The Reagan administration is proposing that the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration and three federally chartered mortgage credit agencies pay user fees, or taxes, to the U.S. Treasury, a policy that housing officials say will drive up interest rates on home mortgages and make it more difficult for first-time buyers to afford housing.
The administration made a similar proposal last year, but it was deleted from the budget when the housing industry successfully rallied pro-housing advocates in Congress.
The new proposal has surprised housing officials in two ways, industry leaders say. First, by resubmitting the proposal the administration has made it clear it is serious about pulling back government support for housing, and second, the new proposal is 10 times as burdensome for some agencies than last year's offering.
"They not only came back, they came back with a vengeance," said one housing industry official, who declined to identified.
The proposal, which is part of the federal government's 1987 budget expected to be released the first week of February, would impose several new requirements for FHA, VA and the federal mortgage credit agencies.
OMB officials have said the purpose of the proposal is to charge the federal mortgage credit agencies for the benefit they get by being quasi-federal agencies. Because Congress chartered the agencies, they have the tacit if not express support of the federal government and are able to borrow money at lower interest rates. OMB officials say those agencies should pay a tax on that benefit.
For FHA, the proposal would raise the up-front insurance fee that home buyers obtaining an FHA-insured loan would have to pay from 3.8 percent of the loan to 5 percent. It would also prevent borrowers from financing these charges and closing costs, as they are allowed to do under current FHA policy.
The Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBA) said this proposal would mean that home buyers getting FHA loans could be required to pay 5 percent more of the loan amount at closing than in the past, a change in policy that the MBA said "could spell disaster for home buyers who depend on FHA's low-down-payment mortgages to buy their homes."
The proposal for the first time also would impose an income limit for families using FHA insurance to get a loan. Families making more than $40,000 a year would not be eligible for FHA loans. MBA estimates the income limit would disqualify about one-third of the borrowers who now get FHA loans.
OMB officials have said that in the effort to cut fat out of the federal budget, there is no reason to subsidize home loans for families making more than $40,000.
The proposal also would increase the up-front fee borrowers must pay for a VA-insured loan from 1 percent to 3.8 percent. MBA president Ronald F. Poe said the change "would very effectively" disqualify about 750,000 veterans who otherwise would have been expected to apply for and get VA loans.
The three federally chartered mortgage credit agencies that would be affected by the proposal are the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., known as Freddie Mac, the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae, and the Government National Mortgage Association, known as Ginnie Mae.
All three were chartered to raise money in the private credit market to buy mortgage loans. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae purchase mortgages from thrifts and mortgage bankers and then resell them on the secondary market. They also issue corporate debt to finance purchases of mortgages held in portfolios. Ginnie Mae packages VA- and FHA-insured loans and sells securities backed by the loans in national credit markets.
The administration is proposing that those associations charge taxes to be paid to the government on the loans they purchase and that they tax new debt issues each time the association issues bonds, even if the bonds are refinancing already existing debt for the corporation.
For Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the upfront tax on loans would add 1/20 of one percentge point to interest rates in 1987, and then go up to 1/10 of one percentage point in 1988.
While the two corporations say those taxes are not too burdensome, the tax on new debt would be much worse. For Fannie Mae, the tax would be 1/10 of a percentage point next year, rising to one-third of a point in 1988 and to one-half a point in 1989. For Freddie Mac, the tax would be 1/10 of a point in 1987, one-eighth of a point in 1988 and one-seventh of a point in 1989.
Ginnie Mae would have to charge a tax that would increase interest rates one-seventh of a percentage point in 1987 and rise to one-fifth of a point in 1989. The proposal would also reduce, from 100 percent to 80 percent, the amount of a loan that Ginnie Mae can guarantee, a proposal that Poe said "would pull the rug out from under the most successful mortgage securities program ever created."
Ginnie Mae issues about $1 billion in mortgage-backed securities every week and has a surplus of more than $1 billion, Poe said. The FHA also costs taxpayers nothing, according to Poe. The agency has about $2.8 billion in reserves and its single-family housing insurance program registered a $160 million profit last year, he said.
David O. Maxwell, Fannie Mae's chairman, told the National Association of Home Builders annual convention in Dallas this week that "elitists" in the Office of Management and Budget "are cold-bloodedly determined to drive the American home buyer into a ruinous competition for mortgage money with Wall Street merger maniacs and the tentacled, multinational octupi of the world."
For Fannie Mae, which purchases about 10 percent of all new mortgage loans each year, the imposition of the proposed user fees could be disastrous, Maxwell said. He said the proposal could cost Fannie Mae more than $1 billion over the next five years.
"Whether we pass that cost on to homeowners or not, this would signal the end of Fannie Mae's ability to provide affordable mortgage money to home buyers," Maxwell said. "The average size of a loan in our portfolio and in mortgage-backed security pools is about $40,000. Those are not the mortgages of rich people."
Ginnie Mae officials said they would not comment on the proposal until it is released with the budget next month, but other housing officials vowed to fight the user-fee proposal, as they did last year.
They also said, however, that with the specter of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, the federal budget deficit reduction law, hanging over the federal budget process, they are less optimistic than they were last year.
"As we enter 1986 we enter an extremely hostile regulatory environment for housing," Poe told a group of mortgage bankers in New York last week. "It could make things very difficult."