The Government’s Role in the Housing Finance System: Where Do We Go From Here?

Karen Dynan and Ted Gayer


It is time to commit to a future housing finance system for the United States as the current uncertainty surrounding this issue is likely deterring the recovery of the housing market and the broader economy. Returning to the system in place before the financial crisis is not a suitable option, as the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac created significant problems that contributed to the financial crisis. The GSEs’ pre-crisis activities also left the taxpayers with an enormous burden: As of early 2011, more than $100 billion had been put toward rescuing the GSEs and estimates suggest the total cost may be up to several times that when all is said and done.

In this paper, we discuss the weaknesses of the pre-crisis GSE model and lay out the broad outlines of a new housing finance model that attempts to address these problems. The new system includes a limited government role of providing credit guarantees for qualifying mortgage securities in normal times that becomes more expansive in times of mortgage market distress. It also attempts to reduce the incentives for excessive risk-taking embedded in the old system. This feature is essential to creating a stable and robust mortgage finance system, which, over the long run, can help foster economic growth.