The Senate Banking Committee took a big step today, voting to approve the Johnson-Crapo housing finance reform bill.
Although many doubt that Congress will enact the legislation this year, the move brings the Senate one step closer to winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and overhauling the housing finance system.
“We can’t rely on the status quo to serve today’s housing needs, much less tomorrow’s,” said Chris Estes, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, in a statement. “Congress needs to fix our housing finance system, and that takes bipartisan action. Today’s vote shows that is possible.”
The uncertainty about the future of mortgage finance and the federal role make it harder for lenders to create the housing opportunities so many American households need. Rising rental costs only compound the difficulties, particularly for low-income households, he said.
“Furthermore, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have no capital cushion, but along with the Federal Housing Administration are still backing over 90 percent of new mortgages, leaving them vulnerable to economic shocks,” Estes said. “If another economic downturn hits, we could find ourselves curtailing mortgage lending just when it is needed most by struggling households and weakened local housing markets.“
The legislation by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the panel’s top Republican, seeks to replace Fannie and Freddie with a set of private entities. The new system will be regulated by the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corp., modeled in part after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. It also creates a reinsurance fund, known as the Mortgage Insurance Fund, to protect taxpayers.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was among the Democrats voting against the bill today, saying it doesn’t do enough to produce a housing market that works for middle-class Americans.
The panel’s close 13-9 vote signals trouble for S. 1217 in the larger Senate.
“It’s exceedingly unlikely that the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, will allow the bill to the floor given the narrow margin by which the bill was approved in committee, especially so because the most liberal members of the key Banking Committee are in opposition,” said Rick Lazio, former U.S. Representative from New York and current leader of law firm Jones Walker’s affordable housing and housing finance practice. “While this bill won’t become law this year, members of Congress have become more knowledgeable on the issue, much work has been done in terms of bill drafting, and we now know the starting point for Senate consideration of GSE reform in 2015. It certainly looks like Freddie and Fannie will survive in their current form for at least another year.