As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) published a final rule last December implementing certain “Duty to Serve” provisions of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Among other things, the rule requires that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Enterprises) adopt formal plans to improve the availability of mortgage financing in a “safe and sound manner” for residential properties that serve “very low-, low-, and moderate-income families” in three specified underserved markets: manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural markets. The FHFA also published a Proposed Evaluation Guidance to outline the following: (i) FHFA's expectations regarding the development of such Underserved Markets Plans, and (ii) the process by which FHFA will evaluate annually Fannie’s and Freddie’s achievements under their Plans. The deadline to submit comments was June 7.

Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Letter. In its June 7 comment letter, the MBA stated that it commends efforts undertaken by the FHFA to develop a framework of requirements for the Enterprises to follow when preparing their Underserved Market Plans, as well as an evaluation system to rate implementation progress. Particularly, the MBA noted that, based on its data, the U.S. “will see 15.9 million additional households formed over the decade ending in 2024 . . . [which] will increase the need for all types of housing, including already limited affordable housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income borrowers.” Furthermore, “manufactured home financing, affordable housing preservation, and additional rural housing opportunities can play a key role in providing both first-time home-buying opportunities and affordable rental options for consumers in these underserved markets.” With respect to the Proposed Evaluation Guidance, the MBA stressed the importance of flexibility so adjustments can be made for “unanticipated obstacles or opportunities caused by significant changes in market conditions that arise.”

Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) Letter. Also on June 7, CRL issued a comment letter to the Proposed Guidance in which it offered recommendations concerning “public input and transparency, assessing the contents of the plants to ensure meaningful objectives, and the evaluation and scoring process.” Specifically, CRL noted that while the Enterprises have taken measures such as reinstating lower down payment programs and creating pilot programs to address the underserved markets, it believes a “robust duty to serve process will further access credit initiatives by promoting and incentivizing responsible and sustainable lending to lower wealth households.” However, the CRL also raised several issues over the Proposed Evaluation Guidance, specifically in terms of the proposed scoring system. Under current FHFA guidance, Enterprises’ plans are scored on three factors: progress, impact, and effort/implementation. Conversely, under the proposed scoring system, failure only occurs due to a lack of progress because the impact and effort criteria are assessed only after the Enterprise receives a pass/fail determination. In reaction, CRL raised the following concerns: (i) “What guards against Enterprises putting only low impact objectives in the plan?” (ii) “What incentives do Enterprises have to score highly (above minimally passing)?” and (iii) “What guards against only proposing easily achievable objectives?” In addition to scoring methodology changes, CRL recommended that the FHFA implement a more rigorous loan product and loan purchase evaluation process and increase transparency.