On September 7, 2008, James Lockhart, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were being placed into conservatorship of the FHFA. The action is "one of the most sweeping government interventions in private financial markets in decades". As of 2008, Fannie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) owned or guaranteed about half of the U.S.'s $12 trillion mortgage market
Fannie Mae was founded as a government agency in the wake of the Great Depression in 1938, as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal in order to facilitate liquidity within the mortgage market. In 1968, the government converted Fannie Mae into a private shareholder-owned corporation in order to remove its activity from the annual balance sheet of the federal budget. Consequently, Fannie Mae ceased to be the guarantor of government-issued mortgages, and that responsibility was transferred to the new Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae). In 1970, the government created the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC), commonly known as Freddie Mac, to compete with Fannie Mae and, thus, facilitate a more robust and efficient secondary mortgage market. Since the creation of the GSEs, there has been debate surrounding their role in the mortgage market, their relationship with the government, and whether or not they are indeed necessary. This debate gained relevance due to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and subprime mortgage crisis that began in 2007. Despite this debate, Fannie Mae, as well as Ginnie Mae and later Freddie Mac, has played an integral part in the development of the most successful mortgage market in the world which has allowed U.S. citizens to benefit from one of the highest home ownership percentages in the world.
In 1999, Fannie Mae came under pressure from the Clinton administration to expand mortgage loans to low and moderate income borrowers. At the same time, institutions in the primary mortgage market pressed Fannie Mae to ease credit requirements on the mortgages it was willing to purchase, enabling them to make loans to subprime borrowers at interest rates higher than conventional loans. Shareholders also pressured Fannie Mae to maintain its record profits.
In 2000, due to a re-assessment of the housing market by HUD, anti-predatory lending rules were put into place that disallowed risky, high-cost loans from being credited toward affordable housing goals. In 2004, these rules were dropped and high-risk loans were again counted toward affordable housing goals.
The intent was that Fannie Mae's enforcement of the underwriting standards they maintained for standard conforming mortgages would also provide safe and stable means of lending to buyers who did not have prime credit. As Daniel Mudd, then President and CEO of Fannie Mae, testified in 2007, instead the agency's responsible underwriting requirements drove business into the arms of the private mortgage industry who marketed aggressive products without regard to future consequences: "We also set conservative underwriting standards for loans we finance to ensure the homebuyers can afford their loans over the long term. We...