Obamanomics in Catastrophic Action
How Obama's new mortgage program is steering America toward another housing-market collapse.
Remember a few years ago, when the American housing market collapsed as a direct result of government policies that—in the name of racial justice—pressured banks to approve mortgage loans for massive numbers of underqualified nonwhite applicants? Remember how that collapse set in motion the financial crisis that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama repeatedly called “the worst economy since the Great Depression”? And remember how Obama—who had long been a leading proponent of precisely the policies that had triggered the crisis—cast himself as the savior who was going to restore fiscal sanity and untangle the whole big mess?
Well, now Savior Obama and his White House are excitedly introducing Americans to their latest brainchild, the “HomeReady” mortgage program—offered through Fannie Mae and designed to help borrowers in “low-income” and “high-minority” census tracts. “For the first time,” boasts Fannie Mae, “income from a non-borrower household member [e.g., a roommate or family member] can be considered to determine an applicable debt-to-income ratio for the loan.” And if those combined incomes aren’t enough to qualify an applicant for a mortgage loan, HomeReady comes with additional built-in “flexibilities” like “allowing income from non-occupant borrowers, such as parents.” In other words, just keep rounding up everyone you know, until you can scrape together a 3% down payment and show a combined income that’s high enough to qualify for an individual loan. This makes the slipshod lending standards that caused the crisis of 2008 look exacting by comparison.
What about minority applicants with bad credit? No problem there, either! As Investor’s Business Daily notes, “You can qualify with a FICO credit score as low as 620, which is subprime.” In fact, even the term “subprime loan”—meaning a loan that has a high interest rate and less favorable terms in order to compensate the lender for the high credit risk incurred—has received a thorough makeover from Obama & Company. From now on, such transactions are going to be called “alternative loans.” See? No more “subprime” crises—ever again! Ain’t it grand?
The government policies that led to the housing market collapse of 2008 initially emerged in the mid-1970s, when Democrats in Congress began a campaign to help low-income minorities become homeowners. This led to the passage, in 1977, of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a mandate for banks to make special efforts to seek out and lend to borrowers of meager means. Founded on the premise that government intervention is necessary to counteract the fundamentally racist and inequitable nature of American society and the free market, the CRA was eventually transformed from an outreach effort into a strict quota system by the Clinton administration. Under the new arrangement, if a bank failed to meet its quota for loans to low-income minorities, it ran the risk of getting a low CRA rating from the FDIC. This, in turn, could derail the bank’s efforts to expand, relocate, merge, etc. From a practical standpoint, then, banks had no recourse but to drastically lower their standards on down-payments and underwriting, and to approve many loans even to borrowers with weak credit credentials. As Hoover Institution Fellow Thomas Sowell explains, this led to “skyrocketing rates of mortgage delinquencies and defaults,” and the rest is history.
The CRA was by no means the only mechanism designed by government to impose race-based lending quotas on financial institutions. For instance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) instituted rules encouraging lenders to dramatically hike their loan-approval rates for minority applicants and began bringing legal actions against mortgage bankers who failed to do so, regardless of the reason. Moreover, HUD pressured Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest sources of housing finance in the United States, to earmark a steeply rising number of their own loans for low-income borrowers. Many of these were subprime mortgages.
Additional pressure was applied by community organizations like ACORN, which routinely and frivolously accused banks of engaging in racially discriminatory lending practices that violated the mandates of the CRA. These groups often sued banks to prevent them from expanding or merging as they wished. Barack Obama, ACORN’s committed ally, was strongly in favor of this practice. In a 1994 class-action lawsuit against Citibank, Obama represented ACORN in demanding more favorable terms for subprime homebuyer mortgages. After four years of being dragged through the mud, a beleaguered Citibank—anxious to put an end to the incessant smears (charging racism) that Obama and his fellow litigators were hurling in its direction (to say nothing of its mounting legal bills)—agreed to settle the case.
_Forbes_ magazine puts it bluntly: “Obama has been a staunch supporter of the CRA throughout his public life.” In other words, he has long advocated the very policies that reduced the real-estate market to rubble. And now, because he is a socialist ideologue who reveres big-government interventionism and deplores the free market, he is actively pushing those very same practices again.
Obama claims, of course, to be motivated only by a desire to help downtrodden minorities get a fair shake. But in practice, his approach has served only to devastate those purported “beneficiaries.” For example, by 2009, as a result of the government policies that had brought about the housing crisis, the median net worth of black and Hispanic households nationwide had declined by 53% and 66%, respectively—whereas white net worth had fallen by a mere 16%. These disparities, explains the Federal Reserve, were largely due to the fact that African Americans and Hispanics—“because of their comparatively poor credit ratings”—were disproportionately represented among those who had fallen into the financial trap of the subprime mortgages encouraged by the CRA and similar government policies.
It’s a story we’ve seen many times: Leftist masterminds come up with a scheme to bring “justice” to the downtrodden. But when the dust eventually settles, there is only misery all around.