these Plans may be subject to change based on factors including public input, FHFA comments, compliance with the Enterprises' Charter Acts, safety and soundness considerations, and market or economic conditions. To this end, “views of interested stakeholders are sought on whether the proposed Plans would effectively serve the underserved markets if carried out as proposed, or if there are modifications that each Enterprise should consider making to its proposed Plan to better serve these underserved markets.”  The period during which the Enterprises are receiving public input on the proposed Plans will end on July 10. 

    Pursuant to the same new rule, FHFA has also published a Proposed Evaluation Guidance to provide: (i) FHFA's expectations regarding the development of the Underserved Markets Plans, and (ii) the process by which FHFA will evaluate Fannie’s and Freddie’s achievements under their Plans each year.  The deadline for public input on FHFA’s Proposed Evaluation Guidance is June 7.

    Federal Issues FHFA Congress Senate Banking Committee Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Treasury Department

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  • Fannie Mae to Allow Home Owners to Swap Student Loan Debt for Mortgage Debt

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On April 25, Fannie Mae issued updates to its Selling Guide allowing home owners to refinance their mortgages to pay off their student loan debt. The new policies will present opportunities for homeowners to (i) pay down student debt by refinancing their mortgage; (ii) no longer be required to include non-mortgage debt (credit cards, auto loans, and student loans) paid by others on loan applications; and (iii) increase the likelihood of qualifying for a mortgage loan while carrying student debt “by allowing lenders to accept student debt payments included on credit reports.” The updates also allow for debt to be excluded from the debt-to-income ratio if a lender can obtain documents showing that a non-mortgage debt has been paid by another party for at least 12 months. “These new policies provide . . . flexible payment solutions to future and current homeowners and, in turn, allow lenders to serve more borrowers,” stated Jonathan Lawless, Fannie Mae’s Vice President of Customer Solutions. The policy changes are effective immediately.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Student Lending Mortgages Fannie Mae

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