fannie, freddie, and the future
From the news reports I've read, it seems clear that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will soon be put out to pasture.
The institutions that for decades underpinned the American home
mortgage market played a significant, though apparently not decisive,
role in the financial crisis and are now deeply in hock to the taxpayer.
What life after Fannie and Freddie will mean to architects, builders,
homeowners, and home buyers is less clear. For one thing, there are
competing plans for winding down Fannie and Freddie without freezing up
mortgage markets still recovering from the shock of the crash. More
significantly, though, Fannie and Freddie have been around for so long
(since 1938 and 1970, respectively) that most of us have taken them--and
federal support for the housing market in general--mostly for granted.
The best in-depth discussion of the matter I've come across is this On Point radio report
from Boston's WBUR. My take-way from that story is that, whatever
structure succeeds Fannie and Freddie, mortgage finance will harder to
come by. The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage may become a thing of the
past. With change of that magnitude in the offing (and the mortgage
interest deduction up for grabs as well), we can expect a very different
housing industry than the one we--not to mention our parents--grew up
I've been trying to get my arms around that idea for the
past week or so, and I woke up this morning thinking that we may end up
seeing benefits from all this. Federal support for housing, which grew,
like so many social programs, out of the Great Depression, has been
enormously successful in making home ownership affordable. But efforts
on such a massive scale are bound to have unintended consequences.
Federal support for agriculture has yielded a stable, affordable food
supply for decades, but it is also implicated in the spread of obesity
and other ills. Federal support of the housing industry has brought home
ownership within the reach of many people who would, without it, be
renters. It has also distorted the market in ways that led to suburban
sprawl and a kind of architectural "obesity" with which we are all
The passing of Fannie and Freddie may herald an era of
declining home ownership and a new generation of middle-class renters.
That may not be a bad thing; there are plenty of civilized countries
where renting is far more prevalent than here. But I can also imagine
the U.S. housing industry responding in innovative ways--building
smaller, more energy efficient houses; refitting oversize suburban
houses as multifamily dwellings; perhaps getting more involved in
providing financing for their buyers--that will keep both it and the
American model of home ownership alive and, perhaps, healthier than they
were before the crisis. --B.D.S.