Bernanke on FHA History

by Peter G. Miller
September 12th, 2007

Speaking in Jackson Hole, WY, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke had some interesting remarks about the FHA and its history.

It’s sometimes forgotten that the FHA program was a by-product of the Depression, one which radically changed real estate financing by popularizing long-term mortgages instead of 5-year terms loans which were then common. As Mr. Bernanke explains:

“The housing sector, like the rest of the economy, was profoundly affected by the Great Depression. When Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, almost 10 percent of all homes were in foreclosure (Green and Wachter, 2005), construction employment had fallen by half from its late 1920s peak, and a banking system near collapse was providing little new credit. As in other sectors, New Deal reforms in housing and housing finance aimed to foster economic revival through government programs that either provided financing directly or strengthened the institutional and regulatory structure of private credit markets.

“Actually, one of the first steps in this direction was taken not by Roosevelt but by his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, who oversaw the creation of the Federal Home Loan Banking System in 1932. This measure reorganized the thrift industry (savings and loans and mutual savings banks) under federally chartered associations and established a credit reserve system modeled after the Federal Reserve. The Roosevelt administration pushed this and other programs affecting housing finance much further. In 1934, his administration oversaw the creation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). By providing a federally backed insurance system for mortgage lenders, the FHA was designed to encourage lenders to offer mortgages on more attractive terms. This intervention appears to have worked in that, by the 1950s, most new mortgages were for thirty years at fixed rates, and down payment requirements had fallen to about 20 percent. In 1938, the Congress chartered the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, as it came to be known. The new institution was authorized to issue bonds and use the proceeds to purchase FHA mortgages from lenders, with the objectives of increasing the supply of mortgage credit and reducing variations in the terms and supply of credit across regions.”

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