Banks and mortgage companies have long been under pressure from lawmakers and regulators to give loans to people with bad credit, in order to provide "affordable housing" and promote "diversity." That played a key role in triggering the mortgage crisis, judging from a story today in the New York Times.
For example, "a high-ranking Democrat telephoned executives and screamed at them to purchase more loans from low-income borrowers, according to a Congressional source." The executives of government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac "eventually yielded to those pressures, effectively wagering that if things got too bad, the government would bail them out." But they realized the risk: "In 2004, Freddie Mac warned regulators that affordable housing goals could force the company to buy riskier loans." Ultimately, though, Freddie Mac's CEO, Richard F. Syron, told colleagues that "we couldn't afford to say no to anyone."
Now, taxpayers are on the hook for a massive mortgage bailout, which is estimated to cost $25 billion just to bail out the two government-backed mortgage giants. And far from recognizing the devastating cost of its "affordable housing" fetish, Congress has created a costly new "affordable housing trust fund" that can be used as a slush fund by left-wing special interest groups. Other provisions of the bailout are also larded with pork for special interests.
As a Washington Post story shows, the high-risk loans that led to the mortgage crisis were the product of regulatory pressure, not a lack of regulation. In 2004, even after banking officials "warned that subprime lenders were saddling borrowers with mortgages they could not afford, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helped fuel more of that risky lending. Eager to put more low-income and minority families into their own homes, the agency required that two government-chartered mortgage finance firms purchase far more â€˜affordable' loans made to these borrowers. HUD stuck with an outdated policy that allowed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to count billions of dollars they invested in subprime loans as a public good that would foster affordable housing.”
Lenders also face the risk of being sued for discrimination if they fail to make loans to people with bad credit, which often has a racially-disparate impact (proving that such impact is unintentional is costly and difficult, and not always sufficient to avoid liability under antidiscrimination laws). They also risk possible sanctions under the Community Reinvestment Act.