"One other thing I've done, is I've called on private sector mortgage banks and banks to be more aggressive about lending money to first-time home buyers. And the response has been really good. There's a lot of people in this -- our communities around the country that deeply care about the issue of homeownership, and they've been responsive."
So instead of blaming FDR and Carter, it is important to understand the many and complex reasons for the current economic mess. Barry Ritholtz sums it up well:
"To repeat my prior arguments, the proximate cause of the Housing crisis were 1) Ultra-low rates; and 2) Abdication of traditional lending standards, thanks to 3) originators ability to resell mortgages for securitization purposes, and hence, 4) not have to worry about loan defaults.
The credit crisis was caused by 1) the above securitized mortgage paper, that was 2) rated triple AAA by Moody's and Standard & Poors, which then 3) Which was then "insured" by credit default swaps (CDS) -- the unreserved for, shadow insurance products 4) whose exemption was made possible by the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. That legislation exempted these derivatives from any supervision or regulation. The lack of reserve requirements is why there is now $62 trillion in CDS, many of which will never pay their counter parties the promised insurance."
Ritholtz also shows that it was excessive deregulation and not the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 that is responsible for the fine mess we find ourselves in. He argues:
"Let's clarify the causes of current circumstances. Ask yourself the following questions about the impact of the Community Reinvestment Act and/or the role of Fannie & Freddie:
• Did the 1977 legislation, or any other legislation since, require banks to not verify income or payment history of mortgage applicants?
• 50% of subprime loans were made by mortgage service companies not subject comprehensive federal supervision; another 30% were made by banks or thrifts which are not subject to routine supervision or examinations. How was this caused by either CRA or GSEs ?
• What about "No Money Down" Mortgages (0% down payments) ? Were they required by the CRA? Fannie? Freddie?
• Explain the shift in Loan to value from 80% to 120%: What was it in the Act that changed this traditional lending requirement?
• Did any Federal legislation require real estate agents and mortgage writers to use the same corrupt appraisers again and again? How did they manage to always come in at exactly the purchase price, no matter what?
• Did the CRA require banks to develop automated underwriting (AU) systems that emphasized speed rather than accuracy in order to process the greatest number of mortgage apps as quickly as possible?
• How exactly did legislation force Moody's, S&Ps and Fitch to rate junk paper as Triple AAA?
• What about piggy back loans? Were banks required by Congress to lend the first mortgage and do a HELOC for the down payment -- at the same time?
• Internal bank memos showed employees how to cheat the system to get poor mortgages prospects approved that shouldn't have been: Titled How to Get an "Iffy" loan approved at JPM Chase. (Was circulating that memo also a FNM/FRE/CRA requirement?)
• The four biggest problem areas for housing (by price decreases) are: Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida, and San Diego, California. Explain exactly how these affluent, non-minority regions were impacted by the Community Reinvesment Act ?
• Did the GSEs require banks to not check credit scores? Assets? Income?
• What was it about the CRA or GSEs that mandated fund managers load up on an investment product that was hard to value, thinly traded, and poorly understood
• What was it in the Act that forced banks to make "interest only" loans? Were "Neg Am loans" also part of the legislative requirements also?
• Consider this February 2003 speech by Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozlilo at the American Bankers National Real Estate Conference. He advocated zero down payment mortgages -- was that a CRA requirement too, or just a grab for more market share, and bad banking?
The answer to all of the above questions is no, none, and nothing at all.
The CRA is not remotely one of the proximate causes of the current credit crunch, Housing collapse,and mortgage debacle. As I detailed in Barron's, there is plenty of things to be angry at D.C. about -- but this ain't one of them.
If you were to ask me to reveal the prime causative factor for the Housing boom, I would point you to Fed Chairman Greenspan taking rates to 1%, and then leaving them there for a year. The prime factor in the bust was nonfeasance on the Fed's part in supervising bank lending, allowing banks to give money to people who couldn't possibly pay it back.
The root legislative cause of the credit crisis was excessive deregulation. From exempting derivatives from regulation (2000 Commodities Futures Modernization Act) to failing to adequately oversee ratings agencies that slapped a triple AAA on junk paper, the pendulum swung too far away from reasonable oversight. By taking the refs off of the field and erroneously expecting market participants could self-regulate, the powers that be in DC gave the players on Wall Street enough rope to hang themselves with -- which they promptly did."
Next thing ya know, the Republi-cons will blame little green men.