The CRA Scam and its Defenders
by Thomas DiLorenzo
Thomas DiLorenzo is professor of economics at Loyola College and a member of the senior faculty of the Mises Institute.
When the CRA was created during the Carter administration, the administration also funded with tax dollars numerous "community groups" that have helped the Fed, the Comptroller of the Currency, and other federal regulatory agencies to enforce the act. Under the CRA, if a bank wants to make virtually any change in its business operations — merging, opening up a new branch, getting into a new line of business — it must first prove to regulators that it has made "enough" loans to the government's preferred borrowers. The (partially) tax-funded "community groups" like ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) can file petitions with regulators that stop the bank's activities in their tracks, perhaps defeating them altogether. The banks routinely buy off ACORN and other "community groups" by giving them millions of dollars as well as promising to make even more dubious loans.
Geee.... there is ACORN again...showing up right in the middle of DC politics... and essentially acting as a government-funded extortionist!
In order to try to diversify the risk of these loans, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Company ("Freddie Mac") pioneered the "securitization" of bundles of these high-risk loans so that they could be sold on secondary markets. Such "securitization" exploded during the 1990s as a result of government regulation. As Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke himself stated in a March 30, 2007 speech entitled "The Community Reinvestment Act: Its Evolution and New Challenges"Bernanke wrote:Securitization of affordable housing loans expanded, as did the secondary market for these loans, in part reflecting a 1992 law that required the government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to devote a large percentage of their activities to meeting affordable housing goals.
The government also "streamlined" the regulatory requirements for CRA loans in 1995, allowing — and indeed pressuring — banks to make such loans without the benefit of many traditional credit-worthiness criteria, such as the size of the mortgage payment relative to income, savings history, and even income verification! Instead, the Fed told banks that participation in a credit-counseling program, many of which are federally funded, could be used as "proof" of a low-income applicant's ability to make his mortgage payments. In other words, federal bank regulators required banks to make bad loans based on nonexistent credit standards.
Do you see the connection yet? Banks were essentially being told that their continued development and expansion of their business could (and would) be held hostage unless they loosened their lending rules. And then we have the story of the "model citizen lender" Countrywide:
In his April 26 New York Post article on the CRA entitled "The Real Scandal," Professor Liebowitz explains how the government's Fannie Mae Foundation singled out one bank in particular as the role model for all other banks in America in terms of its commitment to CRA lending: Countrywide, the nation's largest mortgage lender, had committed to $600 billion in low-income or "subprime" loans as of 2003. Today, Countrywide is essentially bankrupted and has been merged with Bank of America.
We loved Countrywide right up until the time it could no longer do business...
The myth that the CRA would not be harmful to bank-industry profits was hidden for years by the Fed-created housing bubble, which allowed for easy refinancing of all the bad debt. "[The] CRA increased lending and homeownership in poor communities without undermining banks' profitability," Robert Gordon proudly proclaims. But now that the bubble has burst, all those unqualified borrowers — whom the government calls "subprime," as though their credit ratings are only a tiny, tiny smidgen below "prime" borrowers with the very best credit ratings — are defaulting on their mortgages in droves.
Bank profitability has been extremely "undermined," to put it mildly. The bursting of the Fed-generated housing bubble is the reason why the CRA scam was not exposed until now, despite having been in operation for some thirty years.
The sad thing is... those liberals who presided over this (prior to the Republican controlled Congress taking over on Bill Clinton's second election win) are the ones now pushing for more taxpayer money to shore-up the problem they helped create by leaning on banks. You know, Senator Dodd and Representative Frank.... those who also received large benefits from Fannie and Freddie!