FHFA drops language question

Aug 4, 2016  12:45 ET Scotsman Guide

Following heavy opposition from the mortgage industry, the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has backed out of its plan to include a language-preference question on the standard forms used to apply for the nation’s most popular home loan types.

Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mel Watt said in a letter this week there were “a number of unresolved issues” with including the question that could delay the rollout of the new forms. FHFA recently made the first substantial update to the Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA) form in 20 years. FHFA plans to roll out the final version of the forms this year, and they are scheduled to go into use in January 2018, the letter said.

Watt said that FHFA will gather language data through two federal national mortgage surveys and also seek further public input to determine if the forms should include a language-preference question.

“FHFA recognizes that the number of people seeking home ownership who speak and read a language other than English has grown significantly in recent decades and is projected to continue to increase in the future,” Watt wrote.  

In June, the Mortgage Bankers Association, the American Bankers Association and six other associations objected to a late addition to include a question about language preference, saying the agency hadn't adequately thought out the implications, including compliance issues and potentially the extra costs to originate mortgages when the applicant selects another language.

The banking groups noted that more than 350 languages are spoken in U.S. households, and federal regulations don't spell out the responsibilities of a mortgage company when the applicant's preference isn't English. 

More recently, House Republicans have also objected to the question.

In late March, a coalition of more than 120 consumer advocacy groups, led by the National Housing Resource Center, the Leadership Conference and Americans for Financial Reform, urged the FHFA to include the question as a first-step to addressing the problem of serving borrowers whose first language isn’t English. The groups argued that the rare update to the forms also provided an opportunity to insert a useful data tracking tool.