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Housing

Assistance Limited For HFAs

WASHINGTON — Treasury Department officials are warning state and local housing finance agencies that the Obama administration’s recently unveiled temporary bond purchase program is oversubscribed and that agencies will likely receive less assistance than they requested as a result.

The officials issued the warning late last week and asked the HFAs to identify their peak years of issuance from 2004 to 2008 for both single-family and multifamily issues to help determine how much they should receive under the relief program. The agencies had to provide that information to the Treasury by noon on Monday, including Cusip numbers or other ways to verify the information.

The scale-back comes after Michael Barr, Treasury assistant secretary for financial institutions, last month declined to put a dollar amount on the program and instead told reporters it would be sized to “meet demand.”

“We felt it is important to build estimates for the program from the ground up,” Barr said during an Oct. 19 press conference when the temporary New Issue Bond Program, or NIBP, was announced. Barr said at the time that there would be some form of ceiling on the size of the programs, but did not give any specifics.

Program participants said yesterday that they do not know the total amount of allocations requested by the HFAs under the program and federal regulators could not be reached for comment.

But one housing source said, “It was apparently quite high,” and that the “Treasury’s going to have to scale back the allocation amounts groups are asking for.”

The Treasury Department seems to be seeking the information on peak years of issuance to ensure that the government does not agree to purchase more bonds from an HFA than it has historically issued, sources said.

The federal government is expected to announce allocations for specific HFAs sometime this week, according to program participants.

Housing officials had been saying that the state and local HFA programs would likely need as much as $20 billion in Treasury-financed purchases of their bonds and $15 billion in Treasury-financed liquidity to be effective. But federal officials have declined to comment on those estimates.

The NIBP is designed to provide a temporary market for new single- and multifamily housing bonds that the HFAs issue to finance new mortgages. Treasury officials estimate the program — which will only be available through Dec. 31 — will support up to several hundred thousand new mortgages and tens of thousands of new rental housing units for working families during the coming year.

Under the program, the Treasury will purchase Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities backed by new HFA bonds. State and local HFAs were to develop and submit requests, and purchases are to be made, based on the allocation formulas established by the Housing Economic and Recovery Act of 2008. HERA gave the agencies $11 billion of additional authority to issue housing bonds.

But some HFAs have had to curtail or shut down their programs because of the financial crisis.

Under the program, HFAs are to pay the government-sponsored enterprises and the Treasury an amount intended to cover the cost of financing the new bonds as well as the risk posed by the individual HFA, based on its rating. Generally speaking, the interest rate on the new bonds will be equal to a short-term Treasury interest rate for the period during which the proceeds are held in reserve before being drawn down by the HFAs to originate mortgages, federal officials said.

Because of the short time-frame of the program, the Treasury will allow HFAs to issue short-term bonds that can be converted into long-term issues after the end of the year.

The NIBP was announced along with a temporary credit and liquidity program, which will be administered by Fannie and Freddie, and will provide replacement credit and liquidity facilities to HFAs for existing single-family and multifamily bonds.

The Treasury will backstop the replacement facilities by purchasing a participating interest in the GSE temporary credit and liquidity facilities, using its authority under the HERA. The program will only apply to bonds issued under previous authority allocated by Congress, federal officials said.

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