Causes of the Mortgage Meltdown
From the article "Anatomy of a Trainwreck," by Economics Professor Stan Liebowitz, University of Texas at Dallas
Executive Summary: Why did the mortgage market melt down so badly? Why were there so many defaults when the economy was not particularly weak? Why were the securities based upon these mortgages not considered anywhere as risky as they actually turned out to be?
This report concludes that, in an attempt to increase home ownership (see chart above), particularly by minorities and the less affluent, virtually every branch of the government undertook an attack on underwriting standards starting in the early 1990s. Regulators, academic specialists, GSEs, and housing activists universally praised the decline in mortgage-underwriting standards as an “innovation” in mortgage lending. This weakening of underwriting standards succeeded in increasing home ownership and also the price of housing, helping to lead to a housing price bubble. The price bubble, along with relaxed lending standards, allowed speculators to purchase homes without putting their own money at risk.
The recent rise in foreclosures is not related empirically to the distinction between subprime and prime loans since both sustained the same percentage increase of foreclosures and at the same time. Nor is it consistent with the “nasty subprime lender” hypothesis currently considered to be the cause of the mortgage meltdown. Instead, the important factor is the distinction between adjustable-rate and fi xed-rate mortgages. This evidence is consistent with speculators turning and running when housing prices stopped rising.
Conclusion: The political housing establishment, by which I mean the federal government and all the agencies involved with regulating housing and mortgages, is proud of its mortgage innovations because they increased home ownership. The housing establishment refuses, however, to take the blame for the flip side of its focus on increasing home ownership—
first, the bubble in home prices caused by lowering underwriting standards and then the bursting of the bubble with the almost catastrophic consequences to the economy as a whole and the financial difficulties being faced by some of the very homeowners the housing establishment claims to be trying to benefit.
MP: More support of the proposition that U.S. public policy turned good, responsible renters into bad, irresponsible homeowners.