SAY GOODBYE TO Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as we know them. But you can take your time; it will be a long goodbye.
The Obama administration unveiled its wide-ranging framework for the future of housing finance in February, proposing three separate and distinct paths forward. In doing so, Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner acknowledged that, “realistically, this is going to take five to seven years."
Underlining each of the three proposals is a mandate to wind down the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) and replace them with an entirely new system based on private capital. All three proposals would reduce the government's involvement in housing finance while still offering some level of government assistance.
The white paper does acknowledge the rising importance of the rental industry in the wake of the single-family housing meltdown. “As we wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it will be critical to find ways to maintain funding for this segment of the market,” the report says.
Still, there's no specific plan offered for the future of the GSEs' multifamily programs. The white paper acknowledges that the GSEs have developed a lot of expertise— not to mention a profitable business model—in the apartment market. But the report also raises a gigantic red flag when it suggests expanding the FHA's capacity to support the multifamily market in the absence of the GSEs.
“In the end, I don't think shifting much of this to an expanded FHA will prove viable,” says David Abromowitz, a Boston-based partner in law firm Goulston & Storrs and a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.–based think tank Center for American Progress. “The FHA will continue to play a critical role in apartment financing, but fostering myriad private channels with a limited government insurance backing will be far more what the multifamily industry will likely push for."
Some in the industry fear that the GSEs' multifamily divisions, and by extension the industry at large, will suffer through no fault of their own. Will the massive losses racked up by the GSEs' single-family divisions hijack the debate, leaving multifamily as an afterthought?
“Quite simply, the GSEs' multifamily programs are not broken. They have default rates of less than 1 percent, and they actually produce net revenue for the U.S. government,” says Doug Bibby, president of the Washington, D.C.–based National Multi Housing Council (NMHC). “But they—and the nation's supply of workforce rental housing—stand at risk of becoming a collateral victim of the single-family meltdown."