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Urban Institute: More non-performing loans should be sold to private investors

New report shows private investors 'can do more for borrowers'

While some prominent figures in the federal government, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Mike Capuano, D-Mass, have loudly criticized the government’s practice of selling non-performing loans to private investors, a new report from the Urban Institute suggests that selling NPLs to the private sector is actually a good thing.

The report, which comes from the Urban Institute's Housing Finance Policy Center and is co-authored by HFPC Director Laurie Goodman and Center Creek Capital Group's Dan Magder, shows that private investors “can do more for borrowers” than the government.

While Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also sell non-performing loans to private investors, the Urban Institute’s report focuses on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s non-performing loan sale program, called the Distressed Asset Stabilization Program.

The Distressed Asset Stabilization Program has had its fair share of detractors.

Last year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution “urging the sale of severely delinquent mortgages to nonprofits for foreclosure prevention and affordable housing strategies.”

The mayors cited a study released last year by the Center for Popular Democracy and the ACCE Institute, entitled “Do Hedge Funds Make Good Neighbors?: How Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and HUD are Selling Off Our Neighborhoods to Wall Street.”

The report states that nearly all of the roughly 130,000 mortgages that HUD has auctioned off since 2012 have been sold to Wall Street hedge funds and private equities firms, which the groups say have a history of “defrauding taxpayers and harming homeowners, tenants and neighborhoods.”

But the Urban Institute report shows that private investors are actually more likely to do more for borrowers than the FHA can, including reducing the principal on their mortgage.

According to the Urban Institute report, the DASP helps to prevent borrowers from going into foreclosure.

“The loans sold are already very delinquent,” Goodman and Magder write.

“Servicers of loans in the DASP pools are required to have exhausted the HUD loss mitigation waterfall, so the loans are otherwise likely to be foreclosed upon,” they continue. “The impact of the program is, therefore, measurably positive for any borrower who is able to obtain a modification or foreclosure alternative as a result of the loan sale.”

Goodman and Magder also write that the DASP encourages investors to pursue foreclosure alternatives.

“For the investor (as for the borrower), foreclosure is the worst financial outcome. And unlike the servicer of a mortgage that remains in the FHA portfolio, the investor will retain the upside financial benefit from achieving an alternative to foreclosure, thus aligning the investors’ and borrowers’ interests,” they write.

“Investors who purchase the loans have a wider range of options for pursuing short sales and implementing loan modifications that better align home values and payments than do servicers acting on behalf of HUD,” they continue. “Importantly, these investors can reduce the loan’s principal. While servicers often pursue other types of loss mitigation before principal reduction, at least some of the loans that are sold can get these mods – an outcome unavailable to loans remaining in HUD’s portfolio.”

The government doesn’t just sell non-performing loans to private investors. Non-profits have also been chosen as the buyers of non-performing loan pools, but Goodman and Magder write that non-profits are limited in what they can do for borrowers.

“While non-profits have a role in helping delinquent borrowers, their limited capital and capacity suggests that their ability to significantly increase their share of DASP loan purchases will be limited in the near-term,” they write.

But there are concerns about selling to private investors, as noted in by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and others, including that private investors are too quick to push borrowers into foreclosure; private investors are making “too much money” from non-performing loan pool sales; and that borrowers would be better served by selling more non-performing loans to non-profits.

But according to Goodman and Magder, those fears are unfounded.

“In aggregate, the loan sales programs are a win for all parties, including the borrowers,” they write. “There is no question that there have been servicing abuses in the past and current servicing is not perfect. But the data show that the loans sales are producing far better outcomes for borrowers than foreclosure in the absence of the DASP.”

And as for non-profits, Goodman and Magder again question their ability to operate at a larger scale due to the financial burden that would be placed on them.

But Goodman and Magder note that the DASP is not without its issues, writing that some changes are necessary.

“In particular, the DASP program should be refined to ensure that investors cannot walk away from the most distressed properties, burdening municipalities and neighbors,” they write.

“We also urge HUD to collect and publicly release data to provide more transparency on the amount and types of foreclosure alternatives that investors provide,” they continue.

“Better disclosure will not only help all parties more accurately evaluate the impact of the program, but should also pressure servicers who are less borrower-friendly,” they write. “Finally, we support increasing and deepening partnerships between investors and non-profits to work with delinquent borrowers to resolve the non-performing loans.”

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