Coakley followed up on her threat of litigation and filed a lawsuit against the FHFA and the GSEs in Suffolk Superior Court. The complaint alleges that Fannie and Freddie, currently under FHFA conservatorship, are refusing to comply with the Massachusetts law called “An Act to Prevent Unnecessary and Unreasonable Foreclosures.”
One of the provisions of the law, which was passed in August 2012, prohibits creditors from blocking home sales to non-profits simply because the non-profit intends to resell the property back to the former homeowner. Coakley says these foreclosure buybacks are exactly what the GSEs are preventing.
In the complaint, Coakley alleges that two of the FHFA’s policies violate state law. The suit alleges that Fannie and Freddie’s “arm’s-length transaction” policy prohibits property sales to non-profits who resell to the original homeowner.
The suit also alleges that the GSEs “make whole” policy has the same effect, as it prevents Fannie and Freddie from accepting anything less than the outstanding loan amount from the former homeowner or anyone seeking to resell or rent to the former homeowner.
Fannie and Freddie are in conservatorship because too many borrowers haven't repaid mortgage loans that Fannie and Freddie bought and packaged into mortgage backed securities that they then sold to investors, including, among other types of entities, pension funds that thought they were buying a safe, "government-backed" investment. The FHFA, which regulates those two entities, has a duty to the investors (and to Fannie Mae's shareholders, who've been shafted by the government's refusal to stop sucking up all of Fannie's profits, even though all of the government bailout money spent on Fannie and Freddie has been repaid in full) to try to recoup the maximum amount possible from the mortgages that it holds. Not letting defaulting homeowners benefit from a less-than-full-repayment liquidation of a loan makes sense from that policy standpoint.
Coakley believes that state legislation that pushes local economic recovery goals (or homeowner relief social policy goals, depending on your perspective) should be able to trump the policies of the a federal regulator regarding two wards of the federal government. This will be an interesting piece of litigation from the perspective of whether or not the FHFA must amend its policies to comply with such a state law. I don't see any upside for Watt to compromise on the current policies until a court tells him he has to back off and comply with Masschusetts law. At that point, he can tell the investors and shareholders that he had no choice: the judge made him do it.
It's also interesting from the standpoint that Watt and Coakley appear to be on the same side of the fence when it comes to social policy. Watt was a liberal Democrat when he was in the House of Representatives. Moreover, he recently gave a speech that indicated that Fannie and Freddie were going to expand their efforts to provide financing to borrowers with less-than-pristine credit. That was a move that caused a blinding flash of "deja vu all over again" to appear before the eyes of critics of the federal government's housing finance policies that many allege led to the subprime housing bubble and the resulting 2008 economic collapse. However, it was also an indication that rather than winding down Fannie and Freddie and creating a different sort of national residential finance market (which was where we seemed to be heading under Watts predecessor, Ed DeMarco), we may be back on the road to officially re-establishing the two mortgage finance giants as the only game in town, something they've unofficially been since the collapse occurred (and prior to that time, to be honest).
Regardless of the way Coakley's lawsuit plays out, we have the sneaking suspicion that the brave new world of residential mortgage finance may look like the brave old world.