The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
March 29, 2016

A new forum for fresh thinking on housing finance reform

March 29, 2016

Eight years after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship, the conversation about their future is stuck. As we inch closer to electing a new president and to the start of a new Congress, it is time for an open-minded look at the housing finance system and what role, if any, today’s government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) might play in the future.

To help evaluate this critical issue, the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center is releasing a series of short essays about the future of housing finance reform.

Since the early days of conservatorship, home values have recovered in many communities, but others are still reeling from foreclosures. Speculation about the impact of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has shifted to understanding and observation. The private-label securities market remains stagnant, and portfolio lending’s growth is limited. Early experiences with the GSEs’ limited risk-sharing efforts raise new questions, even as they answer others. And, perhaps most importantly, the shifting national demographics have broad implications for the nation’s housing needs. Minority and senior households are on the rise, and the national homeownership rate is declining.

With all of these changes and uncertainties, one thing remains clear: Perpetual conservatorship is not sustainable. Mel Watt, director of the agency overseeing the conservatorship, recently reminded policymakers of this and called on Congress to “engage in the work of thoughtful housing reform.” While the Federal Housing Finance Agency has taken significant steps to keep the current system working and prepare for the future, we agree with Director Watt that the longer we remain in the current holding pattern, the greater the risk to taxpayers and the housing finance system.

Urban Institute researchers are not abandoning the discussion. We have offered our ideas about housing finance reform in the past and will continue to participate in the discussion. The Housing Finance Reform Incubator is a forum for thoughtful people outside of the Housing Finance Policy Center to join us in open dialogue and to learn from listening to each other. We have invited several voices to offer their best ideas for a path forward.

Over the next two months, we will publish essays in which each author describes how a housing finance system might look postconservatorship and explains how we could get there. We will also ask each author to address how the system will serve underserved communities and households. Beyond that, the door is wide open. These essays will be followed by a policy debate among the authors and others. By bringing thoughtful voices together in a single forum, we hope to expand the debate and pave the way for new ideas.

The following individuals have agreed to contribute inaugural essays for the series:

  • Jim Millstein, chief executive officer, Millstein & Co.; former chief restructuring officer, US Department of the Treasury
  • Tim Howard, former vice chairman and chief financial officer, Fannie Mae
  • Alex J. Pollock, distinguished senior fellow, R Street Institute; former president and chief executive officer, Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago
  • Mark Zandi, chief economist, Moody’s Analytics
  • Patricia Mosser, senior research scholar and senior fellow, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University; former head of research and analysis, Office of Financial Research, US Department of the Treasury
  • Marc Morial, president, National Urban League
  • Jim Carr, Coleman A. Young endowed chair and professor in urban affairs, Wayne State University;  visiting fellow, Roosevelt Institute; former senior fellow, Center for American Progress
  • Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies, Cato Institute; former senior staff member, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
  • Andrew Davidson, president, Andrew Davidson & Co. Inc.

We look forward to a compelling and game-changing discussion.

For the latest news, follow the Housing Finance Reform Incubator, get updates from @MortgageLaurie on Twitter, and subscribe to our bimonthly newsletter.

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.