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The subprime crisis: Is government housing policy to blame?

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  • Robert B. Avery
  • Kenneth P. Brevoort

Abstract

A growing literature suggests that housing policy, embodied by the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and the affordable housing goals of the government sponsored enterprises, may have caused the subprime crisis. The conclusions drawn in this literature, for the most part, have been based on associations between aggregated national trends. In this paper we examine more directly whether these programs were associated with worse outcomes in the mortgage market, including delinquency rates and measures of loan quality. We rely on two empirical approaches. In the first approach, which focuses on the CRA, we conjecture that historical legacies create significant variations in the lenders that serve otherwise comparable neighborhoods. Because not all lenders are subject to the CRA, this creates a quasi-natural experiment of the CRA's effect. We test this conjecture by examining whether neighborhoods that have been disproportionally served by CRA-covered institutions historically experienced worse outcomes. The second approach takes advantage of the fact that both the CRA and GSE goals rely on clearly defined geographic areas to determine which loans are favored by the regulations. Using a regression discontinuity approach, our tests compare the marginal areas just above and below the thresholds that define eligibility, where any effect of the CRA or GSE goals should be clearest. We find little evidence that either the CRA or the GSE goals played a significant role in the subprime crisis. Our lender tests indicate that areas disproportionately served by lenders covered by the CRA experienced lower delinquency rates and less risky lending. Similarly, the threshold tests show no evidence that either program had a significantly negative effect on outcomes.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert B. Avery & Kenneth P. Brevoort, 2011. "The subprime crisis: Is government housing policy to blame?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2011-36, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2011-36
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Peter J. Wallison, 2011. "Dissent from the Majority Report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission," Books, American Enterprise Institute, number 50848.
    2. Robert B. Avery & Marsha J. Courchane & Peter M. Zorn, 2009. "The CRA within a changing financial landscape," Monograph, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, number 2009tcwacf.
    3. repec:aei:rpbook:24944 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Alan Greenspan, 2010. "The Crisis," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 41(1 (Spring), pages 201-261.
    5. Robert B. Avery & Kenneth P. Brevoort & Glenn B. Canner, 2007. "Opportunities and Issues in Using HMDA Data," Journal of Real Estate Research, American Real Estate Society, vol. 29(4), pages 351-380.
    6. repec:aei:rpaper:26126 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Peter J. Wallison, 2011. "A dissent from the majority report of the financial crisis inquiry commission," Proceedings 1118, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Cesa-Bianchi, Ambrogio & Rebucci, Alessandro, 2017. "Does easing monetary policy increase financial instability?," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 30(C), pages 111-125.
    2. Ding, Lei & Nakamura, Leonard I., 2017. "“Don't Know What You Got Till It’s Gone” — The Effects of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) on Mortgage Lending in the Philadelphia Market," Working Papers 17-15, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
    3. Chan, Sewin & Gedal, Michael & Been, Vicki & Haughwout, Andrew, 2013. "The role of neighborhood characteristics in mortgage default risk: Evidence from New York City," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 100-118.
    4. Robert Pollin & James Heintz, 2013. "Study of U.S. Financial System," FESSUD studies fstudy10, Financialisation, Economy, Society & Sustainable Development (FESSUD) Project.
    5. Levitin, Adam & Wachter, Susan, 2012. "Explaining the Housing Bubble," MPRA Paper 41920, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Bhutta, Neil, 2014. "The ins and outs of mortgage debt during the housing boom and bust," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2014-91, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    7. Olsen, Edgar O. & Zabel, Jeffrey E., 2015. "US Housing Policy," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Subprime mortgage ; Housing policy - United States;

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • I00 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General - - - General
    • P00 - Economic Systems - - General - - - General
    • R38 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Real Estate Markets, Spatial Production Analysis, and Firm Location - - - Government Policy
    • R00 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General - - - General

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