There are now two new files on my desk. Wednesday, HousingWire posted four stories covering the Mortgage Bankers Association meeting in Washington, D.C. The final article focused on the potential for much higher interest rates should the mortgage industry decide to do away with its self-created electronic tracking service, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS. Another revolved around a group of protesters organized by the AFL-CIO who interrupted the proceedings. Both are earning the reporter who covered the conference, Jon Prior, equal parts praise and equal parts scathing criticism. HousingWire's readers, it appears, are polarized into two, distinct sides of which neither is likely to concede much ground. As Jon's editor, it is my responsibility to review his work and determine if proponents and detractors alike use arguments that hold water. The most heated e-mails generally tend to be illogical. In one case, an e-mail associates Jon with terrorism and suggests that his time would be better occupied in prison. The author then points Jon to another website to support his assertion. To imprison a journalist based on his or her published writing is a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. Not that we charge that this commentary is un-American, but it is a common theme in today's letters. Another such letter also suggests the reporter be "charged with making terroristic threats against the United States and the states individually and imprisoned, not coddled and pandered to." In this case, I can offer a clear assurance that Jon Prior is neither coddled, nor pandered to, in his day-to-day work responsibilities. My personal favorite is an e-mail that offers a question seemingly unrelated to any of Jon's coverage of the MBA conference: "How dare you fight against affordable housing in an effort to keep prices high?" Yet the simple math reasonably demonstrates that if foreclosures were allowed to reach the market and drive up supply, then demand would lower as well, and, as a consequence, so will prices. The American Enterprise Institute, which seeks to reform the housing market, submitted Thursday a white paper to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, arguing for an end to the government-sponsored enterprises. Such a white paper would likely be well-received by the readers above. After spending the eight years prior to this living and working in London, I was struck by the following passage:
"No other developed country provides anything that approaches the support for housing provided by the U.S. government, and many of these other systems produce higher homeownership rates, lower mortgage interest rates and fewer losses when defaults occur."
The statement from the white paper is true. But it also begs the argument that the system is primarily responsible for the impossible, dire housing situation in America. The AEI wants an end to the GSEs, but without a viable alternative, via private-label securitization or workable covered bond legislation, mortgages would be pricier for borrowers without Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That is the system, warts and all. And some readers view our stories as either supporting or opposing their views on housing finance. Here's a thought: HousingWire editorial is actually a centered organization made up of both young (Jon) and older (me) staff members who have only ever worked in media, not the mortgage industry. Our goal, in our news stories, is to present you with up-to-date, exclusive and insightful analysis of the nation's housing market. We also give you a wide-range of opinions about the news in our "Voices" section. That said, I am placing the above correspondence in a new file marked "Death to HousingWire!" Letters that will instead be relegated to the other file, now marked "Long Live HousingWire!" will be from our readers who no doubt enjoy the self-aggrandizing title of this column. These are the letters that are sometimes critical of what it is we do, but offer guidance, reassurance and an understanding of the way things work in mortgage finance and why. And in the spirit of benevolence (and centrism), I would offer a sample of their words of encouragement, but I suspect both sets of readers are happiest just reading the vitriol. Write to Jacob Gaffney. Follow him on Twitter @JacobGaffney.