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Monday Morning Cup of Coffee: Gloves come off in Warren vs. Mulvaney

CFPB architect accuses acting director of being evasive and misleading about agency

Monday Morning Cup of Coffee takes a look at news coming across the HousingWire weekend desk with more coverage to come on bigger issues.

We’ve been tracking the battle between Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Acting Director Mick Mulvaney for some time now.

Warren, the architect of the CFPB, has taken many an issue with the way that Mulvaney has run the agency since he became acting director last year when former director Richard Cordray stepped down.

Mulvaney, who also serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget, made his feelings about the CFPB perfectly clear during his time in Congress, and since taking over at the agency, Mulvaney has put his stamp firmly on the CFPB’s operations.

In just the last few months, Mulvaney laid out a new strategic plan for the CFPB, one that is drastically different from that of his predecessor.

“If there is one way to summarize the strategic changes occurring at the bureau, it is this: we have committed to fulfill the bureau’s statutory responsibilities, but go no further,” Mulvaney said last month. “By hewing to the statute, this strategic plan provides the bureau a ready roadmap, a touchstone with a fixed meaning that should serve as a bulwark against the misuse of our unparalleled powers.”

Mulvaney also told the CFPB’s employees that the agency was ending regulation by enforcement, adding that the agency works not only for consumers, but also for the companies it supervises.

Mulvaney also reportedly stripped the bureau’s Office of Fair Lending of its enforcement powers, announced that the CFPB would “reconsider” its payday lending rules, and defanged the changes in Home Mortgage Disclosure Act reporting that were to take effect this year, just to name a few.

At many of these points along the way, Warren and some of her Democratic colleagues have tried to get Mulvaney to provide explanations for his actions.

Apparently those requests have, in many instances, been left wanting.

Late last week, Warren sent a 17-page letter to Mulvaney, accusing him of ignoring or providing “evasive, misleading, or incomplete answers” to more than 100 questions asked of him by Democrats in Congress.

“The nine letters that I have sent you since November 2017 included 125 questions and requests for information. You have ignored or provided evasive, misleading, or incomplete answers to 105 of these questions,” Warren wrote in the letter.

“That is an unacceptable track record for a public official,” Warren continued. “I ask that you answer these questions and provide the transparency needed for Congress and the American public to assess whether you are following the law and managing the CFPB effectively.”

But Warren’s letter isn’t just tough talk. As the kids say, she’s got receipts.

On Warren’s website, she listed each of the nine letters in question and detailed Mulvaney’s apparently insufficient responses, including providing copies of both her letters to Mulvaney and Mulvaney’s responses – so each of us can judge for ourselves whether Mulvaney was evasive and misleading or if Warren is full of it.

Here’s one example of Warren’s callout of Mulvaney.

Warren mentions a mid-February letter sent to Mulvaney by a group of more than 50 congressional Democrats, Warren included, who wanted Mulvaney’s reported decision to strip the agency’s Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity of its enforcement powers.

The letter laid out a series of questions that the Democrats wanted Mulvaney to answer, and he apparently did not respond to any of them, according to Warren.

From Warren’s website:

Mr. Mulvaney did not respond to any of the 14 specific questions, and instead asserted without proof that the reorganization "will not hamper" the Bureau's enforcement and supervisory work. Link to letter

In Warren’s latest letter to Mulvaney, she includes all 105 unanswered questions and asks Mulvaney to respond by the end of the month.

Although, if recent history is any predictor of the near future, I’d imagine that Mulvaney won’t be providing answers that will satisfy Warren or her Democratic colleagues.

Zero-down mortgages are back in Massachusetts, sort of.

The Boston Globe on Sunday highlighted a new program from MassHousing that offers mortgages to certain borrowers with a down payment requirement.

From the Boston Globe report:

From a lack of homes for sale to overcrowded open houses to bidding wars, the chance for them to buy a house has become increasingly more remote. For many, even saving for a small down payment — never mind the recommended 20 percent — can be next to impossible.

It’s an issue that MassHousing is hoping to tackle through a new program that would cover the down payment on a property — up to 3 percent — for some first-time homebuyers. The quasi-public state agency said Sunday that under the program, income-eligible people using a MassHousing mortgage to purchase their first home will be able to finance up to 100 percent of the cost. They’ll eventually have to pay back the down payment — through a low-cost secondary mortgage — but they won’t be required to have cash up front.

According to the report, the borrower’s down payment would be rolled into a 15-year second mortgage that carries a fixed interest rate of 1%.

But, as is usually the case with any program like this these days, this loan is only available to certain borrowers.

Again from the Globe:

In addition to meeting minimum credit standards to qualify, first-time homebuyers must have annual household incomes at or below the area median income. In the eastern part of the state, that’s an annual household income of up to $103,400 annually. It’s $85,700 in Worcester County, and $67,200 in Berkshire County.

The MassHousing down payment program also includes strict requirements for would-be buyers — including a minimum credit score, debt-to-income qualifications, and mandatory attendance at a homeownership education class.

And finally, another example of how risky being a real estate agent really is.

Recently, a San Francisco real estate agent was robbed at gunpoint during an open house she was hosting.

Here are the details from SFGate:

A 55-year-old real estate agent was held up at gunpoint and robbed during an open house on a privately owned street in San Francisco's Bayview Heights neighborhood last weekend, the San Francisco Police Department said this week.

The victim was standing in the kitchen of the home that she planned to show, shortly before 2:30 p.m., when she heard footsteps inside the house, according to police.

Assuming the noise was coming from potential buyers there to tour the property, she went to greet them, only to encounter the three suspects, one of them armed with a gun, police reported.

According to the report, the suspects got away with the real estate agent’s cash, but were scared away when someone else rang the doorbell, perhaps preventing something far worse than a robbery.

Any crime against a real estate agent that happens in their line of duty brings back memories of Beverly Carter, who was tragically abducted and killed in 2014 while showing a home to a supposed new client.

So, in closing, a hearty tip of the cap to all our real estate agent and Realtor readers, whose jobs are far more dangerous than they’re ever given credit for. Stay safe out there.

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