Phil Weber, senior vice president of multifamily at Fannie Mae, has a simple message for all of those nervous multifamily executives who think the now government-owned entity will be pulling out of the apartment financing business any time soon.
"We're open for business," Weber said at a client conference call for CBRE's Multi-Housing Group earlier this week. 'Send us some deals, guys. We need the business."
In fact, Weber said that Fannie is in its "strongest position ever as a company." That news is sure to calm the nervousness of apartment executives, many of whom are concerned that the recent news about Fannie and Freddie Mac will either lead to spreads growing or a complete exit from the multifamily market by the agencies. Making matters worse is that prior to Weber's statements on Sept. 10, answers hadn't been forthcoming from either organization. Earlier in the week, both companies' public relations staff declined to comment to the press.
That doesn't mean Fannie and Freddie--which are both making efforts to retain employees--aren't getting work done. "I don't see this conservatorship affecting our business model at all," Weber said. "We have had close contact with the FHFA [Federal Housing Finance Agency], and they've made it very clear: They're not running the business--Fannie Mae is running the business."
But Weber says the federal government is now there to inject any infusion of capital Fannie and Freddie may need. It can invest in mortgage-backed securities (MBS), buy preferred stock, and buy debt to generate cash flow. "We've never had that type of explicit support from the federal government," Weber explained.
Eventually, this support will shrink, though. Once the government puts $100 billion into Fannie to bolster its value to $850 billion, the organization will have to shed 10 percent a year until it reaches $250 billion. That's why Fannie would like to put some of this capital into reinvigorating the Delegated Underwriting and Servicing (DUS) MBS market. "As we ... get to $850 [billion], having a vibrant DUS MBS market will be a good thing for us," Weber says.
As for the future, a lot depends on which administration takes office, though the multifamily market does seem to have some supporters in prominent positions right now. New Fannie CEO Herb Allison is the former CEO of TIAA-CREF, which has a large stake in the apartment business. Even Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is the financial services committee chairman, is a known advocate of affordable multifamily housing, despite recent criticism of his support of Fannie and Freddie.
In reality, Fannie and Freddie have good reason to back multifamily. For one thing, delinquencies of multifamily mortgages are a fraction of the delinquencies in the single-family mortgage market. And secondly, the future promises solid demographic growth. With baby boomers, echo boomers, and immigrants contributing to the 14 million new households that are expected to be created between 2005 and 2015, Weber expects to see many new people moving into apartments. With new construction at lows he has not seen since the '90s, Weber is bullish on rentals.
"[In the] general sense of things, rent growth will slow a little, but the fundamentals of the business will remain solid," Weber says. "We'd like to see job growth pick up a bit, but overall, supply and demand is very much in balance. Long-term, there's a tremendous opportunity. We think the multifamily space is an incredible asset space for us to be in."
Les Shaver is a senior editor at Multifamily Executive magazine.