QRM creates separate but unequal borrowers

By - Jun 21st, 2011 04:00 am

QRM could kill the already anemic U.S. housing market

June is National Home Ownership Month, and as it winds down, so might the very dream of home ownership for most Americans. In the “boring but important” category of current events, six regulatory bureaus – the Federal Reserve, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the FDIC, the Federal Housing Finance Authority, the Office of the Controller of the Currency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission – have jointly recommended a rule that would vastly inhibit the ability of most Americans to own a home at all.

The new rule, defining “Qualified Residential Mortgages” (QRM), calls for mandatory 20% down payments and other lending guidelines that have drawn the collective fire of many groups not usually aligned. Both the Heritage Foundation and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition state that QRM as proposed would have a chilling effect on the already pallid housing market and the economy as a whole.  In Wisconsin alone, home sales were down by over 20% in May, with alarming declines in median home prices as well.

And when you factor in the proposed rule’s other restrictions on income and debt, the profile of the new American homeowner would be easy to define: wealthy and, most likely, white. What follows is a piece authored by Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. He makes a compelling argument for the effective discrimination that would result if the QRM Rule is enacted. And while the public comment period was scheduled to end June 10, the Federal Reserve has now extended the deadline to August 1 in the face of so much opposition to its proposal.

Share your feedback here, with the Fed, on Facebook or where ever. But tell us what you think. As always, your insights matter. Thanks—Jon Anne Willow, TCD Editor in Chief

Separate But Unequal Borrowers

By Marc H. Morial, special to ThirdCoast Digest via Other Words

Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League

Marc H. Morial

Home ownership as we know it could be a thing of the past if a proposed Qualified Residential Mortgage Rule (QRM) takes effect. The proposed rule would be especially damaging to the homeowner aspirations of minority and working class citizens, as I recently explained in a letter to the heads of the six federal agencies charged with developing risk retention regulations under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Here’s why.

The rule would require prospective borrowers to present a 20-percent down payment, spend less than 28 percent of their monthly gross income on housing, and have total monthly household debt capped at less than 36 percent of their income. Most people can’t afford to put 20 percent down. And, when coupled with an additional requirement of near-pristine personal credit standards, these proposed requirements could end the standard 30-year fixed mortgage and replace it with a new class of “high-risk” borrower, formerly known as the responsible middle-class borrower.
John Taylor, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, calls this a civil rights issue. “What has been proposed essentially creates a separate and unequal system of finance for people of color and for blue-collar, working-class people where regardless of your creditworthiness, of whether you’re someone who has a great credit score and pays your bills on time and plays by all the rules, if you’re not well-heeled enough to come up with 20 percent or if your household debt-to-income ratios are high… you’re going to go into a separate and unequal category of financing where you’re going to have to pay more,” he said. We agree.

Housing industry experts agree. In April, a coalition of trade groups including the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Homebuyers, and the Mortgage Bankers Association issued a joint report, saying in part that it would take 14 years for the typical American family to save enough money for a 20-percent down payment. “A 20-percent down payment requirement for the QRM means that even the most creditworthy and diligent first-time homebuyer cannot qualify for the lowest rates and safest products in the market,” they added.

Adding high minimum down-payment requirements will only exclude hundreds of thousands of consumers — including legions of minority renters — from home ownership. And any rule or action that further stifles an already severely depressed housing market for first-time buyers, including many people of color, will also negatively suppress the entire housing industry — realtors, builders, retailers, suppliers, and many others. Clearly, what’s being proposed is anti-jobs, anti-growth, and in absolute contravention of the American Dream.

The American home, by definition, reflects much more than mere property. It represents the ability to build wealth for all those with a stable income and a demonstrated history of financial responsibility. It is the foundation of family and community, and represents the collective promise of the chance to build prosperity that lasts through generations.

This promise must be reaffirmed and protected in whatever form the new housing finance model ultimately takes.

Categories: Economy

0 thoughts on “Op/Ed: QRM creates separate but unequal borrowers”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This rule looks like a terrific plan to keep us moving down the road toward a feudal or plantation society, functioning for the benefit of permanently-entitled gentry and powered by permanently-encumbered peons or peasants. That’s the goal, right? Next: debtors’ prisons and indentured servitude.

  2. Anonymous says:

    20% was the guideline when I bought my first home. Now we are facing national financial ruin if we restrict home ownership to people who can actually afford it. I agree with most of what Urban Dweller says. But the fall in home ownership is not a cause but a result of a long slide backwards toward a society and government that looks out for the rich and no longer sees the importance of middle-class, family supporting (i.e. home-owning) jobs.

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