by Dan Krell
Congress recently passed H.R. 1852, The Expanding American Homeownership Act of 2007. The act is a move forward for a seventy-three year old program federal program called the Federal Housing Administration, also known as the FHA. The recent legislation was devised in the spirit of the FHA and looks to assist millions to obtain home ownership.
The FHA mortgage program (administered through the department of Housing and Urban Development since 1965) was created in 1934 when about only ten percent of Americans owned their home. At a time when home buyers needed a fifty percent down payment to obtain a three year balloon mortgage, the FHA’s progressive mortgage programs provided a spark for the nation’s stagnant housing industry (HUD.gov).
Through the years, the FHA provided progressive programs to assist those in need. The FHA took part in financing military housing in the 1940’s. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the FHA made funds available for adult, handicapped, and low income apartments. When rising inflation and energy costs threatened many apartment buildings in the 1970’s, the FHA made emergency funds available to assist in keeping these properties operational. In the 1980’s, when lenders pulled out of oil producing states because of falling home prices, the FHA offered mortgages to those who could not otherwise buy a home.
H.R. 1852 comes at a time when the mortgage industry is in crisis and home ownership is threatened for those who need financing alternatives. The bill expands the mortgage program to offer more financing options as well as increasing FHA mortgage originators.
Reforming the FHA mortgage program will expand the program and allow home buyers who do not qualify for a conforming loan (Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac) have access to alternatives to sub-prime lending. The FHA mortgage program will be expanded by increasing loan limits, eliminating the three percent down payment requirement, and implementing a risk based pricing system.
When home buyers do not qualify for a conforming loan, they turn to a sub-prime lender. Unfortunately, many sub-prime mortgages have high interest rates and other possible unfavorable terms. By increasing FHA loan limits in high cost areas these home buyers would possibly be able to obtain more favorable mortgage rates and terms through FHA.
Additionally, many first-time home buyers do not have the funds for a down payment or closing costs. These home buyers are typically driven to the sub-prime mortgage market as well. However, eliminating the FHA three percent down payment requirement will allow many more home buyers to obtain a FHA mortgage as well.
Many credit worthy home buyers who do not qualify for conforming mortgages due to mitigating circumstances are also forced to use sub-prime lending. Implementing risk based pricing may allow many of these home buyers to obtain a more favorable mortgage through FHA.
Presently many mortgage brokers do not originate FHA mortgages because of the restrictions and rigorous qualifications. However, increasing mortgage broker participation by reducing broker requirements and eliminating mandatory auditing would increase home buyer access to the FHA program.
The expansion of FHA programs may seem counterintuitive in a time when the industry is in turmoil. However, these reforms to a venerable housing program are welcome by many as well as being reminiscent to its legacy of commitment to home ownership.
This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 14, 2007. Copyright © Dan Krell 2007.