A bill intended to prevent a repeat of the accounting and management scandals that shook Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has been approved by the House Financial Services Committee, with a provision to create a $500 million-a-year affordable-housing fund intact.
The committee approved the bill, HR 1427, Thursday in a 45 to 19 vote. But the affordable-housing fund could prove to be an obstacle to passage in the Senate, where a similar bill became bogged down last year.
Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., warned the fund would be seen as a “poison pill provision” — an idea rejected by committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Democrats who defeated Republican-backed amendments to remove it.
If HR 1427 becomes law, Fannie and Freddie would contribute an amount equal to 1.2 basis points of their outstanding mortgages — an estimated $500 million a year — to the affordable-housing fund. Only 75 percent of the money would be used for affordable housing purposes, with the rest going to the federal government to keep the fund “deficit neutral.”
To increase oversight of Fannie and Freddie, HR 1427 would create a new regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which would have the power to place the government-sponsored entities in receivership.
The FHFA would be authorized to set limits on the GSEs’ lending portfolios, and even shut them down and liquidate their assets if they run into financial trouble, leaving shareholders and creditors responsible for losses. That could make it more expensive for Fannie and Freddie to borrow money and reduce the competitive advantage they enjoy over “private-label” lenders that securitize and sell pools of mortgage loans on Wall Street.
In testimony before the committee March 15, executives at Fannie and Freddie said they can’t play the role Congress intended — supporting affordable housing by lowering the cost of borrowing — unless they are allowed to generate profits.