Even though municipalities like San Bernardino have come to their senses and dropped a make-your-investment-banker-rich-quick scheme to seize underwater mortgages from mortgage lenders and wrote down the principal balances, the scheme refuses to completely die. I guess we'll have to use holy water, garlic, mirrors, fire, crucifixes and wooden stakes to stamp it out. In the interim, SIFMA continues to publicly pummel it.
In a recent post on its Pennsylvania + Wall blog, SIFMA's Timothy Cameron reiterates why those municipalities still considering this likely unconstitutional scheme to abandon it.
The proposals being touted target a very narrow slice of homeowners – those that are in private-label MBS and who are current on their existing mortgages, have good credit, and ideally don’t have existing home equity loans or other liens on the property. Those who are behind on their mortgage payments or have poor credit (which is the vast majority of homeowners needing help) will get no relief.
Within the small pool of qualifying homeowners, the proposal, on its face, will substantially undervalue their homes. In one example, the mortgage that investors would get paid $160,000 for is refinanced shortly thereafter for $190,000, with much of the additional $30,000 going to the plan’s backers after costs and a kickback to the municipality are accounted for. This is not fair compensation, since the amount paid is well below the face value of the taken note, and significant profits accrue to private parties.
In addition to the legal issues, the use of eminent domain will also be immensely destructive to U.S. mortgage markets in general and to specific communities using eminent domain, in particular. If the sanctity of the contractual relationship between a borrower and a creditor is undermined by the use of eminent domain, both lenders and investors will be reluctant to provide funding in the future. The result will be a significant contraction of credit availability, particularly in communities that have exercised eminent domain to seize loans. It will be much harder to get a loan: any loans that are granted will likely require much larger down payments, stronger credit scores and higher interest rates to compensate for this new and unprecedented risk. This contraction of credit availability would likely serve to halt any recovery in the municipality’s housing market, and could further depress housing values in the cities using eminent domain.
The last reason may be the most telling. Good luck with the future availability of affordable residential mortgage credit in your soon-to-be dustbowl of a community if you enact this scheme. The investment fund gets wealthy, of course, which is the impetus for this half-baked plan. All to help, but not so much, a narrow slice of the community.
Bad ideas never die. They never seem to fade away, either, unfortunately.