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Do No Harm to Housing Markets, ICBA Tells Congress

Washington, D.C. (Feb. 10, 2004) - The housing government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) not only benefit consumers "who want to realize the American Dream of homeownership," ICBA told Congress today, but they also have a direct impact on the "health of communities across the country." That is why Congress should proceed cautiously in revamping the regulatory structures for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

In a letter to members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, ICBA President and CEO Kenneth A. Guenther said that the regulatory oversight of the GSEs can be strengthened, "but it must be done in a manner so as not to impede the good work" they have done in financing record levels of homeownership, particularly for low-income and minority groups.

The committee is conducting hearings on proposals to overhaul the regulatory structures of the housing GSEs.

ICBA said the GSEs provide important benefits to community banks that want to offer mortgage products to their customers, and the Federal Home Loan Banks are a "critical source of liquidity." ICBA supports strong independent regulators for the GSEs, but because the Federal Home Loan Banks are unique, Guenther wrote, they should be under a separate regulatory structure than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He added: "While not our first preference, the ICBA may not oppose the concept of one new independent regulator for all three GSEs outside the Treasury," provided the structure "recognizes the unique mission and ownership, operational and capital structure" of the Federal Home Loan Banks.

In addition, the new structure must give the GSEs "the flexibility to continue to develop … the housing finance products needed by consumers, and not have new products, programs and activities be bogged down by bureaucracy awaiting approval," ICBA said.

ICBA remains opposed to giving the Department of the Treasury direct authority over any new housing GSE regulator, including the ability to review regulations and testimony.

"The United States housing sector has contributed enormously to the broad economy in recent years, as a record number of families became homeowners," wrote Guenther. "Community banks, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks all serve a critical role in the housing finance sector that contributes to the well being of our nation, families and communities."