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Freddie Mac Didn't Harm Homeowners, Inspector General Says

In January, NPR and ProPublica reported on a potential conflict of interest at Freddie Mac, a mortgage giant sponsored by the federal government. The stories noted that even as Freddie Mac was writing rules making it harder for homeowners to refinance their mortgages, it also was stepping up investments in securities that gain when homeowners remain stuck in high-rate loans.

Today, a federal Inspector General released a report that evaluated those investments and concluded they were just "a small portion" of the portfolio held by Freddie, formally called the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. Moreover, the inspector found "no evidence" that Freddie "obstructed homeowners' abilities to refinance their mortgages in an effort to influence" the profitability of the investments, known as inverse floaters.

The NPR and ProPublica reports underlined the potential for a conflict within Freddie Mac. On one hand, the government-sponsored enterprise holds investments that make money when homeowners are unable to refinance. And on the other hand, it has a public mission to make homeownership more affordable. The stories did not assert that Freddie had specifically changed its refinance policies to boost the value of its inverse floaters.

The inspector general's examination, which relied on the word of the Freddie employees it interviewed, found no evidence of improper collusion between Freddie's investment side and its mortgage-credit side.

It also said the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Freddie Mac, made "ambiguous" public statements about the investment strategy. Those statements "could have been more clearly articulated," it said.

The inspector general's report was requested by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.