Publications

  • A Canary in the Mortgage Market? Why the Recent FHA and GSE Loan Limit Reductions Deserve Attention

    Explores the potential implications of recent reductions in the maximum loan size that can be guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Government-Sponsored Enterprises or GSEs), or insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in many parts of the country. The changes, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2011, represent the first step in a long-term policy goal to reduce the federal government’s current role in the mortgage system. They will also be a significant test of the private mortgage finance system.

  • Building New or Preserving the Old? The Affordable Housing Tradeoffs of Developing on NYCHA Land

    This report explores the tradeoffs between leasing underdeveloped NYCHA land to generate revenue, creating new affordable units, or achieving some portion of both. It finds that in neighborhoods with high rents, leasing underdeveloped NYCHA-owned land for private development could generate either substantial annual lease payments for NYCHA or significant numbers of affordable units. The potential to generate a substantial lease payment or number of affordable units drops as market rents drop. Where there is potential to lease land for development, the report quantifies the tradeoffs between generating revenue for NYCHA and creating new affordable units. 

  • Comment on ‘Are the Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Justified?’

    In “Are the Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Justified?” the authors conclude that the benefits delivered by the GSEs (as structured prior to conservatorship) are minimal and do not exceed their costs. While many of the arguments made in the article have merit and raise serious questions about the structure of the GSEs prior to 2008, the article overlooks several important benefits and costs. More significantly, no one is arguing for a return of the GSEs as they were structured prior to conservatorship. Rather than debate the merits of a model that has already been rejected by policymakers, we argue that the far more important question is what the housing finance market should look like in the future.

  • Creating Affordable Housing Out of Thin Air: The Economics of Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning in New York City

    This policy brief examines the economic potential of a mandatory inclusionary zoning policy to produce new affordable units tied to upzonings across New York City’s neighborhoods. It finds that a mandatory inclusionary zoning policy in New York City has the potential to produce affordable units in neighborhoods that already command high rent, such as East Harlem. But the city’s low-rent neighborhoods, such as East New York and Jerome Avenue, may not have sufficient market strength to justify high-density mixed-income development without other forms of subsidy. The study considers the role of 421-a, as well as key policy trade-offs including on-site vs. off-site, depth of affordability, and permanent affordability. View the white paper, press release, and briefing presentation deck. 

  • Essay: Sticky Seconds—The Problems Second Liens Pose to the Resolution of Distressed Mortgages

    To better understand whether and how second liens might prevent efficient resolutions of borrower distress and to assess how second lien holders could be encouraged to cooperate with efficient resolutions without undermining the financial interests of the banks, we reviewed existing data and research, as well as debates among both academics and industry experts about the role second liens might be playing in slowing the recovery of the housing market. This article reports the results of our research and the roundtable discussion. It first explores what we know about the prevalence and delinquency rates of different types of second liens, the extent to which banks are exposed to losses on the liens, and the extent to which the banks already have accounted for those expected losses. It then reviews the various reasons that second liens have interfered with the efficient resolution of distressed mortgages, and documents advances that recently have been made in addressing those problems. Finally, the article examines the most promising proposals for reducing the transaction costs and frictions that are behind many of the current problems second liens are posing, as well as proposals to prevent similar problems from arising in the future. We focus our analysis of solutions on programs to remove barriers to greater coordination between first and second lien holders, rather than on the incentive approaches that have already been attempted.

  • Give Credit Where Credit Is Due: Overhauling the CRA

    The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is in need of a major overhaul. Since the CRA was enacted in 1977, and since the last major rewrite of the regulations more than 15 years ago, much about the financial services industry has changed. This chapter discusses why the regulatory system needs to be redesigned to allow for more regular and timely updates, allowing more rapid  responses to what is working and what is not. By being more amenable to continuous improvement, the CRA should be more open to innovation and experimentation given the greater opportunity for making midterm corrections. This chapter starts with a brief overview of the CRA and its successes. It then outlines some ways to facilitate more regular updating of the CRA regulations, followed by a review of a number of ways to increase the effectiveness of CRA in helping to stabilize and revitalize low-and moderate-income (LMI) communities. 

  • Improving U.S. Housing Finance through Reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Assessing the Options

    For several decades, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, were the largest players in an American housing finance system that provided effective mortgage financing for many millions of Americans.  Since early 2008, the firms’ near-insolvency has called their future into question.  This paper lays out criteria for evaluating the different proposals for reform of the two firms.

  • Mortgage Financing for Small Multifamily Rental Properties: What is the Problem?

    This study examines the effect of mortgage financing on the long-term viability of the small multifamily rental stock in both Chicago and New York City. It also explores the relationship between the size of the mortgage gap and the condition of the housing stock, and looks for how the financial crisis and Great Recession affected and continues to affect the rate of origination of new mortgages for multifamily buildings of different sizes in the two geographies. It finds that, despite the mortgage gap,  smaller multifamily rental properties may be in better condition generally and properties that have mortgages are generally in worse condition than those without mortgages, regardless of size. Moreover, it surfaces a number of possible reasons that can account for the mortgage gaps.

  • NYU Furman Center / Citi Report on Homeownership & Opportunity in New York City

    This report, commissioned by Citi and conducted by the NYU Furman center, analyzes recent home sales data and examines the potential purchasing power of households at various income levels in New York City, as well as the nearby counties of Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester. It finds that becoming a homeowner in New York City’s real estate market is a considerable challenge for the vast majority of New York City households due to the city’s severely constrained supply of affordable home-buying opportunities. And, according to the new report, homeownership prospects do not necessarily improve by moving out of the city to the surrounding New York suburbs.

  • The American Mortgage System: Crisis and Reform

    The Secondary Mortgage Market for Housing Finance in the United States: A Brief Overview

    Understanding both the current problems in the secondary market and the proposed solutions requires an understanding of the role of the secondary mortgage market in U.S. housing finance. In this chapter, the authors focus in particular on the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which for decades were the largest players in the U.S. system. The authors conclude that while the described weaknesses within the chapter are important, and the structure of the GSE’s should surely be improved, it would be a mistake to assume that simply reforming the GSEs, without making significant reforms to the private-label market, would prevent another crisis.


    The Community Reinvestment Act: Evaluating Past Performance and Reviewing Options for Reform

    The passage of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977 set in motion a bold experiment that has yet to achieve its full potential. This chapter analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of implementation of the CRA over the last 33 years and provides potential directions for reform, one of which recommends that the Obama administration designate one agency to take the lead and give the agency a tight timetable, sufficient staffing and analytic resources, and the authority to resolve disputes. While reform may also involve legislation, it is important to make sure that it does not become overly prescriptive and stifle innovation. The banking world will continue to evolve, as will the best ideas on how to revitalize and strengthen communities.


    Improving U.S. Housing Finance Through Reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: A Framework for Evaluating Alternatives

    This chapter lays out criteria for evaluating proposals for reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The authors introduce the basic goals of a healthy secondary market for both the single-family and multi-family markets, which include access to liquid credit markets nationwide, countercyclical stability and availability of safe products that are reasonably priced and clearly understood by borrowers and investors.The authors also offer a framework that will help describe and understand the different proposals for reform and how variants of Fannie and Freddie might fit into that picture. As federal government officials contemplate the future of these two entities, the authors hope that this chapter offers a useful framework to use in evaluating the alternative proposals.