About Bob Broeksmit

I have spent more than 30 years in the mortgage business and am currently the President & CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, the national trade association representing the real estate finance industry.

FHFA’s Capital Rule and How it Fits into Housing Finance Reform

Washington DC, USA - July 3, 2017: Federal Housing Finance Agency seal in downtown with closeup of sign and logo

Last week, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) re-proposed a rule that would establish a new capital framework for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs), designed to ensure their safety and soundness. Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register, which is expected in the next few weeks, stakeholders will have 60 days to offer comments to FHFA.

MBA and its members have already begun reviewing the proposed rule (all 424 pages!), and we will submit comments – just as we did on the original 2018 version of the framework. Establishing new capital standards, and then ensuring that the GSEs meet them, is widely considered a critical step on the path toward stabilizing the GSEs for the long term and ending their conservatorships.

Rebuilding an appropriate level of capital, however, is just one of the mileposts FHFA and the GSEs must reach before policymakers can end the conservatorships. MBA has long been a thought leader on the future of the GSEs and the housing finance system, and our 2017 paper remains one of the most comprehensive documents on the topic. While a lot has changed in the last three years, our views on the core elements of housing finance reform remain the same.

First among those is that there must be structural reforms before the GSEs are released from conservatorship. Said differently, a strong capital framework is necessary, but not sufficient. During the decade-plus that the GSEs have been in conservatorship, their regulator has made several positive changes that have served the market and consumers well. It remains our belief that those changes and others need to be locked in before the GSEs are fully returned to the private sector.

Chief among the reforms we continue to advocate for (there is much more in our 2017 paper linked above) are:

  • A level playing field for lenders of all sizes and business models to ensure equal access to the secondary mortgage market;
  • An explicit federal government guarantee or backstop on the mortgage-backed securities issued by the GSEs;
  • A utility-style regulatory framework overseeing GSE operations;
  • Clear and transparent standards for new GSE activities and pilot programs; and
  • A strong commitment to affordable housing.

There are a number of ways these reforms can be made permanent, whether as part of legislative reform, through administrative actions, or both. These approaches include official rulemakings, amendments to the Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs) under which the GSEs are currently operating, or other regulatory measures – the more durable, the better. But it must happen before the conservatorships are ended.

From the beginning, FHFA Director Mark Calabria has talked about a milestone-based approach to reform rather than a calendar-driven process. This is even more important in light of current conditions in our economy and financial markets. MBA speaks with the FHFA leadership about this constantly, and Director Calabria and his team understand our position. With the capital rule now out for comment, it’s time for FHFA to make these vitally important administrative reforms permanent.

 

Repayment Options Are Crucial to Forbearance Strategy

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The entire mortgage industry is focused on making sure that we assist borrowers during this challenging time. I am very proud of the work we as an industry are doing and recognize that it is vital to the ability of Americans to stay safe and sheltered while maintaining some stability during this pandemic and its associated uncertainty and fear.

Mortgage servicers are on the front line, dealing with the millions of borrowers impacted by COVID-19 and implementing the forbearances granted by Congress through the CARES Act. It is a fluid situation, compounded by the challenges that mortgage servicers — like all businesses — face in the current environment where employees must work from home. The demands are severe, and servicers are rising to the challenge.

It is perhaps inevitable that in such a rapidly unfolding situation, some confusion and mixed messaging will occur. MBA has worked with regulators and others to address issues as they arise and get consensus interpretations of newly implemented programs like the forbearances required under the CARES Act.

One issue that arises persistently is the misperception that a borrower must repay the deferred payments in a lump sum at the end of the forbearance period. We are seeing it frequently in news stories, and we are hearing about it from policymakers who are receiving unnerving reports from their constituents. The narrative threatens to overshadow the work that servicers have done to successfully place more than three million consumers on forbearance plans in just a few short weeks.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have given clear guidance that immediate repayment of arrears is not a required solution for CARES Act forbearances. The GSEs released forbearance scripts — located here and here — to assist servicers as they guide homeowners who have experienced a hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic through their options. I encourage servicers to use them. If the scripts are unclear or do not raise issues you are confronting, please let us know.

Finally, I know that while the CARES Act covers a significant majority of the market, it is not the standard for the entire industry. Investors or owners of loans that are not federally backed should ensure that their borrowers also have exit options from forbearance that help borrowers repay their obligations while availing themselves of forbearance if needed.

Helping distressed borrowers is what servicers do. We must do everything we can to get borrowers into forbearance if they need it, with as little uncertainty and pain as possible. That means making them aware of all the repayment options that could be available to them when their forbearance ends.

 

Why the Mortgage Industry Needs a Liquidity Facility to Address COVID-19 Forbearance Requests

United States Treasury Department

In passing the CARES Act, Congress took the unprecedented step of mandating forbearance for homeowners and renters who have suffered a loss or reduction in income as a result of the pandemic.

Congress codified forbearance actions closely aligned with those announced by the FHFA and taken by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in March to ensure that both homeowners and renters can maintain a roof over their heads during the crisis. This is in addition to providing support for unemployed workers and small businesses.

These are traumatic times for millions of American homeowners, many of whom are facing unexpected unemployment triggered by business closures and state-ordered shutdowns. Our industry has been called on to do our part to assure that homeowners and renters can stay in their homes during these extraordinary times, and we are up the challenge, even as we pivot our own workplaces to respond to the crisis.

While part of a necessary and prudent response to COVID-19, the need for widespread forbearance – without a source of liquidity to support it — threatens the stability of the housing finance market.

Why is this happening? Mortgage servicers must advance payments to investors even if a borrower goes into forbearance. In such a large-scale event as this, one which could never be foreseen or planned for by servicers or regulators alike, it is not unreasonable to expect policymakers to provide a source of funding to those mortgage servicers that may need additional capacity to support homeowners and renters impacted by COVID-19. Servicers want to help at-risk borrowers, but to do so, servicers need short-term financing to be able to provide this help.

That is why we are asking the Federal Reserve and Treasury to leverage a subset of the funding Treasury received from Congress in the CARES Act to provide a liquidity facility that single-family and multifamily servicers can borrow from to ensure that they can deliver much-needed economic relief to consumers through this unprecedented forbearance plan.

Key leaders in Congress have already sounded this position. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, urged the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to prioritize facilities that stabilize key markets, such as the mortgage servicing market. Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, clarified that “Congress expects the Fed will act promptly to establish and implement this facility.”

The industry is prepared to supply relief, and the established forbearance framework is appropriate because it delivers help to the most people as quickly as possible. While some servicers will not need assistance, many will require temporary support to deliver forbearance at the scale and for the duration required.

As an industry, we’re committed to helping. Delaying these liquidity structures leads to the potential of greater uncertainty and volatility in the market. That would be a disservice to the millions of Americans we are all trying to help.

Reducing False Claims Act Risk in FHA Lending

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Important aspects of the 2020 housing outlook – in addition to demand, supply, and rates – are the various changes to the regulatory environment that will affect lenders and borrowers.

Improvements to FHA’s defect taxonomy – the method used to identify defects at the loan level and the remedies for such shortcomings – are one of the more positive developments, particularly for first-time homebuyers and low- and moderate-income borrowers.

These changes are part of a larger effort by HUD to revise the loan review process and simplify the certifications that lenders make in connection with the FHA program in order to reduce the risk of False Claims Act enforcement for immaterial loan origination errors.

MBA has championed reforming the taxonomy for some time. Our posture has been that FHA does not need new rules and regulations to govern our industry, but rather more clarity and transparency in the ones that are already on the books.

Since the crisis, the legal and reputational risks associated with originating FHA-insured loans have substantially increased through hyper-technical enforcement of FHA’s lending requirements, driving many lenders – particularly banks – away from offering FHA loans to their customers.

To address these concerns, the just-released final defect taxonomy includes specific remedies for various tiers of defect severity. This will allow lenders to understand in advance the remedies for different types of loan defects.

Not only did HUD work to make changes to the loan review process, but last October, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced a joint memorandum of understanding (MOU) between HUD and the Department of Justice (DOJ). This MOU stated that DOJ would defer primarily to HUD’s administrative proceedings to evaluate and remediate loan origination errors, rather than pursuing the draconian damages allowed in the Civil War-era False Claims Act. It also provided for closer coordination between HUD and DOJ throughout the investigative process.

In addition, HUD revised the certifications that lenders provide annually and on each loan. The changes to the loan-level and annual certifications more closely link them to relevant regulations, as opposed to every requirement found in the FHA Handbook. They also stress that the underwriting process should allow for judgment and discretion on the part of underwriters. Lastly, the loan-level certification ties in to the defect taxonomy as the remedy for any defects, and thus limits the risk that errors will be adjudicated through the False Claims Act.

Taken together, these changes represent a significant effort by HUD to resolve longstanding concerns about exposure to False Claims Act penalties, and to bring lenders back to the program. HUD took steps to make these changes durable to provide lenders with some certainty that a future administration could not easily return to the indiscriminate use of the False Claims Act to pursue lenders for immaterial defects on FHA loans.  While individual lenders must consider when and how to return to FHA lending or increase their participation in the program, these reforms represent very positive progress in restoring clarity and certainty.

Housing market stability is strengthened when key programs like FHA are supported by a deep pool of participating lenders, depository institution and IMB alike. I commend HUD for these steps and encourage them to continue their efforts in other areas, particularly on FHA servicing reforms.

A Year of Action — And a Look Ahead

washingtonmonumentIn late October during our annual convention, I delivered a simple message to our members: Over the last year, we delivered a record of results – and next year will be even better.

When I took this job in 2018, I made it my priority to listen to members and act on their behalf. I’ve spent most of the past year on the road. I’ve traveled to 24 states, hitting every geographic area. Wherever I went, our members told me what we needed to do. And that’s exactly what we did.

In response, MBA has secured victories for our members, the mortgage industry, and the consumers we serve.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment is the White House plan for housing finance reform. From the explicit guarantee to a level playing field, it bears the unmistakable mark of the Mortgage Bankers Association, and it’s a huge step in the right direction.

We also helped improve the IRS’s qualified business income deduction, as well as the new CFPB innovation policy. Our efforts gave consumers more choice and saved our members money.

And we worked with Fannie and Freddie to implement the new uniform mortgage-backed security, creating a more liquid market. We also helped the administration reform the FHA program, protecting our members from frivolous lawsuits.

We’re proud of these victories, but we’re also preparing for what comes next. Fortunately, we’ve got a seat at every table that matters.

One issue we’re focused on is the QM Patch. Rest assured, we’re telling the CFPB that creditworthy consumers need access to qualified mortgages. We’re also working with that agency to fix the loan officer compensation rule to keep costs low for consumers and our members.

When it comes to housing finance reform, we know that the recent plans are just the beginning of the debate. We’re in communication with the White House, both parties in Congress, and every federal agency involved.

We’re telling them that before the GSEs are released from conservatorship, new policies must be firmly in place, by regulation and legislation, to protect the taxpayers, lock in a level playing field for all lenders, and ensure mortgage liquidity in all parts of the country and during all economic cycles.

Lawmakers and regulators listen to what we have to say. Why? Because they know we’re speaking for our members, and they know how much they matter to the American people and to America’s economy.

Our members want to keep contributing to their communities, and as I’ve heard from many of them, this isn’t an easy time. Uncertainty is on the rise. That’s why we’re working to give them stability.

Whether it’s the QM Patch, housing finance reform, or any other issue, we’re urging the government to get it right. This is a time for action and caution.

Our members, and American consumers, need clear policies and clear timelines. Changes should be gradual and telegraphed – using a dial, not a switch. Don’t disrupt the market and the millions of people who depend on it.

As we continue to advocate for our members, we’ll also continue to develop services and strategies to help them succeed.

For example, the MBA Board of Directors recently approved a new task force on cybersecurity, and we published a white paper on important steps members can take to reduce their risks. We’re also taking new steps to amplify our voice by increasing collaboration with other industry, consumer, and civil rights groups. Partnership with diverse groups is critically important.

And of course, the Mortgage Action Alliance and MORPAC provide tremendous opportunities to influence policy and politics and protect the cornerstone of the American dream.

As we strive to meet and exceed our members’ needs, I urge you to keep giving us your open and honest feedback.

At the Mortgage Bankers Association, we have one vision – yours.

We have one voice – yours.

And we are one resource – at your service.

Working together, I’m confident we’ll accomplish even more over the next 12 months. It may even be our best year yet.

The Role of ‘Debt to Income’ in Assessing Mortgage Risk

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The Washington Post recently ran an article, “Federal government has dramatically expanded exposure to risky mortgages,” which surmised that over the last few years, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs), and, to an extent, FHA, have taken on too much risky mortgage debt. In particular, the article focuses primarily on debt-to-income (DTI) ratios, and how higher-DTI loans could fare in a financial downturn.

What the article fails to mention is that DTI is only one of the many considerations lenders use when evaluating whether a borrower can and will repay a loan. Lenders also rely on other factors such as credit history, previous housing expenses, cash reserves, equity in the property, and liquid assets to get a fuller picture of a borrower’s true credit profile.

In fact, numerous publicly available studies, and research by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), have determined that DTI by itself is a weak predictor of a loan’s likelihood of default.

And while the article does discuss the Qualified Mortgage (QM) rule, and how the 43% DTI target was somewhat arbitrarily drawn by the CFPB, it fails to mention many of the rule’s crucial product feature restrictions that have made today’s loans significantly safer than those made in the pre-crisis period.

The QM rule prohibits loans without documented income, with terms of over 30 years, with interest-only or negative amortization features, and that are not underwritten with possible rate increases in mind. These features of both the Dodd-Frank Act and the CFPB rule are far more effective risk-mitigation tools than a standalone DTI cap.

The article also downplays or does not mention the significant protections for taxpayers for loans that do default. Borrowers’ equity in the home securing the mortgage, private mortgage insurance for conventional loans with down payments of less than 20%, and very substantial private capital bearing risk of loss via the GSEs’ credit risk transfer programs meaningfully insulate the taxpayer.

While it is true that recessions are naturally correlated to poor loan performance, this reality argues against the reliance on DTI as a sole or key variable for assessing systemic risk. In a downturn, when the primary wage earner loses his or her job, the DTI at the time the loan was originated is unimportant. As recent studies show, the borrower’s liquid cash reserves are a far more important indicator of risk when unemployment is rising. That is why thoughtful product design and holistic underwriting practices that consider more than a static point-in-time DTI ratio, and good loss-mitigation practices, are the best way to reduce risk and ensure the borrower has a reasonable ability to repay his or her loan.

After the crisis, policymakers created barriers that had the unfortunate effect of preventing many borrowers from obtaining access to mortgage credit. Recent underwriting trends represent a rebalancing, not a return to the pre-crisis risks. In fact, we agree with The Washington Post article’s assessment that housing affordability challenges cannot be addressed solely through more flexible financing.

MBA is deeply concerned about trends that make it more difficult for creditworthy borrowers to find affordable housing. The administration recently released a housing finance reform plan aimed at addressing the future of the GSEs, bringing back private capital, and preserving the important role that FHA plays in the marketplace. Because we share similar goals, we intend to continue to work with the administration, policymakers, and other stakeholders to develop innovative solutions that will protect consumers and encourage lenders to participate fully in all segments of the housing finance market.

A Bipartisan Effort Helps Protect Affordable Mortgages for Veterans

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Mistakes happen. We all make them, and sometimes the unforeseen ones have sweeping consequences. The road to fixing those unintentional errors can often be long and require deep cooperation from unlikely allies. Sometimes solutions don’t come to pass.

Today MBA celebrates the possible: bipartisan cooperation that fixes an inadvertent legislative mistake that “orphaned” thousands of VA loans and created troubling uncertainty in the market.

Late last week, President Donald Trump signed the Protecting Affordable Mortgages for Veterans Act of 2019. You won’t see that headline on the front page of any newspaper, but it is a milestone that represents over a year of hard work, breakthrough coordination among Republican and Democratic members and staff on Capitol Hill, and, most importantly, constant interaction with MBA’s members.

This new law eliminates the confusion and duplicative requirements created by regulatory reform efforts in 2018 that had rendered some loans with valid VA guarantees ineligible for Ginnie Mae pooling. As a result, thousands of VA loans had been stuck on lenders’ books, stifling their ability to offer new mortgages to veterans and active-duty families.

We at MBA would like to thank the sponsors of this legislation, Representatives David Scott (D-GA), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Mike Levin (D-CA), and Andy Barr (R-KY), as well as Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), in addition to the authorizing committees and congressional leaders, for spearheading this endeavor.

Prompted by our members, MBA brought the issue to the attention of legislators late last year, highlighting to them the impact this unintended mistake was having on liquidity in the VA loan space and thus on mortgage availability for our nation’s service members and veterans. We couldn’t sit idle as lenders looking to make new loans and serve new consumers faced an unnecessary obstacle in their ability to do so.

At MBA, we live for the details. We always strive to dot our i’s and cross our t’s. It’s why we strive to correct all errors – both big and small – that impact our members, and helps explain why we fought so hard to make sure Congress repaired the very real damage caused by this mistake.