Expanding Affordable Homeownership With Housing Counselor Support

It is not new news that market constraints affect minority homeownership. Rising interest rates, tightened eligibility requirements, higher prices and origination costs are converging to lower mortgage origination projections for 2018. These and other factors will have an inordinate effect on minorities and low-to-moderate income borrowers particularly in underserved markets and rural areas.

According to a recent analysis by Zillow, black and Hispanic renters are finding it more difficult to save for the required down payment for a home purchase. Essentially, Zillow determined that high rental rates are taking such a large bite out of income that it is materially affecting the ability for these groups to save money for a down payment on a home.

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Recent Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data show that the percentage of black applicants declined for a mortgage was at a higher-than-average rate.

Despite the lowest industry declination rate in 20 years – 9.8 percent in 2017 compared to 18.1 percent in 2007 – black applicants were turned-down to the tune of 20 percent in 2017.

Programs Abound

Despite these dismal results and pessimistic expectations, there is an abundance of affordable mortgage lending programs at the local, state and federal levels. Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) requirements provide additional stimulus for banks to participate in such programs. All of these programs require pre-purchase housing counseling and education by HUD-certified housing counselors to ensure that the applicant has a successful homeownership experience and is prepared for unanticipated life events that may disrupt the ability to pay.

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There is also an emerging trend to deploy proactive post-purchase counseling protocols for at least a year after affordable loans originate to help new homeowners when turbulence occurs.

Rather than reacting to a problem, this counseling strategy includes constant communication with the homeowner at regular intervals and continuous education about the responsibilities of homeownership. This type of assistance helps new homeowners avoid financial traps and navigate tax and insurance issues, home repair problems or homeowner association dues issues that may surprise new buyers.

Most importantly, it can help homeowners create a budget and maintain financial discipline especially, in the first year of the mortgage when all stakeholders are at the most risk.

These dynamics present a unique opportunity for lenders to embrace housing counseling and integrate the discipline into new efforts to work on a local and national basis to create best-execution models for expanding sustainable homeownership, especially in a purchase market where first-time homebuyers can play a significant role.

Fannie Mae’s HomeReady program and Freddie Mac’s Home Possible program are designed to reach low- to moderate-income (LMI) borrowers in underserved areas and feature more lenient eligibility criteria.

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For instance, under the Fannie Mae HomeReady guidelines while there is a 3 percent down payment requirement, the allowable sources are flexible including authorized down payment programs at the state and local level which will translate into zero-down from the borrower.

Both programs require proof of pre-purchase homeownership preparation. The Fannie Mae requirement may be satisfied if the borrow completes an online education course provided by Framework. However, a particular down payment assistance DPA program used for the HomeReady program may require more personalized counseling.

Fannie Mae also strongly encourages housing counseling by including it in the HomeReady guidelines: “housing counseling for prospective homebuyers effectively expands the pool of eligible homebuyers.”

Best Execution

While the competition for borrowers heats up, lenders must always look for the most cost-effective model to increase homeownership rates. However, the housing counseling component, if not managed correctly, will impose additional costs and time delays to an already costly proposition for originators.

To help make affordable lending actually “affordable,” Hope LoanPort (www.hlp.org) offers a turnkey technology platform to originators that fully integrates HUD-certified housing counselors who provide pre-purchase and post purchase counseling.

This delivery model makes it easy for originators to work with housing counselors for any borrower nationwide to meet housing counseling eligibility requirements both before and after a loan is originated. HLP reports that by implementing a post purchase counseling process for DPA loans, early payment default rates are reduced by 30 percent. An early payment default is equally as devastating for the servicer, lender, investor and insurer as it is for the homeowner.

Social Responsibility

The mortgage banking industry has always been a strong proponent of expanding the pool of eligible borrowers especially for minorities and LMI consumers in underserved markets. The addition of personalized and consistent housing counseling and education has proved to be a major tool in supporting that admirable objective.

The current mortgage finance market is fertile ground for the industry to step up its efforts to collaborate with housing counselors and leverage their abilities to meet this common goal.

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