Congress Doubles Funding for Troubled USDA Housing Loans


While slashing funds for disability, elderly, homelessness and Native American housing programs, Congress has doubled the funding for a USDA housing program that may cost the government $4 billion in defaulting loans because over a third of the government-guaranteed rural home loans in its portfolio may be ineligible for the program.

On April 15, President signed into law the continuing resolution to fund the government that, despite concern over the deficit, included increased funding for the USDA’s Rural Development Service’s Section 502 single family guaranteed loan program from $12 to $24 billion annually for the current year as well as the next Federal fiscal year.   

In January, an inspector general’s report discovered that the government may have given out more than $4 billion in stimulus housing loans to ineligible borrowers.  An IG’s audit found that among 100 randomly selected government-guaranteed rural home loans across the country, 28 loans lenders had not fully complied with federal regulations in determining borrower eligibility.

The audit report found borrowers with annual income over the program’s limits, borrowers with questionable ability to repay the loan, borrowers who didn’t need the government loan guarantee and borrowers who purchased homes with swimming pools, which is strictly prohibited by the program’s rules. Some borrowers had debt-to-income ratios that were too high because lenders accepted unstable or inconsistent earnings or used only recent earnings. Several borrowers were, or had been, delinquent on their loans. One was over 180 days delinquent. Another had defaulted and the lender had filed a loss claim.  USDA officials agreed that 10 of the 28 borrowers were ineligible.

Although the auditors looked at only a tiny sample of the 133,053 loan guarantees made in 2009, they estimated that tens of thousands might have been done improperly and warned that a wave of defaults might be looming.

Analysts said the problems echoed those exposed earlier in the mortgage crisis, with banks seemingly eager to collect fees for loans in which they retained little or no risk.  The findings of the audit have raised concerns that the program, which features 90 percent government guarantees, could lead to widespread defaults.

“In a couple years, when these loans are going bad, everybody’s going to say, ‘Oh me, oh my, how did this happen?’ ” Christopher Whalen, managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics, a bank rating and consulting firm, told the New York Times. “There’s no surprises here.”

 Founded in 1949 to spur home sales and development in rural areas, the US Department of Agriculture’s popular direct and guaranteed rural housing loans today are one of the few places in America you can get a mortgage with no money down at competitive rates.   

Borrowers don’t have to be lower income; in fact they can make slightly more than the median.  Nor do they have to buy in rural area.  They can live relatively close to a major urban area like Loudon County, VA, Half Moon Bay, CA or parts of Westchester County, NY.  Or, in a popular resort community like Naples, FL, Aspen or Vail, CO, or Cape Cod, MA.  To qualify for the government guaranteed loans, borrowers can earn up to 115 percent of the median income for the area.

In recent years, Congress has rushed through legislation to increase funding for the program when it has run out of money part way through the year.

The value of USDA-backed loans has soared, from $3.7 billion in 2007 to about $16.8 billion last year. 

With strong support among both housing and farm state interests, the 100 percent increase in the troubled USDA program sailed through untouched even as other housing programs, including support for low income disabled and elderly renters and grants for Native American housing, homeless assistance and public housing were cut in the final congressional negotiations.  A companion direct loan program, which is limited to lower income home buyers, was not increased.

4 Comments For This Post

  1. business review Says:

    The US federal government guarantees loans in order to induce banks to lend money to credit-risky borrowers.

  2. Greenbean Says:

    Before writing a column like this, you need to get your facts straight. A 100 loan review out of over 81,000 loans is not a statisically valid sample. Loans in this program are actually performing well and better than another very large Federal housing program. Also, the increased funding for the program has a zero effect on the budget, as it is a budget neutral program now.

  3. Steve Cook Says:

    Dear Green,

    Dont take my word for it. Here’s what the USDA Inspector General told Congress.

    We found that the Rural Housing Service (RHS), which administers the program, did not
    ensure that calculations of borrower eligibility were current before closing loans. This increased the
    risk of making loans to ineligible borrowers if their circumstances changed. RHS reviewers also did
    not document the scope and timing of their second-party reviews. This reduced the effectiveness of the
    quality control process. We recommended that RHS ensure that supporting documents are updated
    before closing loans and that the scope and timing of reviews are specified.
    We also found that comprehensive State office reviews of loan-making and loan-servicing were not
    being analyzed by RHS to identify nationwide trends in control weaknesses, or to track the
    effectiveness of corrective actions. We recommended that the reviews be aggregated into national,
    multi-year analyses, and that RHS train State staff to use the results to administer the program.
    RHS has initiated corrective actions in response to our audit. Currently, we are conducting a related
    audit to determine if Rural Development’s staff is complying with internal control procedures designed
    to ensure that Recovery Act eligibility guidelines, such as income limitations, are being met

    Yes, it’s true the USDA program has a good track record in the past, as I have reported several times. It’s truly a shame that the wheels seem to be coming of when there is such as serious need for financing.

    As far as “budget neutral,” taxpayers foot the bill for defaults of government guaranteed loans. Nothing neutral about that… as Fannnie, Freddie and FHA can tell you.

    Steve Cook

  4. Patti Hannah Says:

    USDA Inspector General told Congress? Yes, half truth and in manner of deciet. But this is normally what happens when Congress is gullable enough to only listen to a USDA Inspector General and not of the “actual loan holders”. This agency of USDA is a disaster. It is the most ineffective and inefficient program offered by Government. But this is what happens when Congress gave this agency “absolute power” over the borrowers. When they gave them that power this agency abused it. Because they knew that they did not have to be held accountable for their actions for failures. The victim list of borrowers in this system is growing at a rapid pace. They are suffering the financial consequences of this Agency.

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