The heads of both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the U.S. Department of the Treasury testified before the House Financial Services Committee Tuesday on the future of affordable housing in America.
“Too many Americans lack what each of us deserves: an affordable place to call home, whether it is rented or owned,” said FHFA Director Mark Calabria during the hearing.
Calabria continued, saying housing affordability is a “national problem,” but has local roots, as the fundamental cause of affordability issues are local policies that make it harder and more expensive to build new housing. He said zoning and land-use restrictions, environmental regulations, building codes, and permitting requirements “disproportionately hurt low-income Americans.”
“Our affordability problems will not be solved until local governments remove these impediments that limit the supply of affordable housing in their communities,” Calabria said. “Our housing finance system also has a role to play. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exist to ensure mortgage credit availability through the economic cycle.”
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own $5.6 trillion in single and multifamily mortgages—nearly half of the market. Calabria, however, added they were limited to just $6 billion in allowable capital reserves.
The FHFA and the U.S. Department of the Treasury allowed the GSEs to retain capital of up to $45 billion combined. Calabria called this a “significant step forward.”
“To be clear, Treasury does not propose, and indeed opposes, reducing or eliminating the government-sponsored enterprises’ (GSEs) longstanding support for affordable housing,” said Steven Mcuchin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Mnuchin said the Treasury’s plan advocates for the continued government backing, support, and availability of the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loans.
He also added the GSEs have at least four key statutory mandates to promote access to affordable mortgage credit for “historically underserved borrowers and renters.”
The U.S. Department of the Treasury released its plan to reform the housing finance system in September.
According to the department, the Treasury Housing Reform Plan consists of a series of recommended legislative administrative reforms aimed to “protect American taxpayers against future bailouts,” preserve the 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage, and help guide Americans toward the path to homeownership.