No Evidence That Government Housing Policy Caused the Crisis

Last Updated Aug 24, 2011 5:48 PM EDT

This shouldn't be news -- the idea that the CRA or GSEs caused the crisis doesn't hold up against the evidence. But people still believe the myth, so it doesn't hurt to have one more paper showing that there is "little evidence to support the view that either the CRA or the GSE goals caused excessive or less prudent lending than otherwise would have taken place. ... In fact, the evidence suggests that loan outcomes may have been marginally better in tracts that were served by more CRA-covered lenders." This is from Robert Avery and Kennet Brevoort of the Federal Reserve Board:
The Subprime Crisis: Is Government Housing Policy to Blame?, by Robert B. Avery and Kenneth P. Brevoort, Working paper, FRB: 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.
This won't put the myth to rest once and for all, some people will continue to make this claim despite the evidence to the contrary. But for those who base their opinions on data rather than what their ideology tells them must be true, the evidence from a variety of studies is very clear. It wasn't the CRA, and it wasn't Fannie and Freddie.

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