As the repercussions from the Federal National Mortgage Association's suspension of funding for District mortgages began to be felt this week -- by frustrated buyers and sellers of houses -- a question was being asked: Was this crisis really necessary?
the answer, according to a number of local savings and loan officials, government officials and others involved in the frenzied events, was a resounding "no." And lenders were asserting that the giant secondary market corporation had overreacted.
Uneasy about a recent court ruling, Fannie Mae cut off funding for mortgages in the city, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. and institutional investors quickly followed suit, drying up what little mortgage money remained in the city.
Fannie Mae's decision rested on a D.C. Superior Court ruling by Judge George H. Revercomb, that the city was illegally using its power to enact emergency legislation to keep a moratorium on condominium conversions in effect. The same reasoning might also lead the courts to rule against city actions that have twice raised the interest ceilings on loans through emergency legislation.Fannie Mae offficials reasoned.
"It was a very uncertain kind of a situation to be in," said James Murray, counsel to Fannie Mae. "We didn't want to issue commitments that we couldn't honor. We had to move pretty quickly after the Revercomb decision."
Fannie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Co. (Freddie Mac ) both buy loans from the institutions that originate them. Those purchases, in turn, make more money availble for lending.
Fannie Mae moved so fast that lenders and city officials knew nothing of the private corporation's decision until it was accomplished.
"Nobody got in touch with this administration," said D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry. "That's not a proper way to do business."
Officials of major lending institutions said they had not been notified or consulted either. "When I picked up the paper, it was just like a bombsehll," said William Sinclair, president of American Federal Savings and Loan Association, the city's fourth-largest S&L.
"I don't know specifically if we talked to any lenders," said Murray at Fannie Mae. "We talked to the general counsel of the City Council and others to find out their views," he said.
Sinclair blamed the City Council for the crisis, because the District failed to enact permanent legislation raising the loan celing until recently. That permanent legislation has to be reviewed by Congress before it can go into effect. Legislative efforts to speed that review are expected next week.
But an official from another savings and loan association blamed Fannie Mae rather than the council.
"The whole thing has been blown out of proportion by Fannie Mae and Freddit Mac," he said. The council delayed permanent legislation until market conditions forced it, he said.
"I still believe Fannie Mae and Freddit Mac are wrong, but I wanted to be on as sure as a footing as possible," said Thomas Owen of Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan Association, which discontinued making loans as other institutions did.
A minority view among lenders was that of Grant Boss, senior vice president of Home Federal Savings and Loan Association. "I think Fannie Mae made the right decision" in reaction to the Revercomb ruling, he said, "I don't think it's an overreation."
"My problem is the way it was implemented," said Benny Kass, a housing attorney. "there is a question -- I think it's remote legally -- that the usury law could be overturned. But everytime Congress passes a law somebody says its unconstitutional," he said.
"You go on the assumption that the law is constitutional until proven guilty," Kass said.
In this case, said Fannie Mae attorney Murray, the court had already decided the City Council's use of the emergency legislation was improper, although in a different instance.