All agree that the bursting of the housing bubble caused the financial collapse of 2008. Most agree that the housing bubble started in 1997. Less well understood is that this bubble was the result of government policies that lowered mortgage-lending standards to increase home ownership. One of the key players was the controversial liberal advocacy group, Acorn (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).
The watershed moment was the 1992 Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act, also known as the GSE Act. To comply with that law's "affordable housing" requirements, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would acquire more than $6 trillion of single-family loans over the next 16 years.
Congress's goal was to force these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to purchase loans that had been originated by banks—loans that were made under the pressure of another federal law, the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), to increase lending in low- and moderate-income communities.From 1977 to 1991, $9 billion in local CRA lending commitments had been announced. CRA lending by large banks increased dramatically after the affordable housing mandate was in place in 1993, growing to $6 trillion today.
As a result of congressional and regulatory actions, the percentage of conventional first mortgages (not guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration or the Veteran's Administration) used to purchase a home with the borrower putting 5% or less down tripled from 9% in 1991 to 27% in 1995, eventually reaching 29% in 2007.
Fannie and Freddie acquired $1.2 trillion of loans from banks and other lenders from 1993 to 2007. This amounted to 62% of all such conventional home purchase loans with a down payment of 5% or less that were originated nationwide over the same period.
Fannie and Freddie also acquired $2.2 trillion in subprime loans and private securities backed by subprime loans from 1997 to 2007. Acorn and the other advocacy groups succeeded at getting Congress to mandate "innovative and flexible" lending practices such as higher debt ratios and creative definitions of income. And the serious delinquency rate on Fannie and Freddie's $1.5 trillion in high-risk loans was 10.3% as of Sept. 30, 2009.
This is about seven times the delinquency rate on the GSEs' traditional loans. Fifty percent of the high-risk loans are estimated to be CRA loans, with much of the remainder useful to the GSEs in meeting their affordable-housing goals.
The flood of CRA and affordable-housing loans with loosened underwriting standards, combined with declining mortgage interest rates—to 5% in 2003 from 10% in early 1991—resulted in a massive increase in borrowing capacity and fueled a house price bubble of unprecedented magnitude over the period 1997-2006.