2021 MMI Report: Reverse mortgage portfolio hits positive territory for first time since 2015

The reverse mortgage portion of the Federal Housing Administration’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF) has reached a positive capital ratio on the overall government-backed portfolio, according to an annual actuarial review of the fund’s finances and FHA’s Annual Report to Congress, both released Monday morning. Its economic net worth value sits at approximately $3.8 billion compared with the -$492 million figure recorded in 2020.

This represents a major positive shift in the health of the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) book of business, marking a third consecutive annual improvement over the issues that have been present in it over the last few years. The positive performance of the HECM book of business is largely attributed to the levels of house price appreciation that the U.S. housing market has seen recently.

“The financial performance of the HECM portfolio has improved in each of the last three years and is now positive for the first time since FY 2015,” FHA’s Annual Report to Congress reads. “The projections of the HECM portfolio’s financial performance are more sensitive to changes in Home Price Appreciation (HPA), and as a result, the strong HPA experienced in recent years explains the increase in the ratio in FY 2021.”

The standalone MMI Fund Capital Ratio for HECMs grew by 6.86 percentage points, from negative 0.78% in FY 2020 to 6.08% in FY 2021.

“MMI Fund Capital for the HECM portfolio increased by $4.3 billion over the last year,” the report reads. “The improved projection for HECM is largely based on a decrease in the [net present value] (NPV) of Projected Losses that generated $3.2 billion of new MMI Fund Capital[.]”

At the end of fiscal 2021, the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) cash flow net present value, a measure reported to Congress by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and endorsed by actuarial firm Pinnacle Actuarial Resources, was estimated to be $390 million. That’s an increase from the -$2.09 billion estimated in fiscal year 2020.

In contrast, the fiscal condition of FHA’s forward portfolio is marked by an economic net worth of $16.48 billion and a capital ratio of 7.99%, an improvement over the 6.31% recorded in fiscal year 2020.

“The strength of the fund is a promising sign and solidifies the important role FHA fulfills in making homeownership a reality for first-time homebuyers and those with lower incomes.” said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge in an announcement of the report’s release. “This year, our Administration took unprecedented steps to deliver relief to those devastated by the pandemic. Managing the strong fiscal health and performance of the FHA program is a top priority, and I am encouraged to see the MMI Fund remain resilient through the events of the past year.”

No key HECM policy recommendations, focus remains on pandemic assistance

The priorities of HUD and FHA in terms of policy priorities aimed at the HECM program remain focused on providing assistance to borrowers impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, according to HUD senior officials.

“As far as the policy perspective of HECM, we are very aware that there are some seniors that are in need, and we are trying to tailor our policy response in order to address those needs,” a senior official said. “[This year], we’ve issued a few waivers in order to assist HECM borrowers who are in arrears due to taxes and insurance by waiving the $5,000 cap for arrearages for repayment plans. Also, we waived the requirement for borrowers to maintain their own taxes and insurance for three years before services can step in to cure. So there are things that we’re looking at in order to make this easier for them in order to handle the hardships of the pandemic.”

FHA also continues to look at assistance options for HECM borrowers made possible earlier this year with the passage of the sweeping American Rescue Plan Act, which contains $10 billion to create a Homeowners Assistance Fund (HAF) to be distributed directly to states, tribal lands and other territories to provide assistance to people struggling with housing costs. This Fund can be applied to some of the primary fees that HECM borrowers are required to keep up with.

“We’re continuing to work with State Housing Finance Agencies (HFAs) as we look at the incorporation of HAF funds to see what we can do in order to help facilitate that conversation and the implementation of those funds,” a HUD senior official said. “[We’re doing this] in order to help borrowers who are struggling, [including those] who are in the HECM portfolio as well.”

The FHA Annual Report this year marks a notable departure from the 2020 report, which itself described that the HECM portfolio remained a “drag” on the MMI Fund overall. One major difference between the 2021 Annual Report and the report from one year ago is that FHA is not making any programmatic or policy recommendations regarding adjustments that should be made to the HECM program. Last year, FHA described the volatility of the HECM program in far more critical terms, describing the forward book as “subsidizing” the HECM book and calling out the HECM loan limit structure as in need of review.

Last year’s report also recommended that Congress establish a separate capital reserve for the HECM program in an effort to minimize losses to the forward book of business.

This is a developing story and will be updated when additional information becomes available.

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