Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online explains what happens when housing policy is run from Washington DC.
The self-proclaimed angels in Washington will tell you they’ve been working tirelessly to expand the American dream of homeownership by making mortgages available to people unable to plunk down 20 percent on a house. Franklin Raines, the Clinton-appointed former head of Fannie Mae from 1998 to 2004, made it his top priority to make mortgages easier to get for people with poor credit, few assets and little money for a down payment.
The fine print to this noble intent was an ill-conceived loosening of standards. For instance, the Clinton administration reinterpreted the Jimmy Carter-era Community Reinvestment Act to politicize lending practices. Under the CRA, the government forced banks to prove they weren’t “redlining” — i.e., discriminating against minorities — by approving loans to minorities and various left-wing “community group” shakedown artists whether they were bad risks or not. (A young Barack Obama got his start with exactly these sorts of groups.) Sen. Phil Gramm called it a vast extortion scheme against America’s banks. Still, the banks were perfectly happy to pass the risky loans to Raines’ Fannie Mae, which was happy to buy them up.
That’s because Raines was transforming Fannie Mae from a boring but stable financial institution dedicated to making homes more affordable into a risky venture that abused its special status as a “Government Sponsored Enterprise” (GSE) for Raines’ personal profit. Fannie bought the bad loans and bundled them together with good ones. Wall Street was glad to buy up these mortgage securities because Fannie Mae was deemed a government-insured behemoth “too big to fail.” And others followed Fannie’s lead.