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By G. Steven Bray
One of a myriad of causes of the housing collapse during the Great Recession was the absence of “skin-in-the-game.” Borrowers used no-money down loans to purchase homes, then walked away from those homes when the economy went sour. Given that they had put none of their savings into the homes, walking away was easier.
One way to achieve no-money down during that time was to use seller-provided down payment assistance with an FHA loan. The seller provided the necessary 3.5% down payment and usually boosted the home’s sale price a little to make up for it. Congress outlawed this practice in 2008, mandating that no party with a financial interest in the home sale – including the seller, the agents, and the lender – could provide the homebuyer’s down payment funds. However, the law allowed governmental programs to continue providing down payment assistance.
Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and an entrepreneurial fellow in UT partnered with the Paiutes tribal government to create a fund, the Chenoa Fund, that lenders could use for down payment assistance. Whereas government down payment programs target homebuyers in the governmental jurisdictions, the Chenoa Fund was available nationwide, and it made a profit on the transactions.
Borrowers in down payment assistance programs become delinquent about twice as often as those who use their own funds, and the Feds see these programs as an increasing risk to the FHA Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund, which backstops FHA mortgages.
Last week, HUD published new guidelines that clarify which entities can provide down payment assistance. The guidelines seem to target the Chenoa Fund, and it will be interesting to see how it responds.
But that still leaves the bigger issue of higher default rates for down payment assisted loans unaddressed. Many of these programs offer the assistance in exchange for higher-than-market interest rates, which stretch a homebuyer’s ability to repay the mortgage. In addition, they perpetuate the problem Congress thought it had addressed in 2008 – homeowners with no skin in the game.