“Just start with the first question.”
That was it. No hello. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., called into HousingWire headquarters for the cover interview in the July issue, meant to mark the anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Act signing.
What followed was a 19-minute conversation about as many problems facing housing finance as I could bring up. There was no sign of celebration in his voice for passing the massive reform (he never really basked in it in 2010), nor was there anything resembling relief. He just sounded like he always does in committee hearings and occasional television appearances, which he says he wants to do more of after his retirement this year.
He was mildly amused with everything really. He deflected the problems with a paradoxical faith in the very market he distrusted enough to completely revamp.
Consider this about the challenges coming from the risk retention rule, something federal regulators will issue at some point after the election forcing lenders hold at least 5% of the credit risk after selling the loan to the secondary market:
“Again, you’re assuming there is no securitization with risk retention. I have more confidence in the market than that. There will be a little bit of a bump. But again, we’re saying if you make those loans, you should stand behind them.”
But the biggest thing I took away was this answer to a question really meant as a set-up for an entirely different line of questioning. After all, he gets asked it a lot. What do you think is going to happen to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?
He started as anticipated (hammering Republicans for doing nothing so far) then revealed this:
“I mean, Fannie and Freddie should be abolished. You shouldn’t have this shareholder-public thing. That clearly, in retrospect, was a problem. But I think some form of ultimate federal government guarantee is an important thing if you’re gong to have 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. It could be self-funded, I think.”
Frank acknowledged conservatorship isn’t working. The price tag so far is $189.5 billion in draws from the Treasury, and what we got back is a still staggering housing market capable of falling over again at the slightest brush from Europe or someplace else.
He’s leaving with mild amusement because despite all the blustering for a completely private system or the long-ignored creative solutions since 2008, the end result will likely be the status quo because of the powerful influence the industry still wields (in our July issue Jessica Huseman details the ramped political spending from NAR).
The government will guarantee the mortgage market in some way. And while in retirement, Frank may fully anticipate popping on CNBC or someplace for reaction to some latest attempt to further diminish the protections in his bill and the growing exposure taxpayers will endure to that guarantee.