When people ask me who was primarily responsible for the credit crisis, I give the typical “well, it was various groups acting together” answer but there is no doubt in my mind that the core of the problem was the emergence of poor home lending in this country. While I believe that both the bankers and the borrowers need to share in the blame for enabling millions of bad loans from being originated, it should be pretty clear to everyone (across the political spectrum) that if the United States had reasonable mortgage underwriting standards in place, the credit crisis would have been prevented. If I could rewind the clock to the early 2000’s and legislate underwriting standards that mandated income verification, the inclusion of a down payment, and forbade interest-only loans and mortgages where the borrower could pick from several payment amounts each month, I have no doubt the country would have looked a lot different over the past few years.
So imagine my surprise to learn that Bob Corker and four other senators have proposed an amendment to the current financial regulation debate (number 3955), which despite having obvious, reasonable, and necessary underwriting standards, has absolutely no chance of passing. The Homeowner Responsibility Amendment would, within five years, impose federal mortgage underwriting standards including a 5% down payment requirement, verification of income and employment history, private mortgage insurance for loans above 80% of the home’s value, and consideration of ability-to-repay metrics such as a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio.
Even more concerning than the fact that this amendment will be defeated handily is that one would have thought just by reading it that Republicans would be the side that had come out against it. Can’t you envision them claiming that this is over-regulation by the federal government and that it gets in the way of our capitalist, free market system? Instead, this amendment is being introduced by five Republican senators and is likely to get more Republican votes than Democrat votes. It may turn out that a majority of Republicans oppose the amendment for the reason stated above, but regardless I think it is a shame that after all our country has been through in recent years, our politicians cannot even agree that reasonable underwriting standards are needed in the mortgage industry.
If you cannot afford to buy a house, you should not be allowed to. You are not entitled to a home simply because you want one. And if you cannot put down a modest 5% down payment, verify your income, and demonstrate an ability to pay back a traditional 30-year fixed mortgage, then you should not be buying a home. And if the government wants to mandate that to avoid a future filled with billions in taxpayer bailouts and deep recessions, I don’t see why it shouldn’t, or why the American public should not be demanding such action.