When President Bush announced his Minority Homeownership plans last week in Atlanta, his top priorities were new federal programs: a $2.4 billion tax credit to facilitate home purchases by lower-income first-time buyers, and a $200 million national downpayment grant fund.
Instead, most of the heavy lifting was assigned to two mortgage market players that have sometimes come under fire from Bush administration officials and Congressional Republicans: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Both corporations also announced specific plans to increase home purchases by African-Americans, Hispanics and immigrants. Fannie Mae, for example, pledged to create an entirely new mortgage product “designed to meet the unique needs of New Americans.” The new loan concept would include underwriting changes that remove some of the common barriers immigrants encounter here—denial of credit because of inadequate or short credit histories, reliance on communal funds for downpayment money, and language and cultural issues. Fannie also promised to establish 100 “outreach partnerships” with predominantly-minority churches, mosques and “other faith-based institutions” to fund mortgages for their congregations.
Besides its $180 billion mortgage purchase commitment, Freddie Mac gave President Bush a promise to implement a 25-point program aimed at increasing minority homeownership. Some of the points were cutting-edge. For example, as part of an effort to remove the fear of financial loss from first-time minority home buyers, Freddie committed itself to “explor(e) the viability of equity assurance products to protect home values in economically distressed areas.”
Pressed for details on “equity assurance” by RealtyTimes, Freddie Mac vice president Craig S. Nickerson said the idea is still at an embryonic stage, but might involve limited guarantees or insurance coverage to protect buyers from the possibility of loss of their initial equity stakes should property values in their neighborhoods decline.