Uncle Sam needs a quickie divorce from GSEs: Steve Forbes
While homeownership associations worry a watered down or non-existent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could kill the mortgage lending market, businessman Steve Forbes says Uncle Sam's divorce from the housing market couldn't come fast enough. In an editorial published this week, the entrepreneur advocated a sharp split that would immediately sever all of the government's ties to the government-sponsored enterprises. While housing advocates believe a sharp wind down of the GSEs and the implementation of 20%-minimum down payments would hurt housing by shutting out buyers, Forbes challenged this notion, saying real reform is a return to more conservative underwriting guidelines. "Actually, sound reforms are crucial to getting the housing market back on a sustainable growth path," Forbes wrote. "Not so long ago it was the norm in this country to put down 20% on a house. Other abandoned customs: limiting a mortgage to no more than four or five times a family's income, with the maturity of that debt rarely exceeding 20 years. Government pressure trashed these standard practices, which had once made the home mortgage the soundest of securities. We're still living with the consequences of the federal government's fecklessness." Forbes believes the quick dissolution of Fannie and Freddie — or at least a break-up of the GSEs — will quickly revive the secondary mortgage market. "When the dollar is relinked to gold--which will happen within a few years--nominal long-term interest rates won't be much different from what they are today," Forbes said. "But the rates will be market driven, not today's artificial, unsustainably low levels, engineered by the Federal Reserve." In February, the Treasury proposed three housing market reforms that, if enacted, will curtail the influence of Fannie and Freddie while focusing on private market originations and securitizations. While Forbes is not alone in advocating no government involvement in mortgage finance, the National Association of Realtors and community banks have warned that a drastic dismissal of government insured loans could slow the recovery and shut out deserving borrowers. Write to Kerri Panchuk.