Fair Game: Mortgages’ Future Looks Too Much Like the Past
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Same Old Song
N a perfect world, policy makers, legislators and concerned Americans would have spent the last few years conducting an honest dialogue about two important issues: how to resolve Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-owned mortgage finance giants, and how to create a housing finance system that would serve borrowers without imperiling taxpayers.
But ours is an imperfect world, and discussions about these questions have taken place mostly behind closed doors in Washington. The rest of us Americans, who guarantee the mortgage market, have not been given much of a say.
This is a pity because the future of housing finance in this country seems to be coming down to two taxpayer-backed concepts. One is the status quo, with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continuing to back the vast majority of mortgages. The other is a newly conceived public guarantor with some of the same problems that got Fannie and Freddie into trouble.
Let’s begin with the status quo. The taxpayer rescue of Fannie and Freddie in September 2008 has cost $137 billion so far. While this has been paid down from an initial $187.5 billion, taxpayers aren’t likely to get their money back anytime soon. Last fall, the regulator charged with overseeing Fannie and Freddie estimated that the taxpayer bill for the companies could be $200 billion by the end of 2015.