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President Trump Releases Budget Plan Proposal; HUD and Treasury Among Many Who Would Face Significant Cuts
On March 16, the White House released its budget blueprint America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, which sets forth the President’s discretionary funding proposals in advance of the “full Budget”—scheduled for release later this spring. Among the many agencies and programs that would experience substantial cuts under the President’s budget are both the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.
Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). For HUD, the President’s 2018 budget requests $40.7 billion in gross discretionary funding for HUD, which is a $6.2 billion or 13.2 percent decrease from the 2017 annualized continuing resolution level. The White House budget also proposes that: (i) funding be eliminated or redirected to the State and Local level for the Community Development Block Grant program, which the White House estimates would save $3 billion from 2017 levels; (ii) funding be eliminated for “lower priority programs,” which the White House says include “the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program”; (iii) funding be eliminated or redirected to the State and Local level for Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing (at an estimated savings of $35 million from 2017 levels); (iv) support be provided for “homeownership through provision of Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance programs.”
Dept. of the Treasury. And, as for Treasury, the White House is proposing that the Department be granted $12.1 billion in discretionary resources. This proposal represents a $519 million or 4.1 percent decrease from the 2017 levels. Specifically, the White House’s budget proposes to, among other things: (i) preserve key operations of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) to ensure that “the IRS can continue to combat identity theft, prevent fraud, and reduce the deficit through the effective enforcement and administration of tax laws,” while diverting resources away from “antiquated operations” that still rely on paper-based reviews; (ii) “strengthen cybersecurity in a Department-wide plan to strategically enhance existing security systems and preempt fragmentation of information technology management across the bureaus”; (iii) “prioritize funding for Treasury’s array of economic enforcement tools”; (iv) “eliminate funding for Community Development Financial Institutions Fund grants”; (v) “empower the Treasury Secretary, as Chairperson of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, to ‘end taxpayer bailouts and foster economic growth by advancing financial regulatory reforms that promote market discipline and ensure the accountability of financial regulators;’” and (vi) “shrink the Federal workforce” while increasing its efficiency by redirecting resources away from "duplicative" policy offices.
In response to the proposed budget, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin released the following statement:
"President Trump’s discretionary budget plan released today focuses Treasury on our core missions of collecting revenue, managing the nation’s debt, protecting the financial system from threats, and combating financial crime and terrorism financing. It will ensure that we have the resources we need to enforce the nation’s tax laws, while investing in cybersecurity and prioritizing resources on initiatives that promote technology, efficiency and modernization across the agency."
On March 10, HUD released a Conciliation Agreement with an Illinois-based lender alleged to have discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers seeking mortgage loans. The complaint, brought by HOPE Fair Housing Center (HOPE), claims the lack of bank branches in majority African-American and Hispanic communities resulted in fewer financial services being offered to applicants based on their race and national origin in violation of the Fair Housing Act. HOPE’s complaint also claims that African-American and Hispanic applicants were more likely to receive less favorable mortgage terms than other races. As part of the settlement, the lender will establish a $1 million loan program to “increase mortgage lending to residents in majority African-American and Hispanic areas” and will pay $75,000 to HOPE. Among other things, the agreement also states the lender will offer consumer education outreach in minority areas and provide fair lending training for its staff.
On March 2, Dr. Ben S. Carson was sworn in as the 17th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office. Earlier in the day, the Senate confirmed the retired neurosurgeon as the new secretary of the HUD Secretary in a 58-41 vote, primarily along party lines. The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee unanimously voted to move Carson out of committee on January 24. Dr. Carson’s full biography is available here.
In a press release issued December 5, President-Elect Trump named retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson was a 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Raised in poverty in inner-city Detroit, he was head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for nearly three decades, rising to national fame in 1987 when he led the first successful separation of twins conjoined at the head.
A federal jury has ordered two Texas-based home mortgage entities and their chief executive to pay nearly $93 million for defrauding the U.S. government into insuring thousands of risky loans, the Department of Justice announced on November 30.
The mortgage companies and their former CEO were found liable for violating the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) by, among other things, failing to maintain an adequate quality control program; and submitting false annual certifications regarding quality control requirements. Specifically, the government contended that defendants operated over 100 “shadow” branch offices that originated FHA-insured mortgage loans without obtaining the necessary HUD approval, and which were therefore not subject to HUD oversight.
Ultimately, the jury awarded $92,982,775 in total damages, including $7,370,132 against the CEO specifically—a sum that is subject to mandatory tripling. Further penalties relating to the FIRREA violations are expected, which U.S. District Judge George Hanks will set at a later date.
On November 22, FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s caps for multifamily lending will remain at $36.5 billion for 2017. The determination was based on the agency’s projection that the overall size of the multifamily finance market will remain roughly the same as it was in 2016. Multifamily loans in designated affordable and underserved segments will remain excluded from the caps.
On November 10, DOJ and HUD issued a Joint Statement updating guidance on the application of the FHA to state and local land use and zoning laws. The guidance—which is provided in the form of frequently asked questions and answers thereto—is designed to help state and local governments better understand how to comply with the FHA when making zoning and land use decisions as well as to help members of the public understand their rights under the FHA. The first section of the Joint Statement, questions 1–6, describes generally the FHA’s requirements as they pertain to land use and zoning. The second and third sections, questions 7–25, discuss more specifically how the FHA applies to land use and zoning laws affecting housing for persons with disabilities, including guidance on regulating group homes and the requirement to provide reasonable accommodations. The fourth section, questions 26–27, addresses HUD’s and DOJ’s enforcement of the FHA in the land use and zoning context.
On November 15, HUD released its 2016 Annual Report to Congress Regarding the Financial Status of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund (the MMI Report). The MMI Report reflected the Fund’s improved financial condition for the fourth year in a row amid rising home prices, fewer defaults and a surge of new borrowers. The capital cushion of the Fund grew to 2.32 percent in fiscal 2016, up from 2.07 percent. It was only the second year since 2008 that the capital ratio, a proxy for the fund's health, exceeded the 2 percent minimum required by law. The net worth of the Fund, which stands behind $1 trillion in U.S. home loans and serves as a sort of savings account to pay lender claims if borrowers default, grew by $3.8 billion to $27.6 billion.
On October 14, the HUD Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG) published a report on HUD’s monitoring and payment of conveyance claims upon termination of FHA-insured mortgages. According to the report, mortgage servicers’ failure to foreclose on properties or meet conveyance deadlines may have cost the FHA an estimated $2.23 billion in unreasonable and unnecessary holding costs. HUD-OIG concluded that deficiencies in 24 CFR Part 203 did not “enable HUD to provide effective oversight and HUD monitored only a small percentage of servicers after the claim had been paid.” As a result of its findings, HUD-OIG recommended that HUD (i) amend 24 CFR Part 203 to include “a maximum period for filing insurance claims and disallowance of expenses incurred beyond established timelines”; (ii) develop an IT plan that that ensures significant operational changes to how HUD monitors single-family conveyance claims; and (iii) establish and implement controls to identify noncompliance with 24 CFR 203.402.
On September 29, the DOJ announced a settlement with a large regional bank, whereby the bank agreed to pay $83 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by originating and underwriting mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that did not meet applicable FHA requirements. In addition to underwriting defects, the DOJ alleged deficiencies in the bank’s quality control function, especially during periods of increased loan volume, as well as failures to adequately self-report loans with material defects. The settlement is not an admission of liability by the bank. BuckleySandler represented the bank in this matter.