Hot off the press is my colleague Dr. Thomas Sowell's 43rd book, "The Housing Boom and Bust." The book is an eye-opener for anyone interested in the truth about the collapse of the housing market that played a major role in our financial market crisis.
The root of the problem lies in Washington. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, later given teeth during the Bush and Clinton administrations, forced financial institutions to make risky mortgage loans they otherwise would not have made. President Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno threatened legal action against lenders whose racial statistics raised her suspicions. Bank loan qualification standards, in general, came under criticism as being too stringent regarding down payments, credit histories, and income. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-sponsored enterprises, by lowering their standards for the kinds of mortgage paper they would purchase from banks and other mortgage lenders, gave financial institutions further incentive to make risky loans.
In 2002, the George W. Bush administration urged Congress to enact the American Dream Down Payment Assistance Act, which subsidized down payments of homebuyers whose income was below a certain level. Bush also urged Congress to pass legislation requiring the Federal Housing Administration to make zero-down-payment loans at low-interest rates to low income Americans. Between 2005 and 2007, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac acquired an estimated trillion-dollar's worth of subprime loans and guaranteed more than $2 trillion worth of mortgages. That, Sowell points out, is larger than the gross domestic product of all but four nations.
There were numerous warnings that went unheeded. In congressional hearings, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said, regarding the risks assumed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, "The concern is, if something unravels, it could cause systemic risk to the whole financial system." Peter J. Wallison, American Enterprise Institute scholar, warned that if Congress did not rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, "there will be a massive default with huge losses to the taxpayers and systemic effects on the economy."