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How HUD Mortgage Policy Fed The Crisis

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Banks typically back prime loans with customers' deposits. But subprime lenders often rely on money from Wall Street investors , who buy packages of loans as investments called mortgage-backed securities.

In 2000, as HUD revisited its affordable-housing goals, the housing market had shifted. With escalating home prices, subprime loans were more popular. Consumer advocates warned that lenders were trapping borrowers with low "teaser" interest rates and ignoring borrowers' qualifications.

HUD restricted Freddie and Fannie, saying it would not credit them for loans they purchased that had abusively high costs or that were granted without regard to the borrower's ability to repay. Freddie and Fannie adopted policies not to buy some high-cost loans.

That year, Freddie bought $18.6 billion in subprime loans; Fannie did not disclose its number.

In 2001, HUD researchers warned of high foreclosure rates among subprime loans.

"Given the very high concentration of these loans in low-income and African American neighborhoods, the growth in subprime lending and resulting very high levels of foreclosure is a real cause for concern," an agency report said.

But by 2004, when HUD next revised the goals, Freddie and Fannie's purchases of subprime-backed securities had risen tenfold. Foreclosure rates also were rising.

That year, President Bush's HUD ratcheted up the main affordable-housing goal over the next four years, from 50 percent to 56 percent. John C. Weicher, then an assistant HUD secretary, said the institutions lagged behind even the private market and "must do more."

For Wall Street, high profits could be made from securities backed by subprime loans. Fannie and Freddie targeted the least-risky loans. Still, their purchases provided more cash for a larger subprime market.

"That was a huge, huge mistake," said Patricia McCoy, who teaches securities law at the University of Connecticut. "That just pumped more capital into a very unregulated market that has turned out to be a disaster."

In 2003, the two bought $81 billion in subprime securities. In 2004, they purchased $175 billion -- 44 percent of the market. In 2005, they bought $169 billion, or 33 percent. In 2006, they cut back to $90 billion, or 20 percent. Generally, Freddie purchased more than Fannie and relied more heavily on the securities to meet goals.

"The market knew we needed those loans," said Sharon McHale, a spokeswoman for Freddie Mac. The higher goals "forced us to go into that market to serve the targeted populations that HUD wanted us to serve," she said.


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