Several of you have perhaps seen this already, but friends have been circulating an article from the New York Times taken from a September 1999 issue that now has huge bearing on the present financial crisis in the United States. Most people can now understand what the writer was warning about now that we have seen the collapse of the housing market in America. 

Many ask: "Who caused this mess?" Well there is enough blame to go around for sure. But a major share of it should be laid in the right place. This article, coming from the New York Times as it does, makes that place abundantly clear. Numerous financial voices were raised about this problem for nine years but we merrily moved along without listening. Now we are paying the price. Read and then pray and weep for our nation while politicians play games with our lives.

STEVEN A. HOLMES

New York Times (September 30, 1999)

In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.

The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets — including the New York metropolitan region — will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates–anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

''Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990's by reducing down payment requirements," said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae's chairman and chief executive officer. "Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called sub-prime market.''

Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the sub-prime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's.

''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.''

Under Fannie Mae's pilot program, consumers who qualify can secure a mortgage with an interest rate one percentage point above that of a conventional, 30-year fixed rate mortgage of less than $240,000–a rate that currently averages about 7.76 per cent. If the borrower makes his or her monthly payments on time for two years, the one percentage point premium is dropped.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, does not lend money directly to consumers. Instead, it purchases loans that banks make on what is called the secondary market. By expanding the type of loans that it will buy, Fannie Mae is hoping to spur banks to make more loans to people with less-than-stellar credit ratings.

Fannie Mae officials stress that the new mortgages will be extended to all potential borrowers who can qualify for a mortgage. But they add that the move is intended in part to increase the number of minority and low income home owners who tend to have worse credit ratings than non-Hispanic whites.

Home ownership has, in fact, exploded among minorities during the economic boom of the 1990's. The number of mortgages extended to Hispanic applicants jumped by 87.2 per cent from 1993 to 1998, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. During that same period the number of African Americans who got mortgages to buy a home increased by 71.9 per cent and the number of Asian Americans by 46.3 per cent.

In contrast, the number of non-Hispanic whites who received loans for homes increased by 31.2 per cent.

Despite these gains, home ownership rates for minorities continue to lag behind non-Hispanic whites, in part because blacks and Hispanics in particular tend to have on average worse credit ratings.

In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed that by the year 2001, 50 percent of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's portfolio be made up of loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. Last year, 44 percent of the loans Fannie Mae purchased were from these groups.

The change in policy also comes at the same time that HUD is investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the automated underwriting systems used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine the credit-worthiness of credit applicants.

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Comments

  1. James K October 12, 2008 at 7:23 am

    Many ask,”Who caused this mess?” Well there is enough blame to go around for sure. You are absolutely right.
    Milton Friedman, an economist and Nobel Prize winner said,”It is very difficult to use my money for others, but it is very easy to use others’ money for me. And it is much easier to use others’ money for others.” For many years the government made it much easier for middle class to own homes through sub-prime mortgage without down payment. As the result the home ownership has dramatically increased among minorities. In Europe and other countries, the home ownership is much more difficult (I don’t have exact figure). They say Americans are notorious about low savings, close to zero. Many are dependent on borrowing money for cars and for their children’s education etc. This may be alright in most of time. But in times of economic downturn this can create havoc and chain reaction for economic meltdown.

  2. Ross October 20, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Talk about prophetic!
    I’m no economist and I don’t know if the bail-out is a good idea or not, but as someone who bought a house near the peak of the Denver housing market, I believe I have only myself to blame for my current situation. My wife and I had lived in an apartment with our 1 son for 5 years and when our second son was born and believed we needed a house. With no down payment and a substantial debt load we were approved for $250K. Thank God we didn’t opt to take out a loan anywhere near that amount. But we did take out a loan on a property that is now worth less than we paid for it 5 years ago. We’ve since paid off our debt (except for the house) and are forced to live a lifestyle less than what we’d prefer and can’t get out of this house to ‘upgrade’ due to the loss in value.
    So, I feel that we, like every other American who took the bait ought to suffer the consequences of the choices we made: choices that were motivated more by desire than need.

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