Consumer advocates worry that the new crop of mortgage companies, particularly those with ties to now-defunct subprime lenders, may again take advantage of borrowers.

Share story

LOS ANGELES — PennyMac, AmeriHome Mortgage and Stearns Lending have several things in common.

All are among the nation’s largest mortgage lenders — and none are banks. They’re part of a growing class of alternative lenders that now extend more than 4 in 10 home loans.

All are headquartered in Southern California, the epicenter of the last decade’s subprime-lending industry. And all are run by former executives of Countrywide Financial, the once-giant mortgage lender that made tens of billions of dollars in risky loans that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

This time, the executives say, will be different.

Unlike their subprime forebears, the firms maintain that they adhere to strict new lending standards to protect against mass defaults.

Still, some observers worry as housing markets heat up across the country and in Southern California, where prices are up by a third since 2012.

So-called nonbank lenders are again dominating a riskier corner of the housing market — this time, loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), aimed at first-time and bad-credit buyers.

Such lenders now control 64 percent of the market for FHA and similar Veterans Affairs loans, compared with 18 percent in 2010.

A Los Angeles Times analysis of federal-loan data shows that FHA mortgages from nonbank lenders are seeing more delinquencies than similar loans from banks. Just 0.9 percent of FHA-insured loans issued by banks from October 2013 to September 2015 were seriously delinquent compared 1.1 percent of nonbank loans. Put another way, nonbank FHA and VA loans are about 23 percent more likely to go bad than those issued by banks.

Consumer advocates worry that the new crop of mortgage companies may again take advantage of borrowers.

“The idea that a lot of the folks who benefited during subprime are now back in action calls out for closer scrutiny,” said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a fair-lending advocacy group in San Francisco.

The surge in nonbank lending also has prompted alarm at Ginnie Mae, a government corporation that monitors FHA and VA lenders. Ginnie Mae’s president, Ted Tozer, has requested $5 million in additional federal funding to hire 33 additional regulators.

“These firms have grown so fast,” he said.

The bank pullback is a problem for Ginnie Mae, which guarantees FHA and VA loans that are bundled as bonds and sold to investors. It’s much easier to ensure that banks have reserves to cover defaults than it is for the crop of new lenders, with a variety of business models.

PennyMac is run by Stanford Kurland who was the second-in-command to Angelo Mozilo, the Countrywide founder who came to symbolize the excesses of the subprime mortgage boom.

He was fired from Countrywide in late 2006, before the worst of their loans were made, because of disagreements with other executives, Kurland said.

Sandra Thompson, a deputy director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees government-sponsored mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said nonbank lenders play an important role.

“We want to make sure there is broad liquidity in the mortgage market,” she said. “It gives borrowers options.”

For now, those options look relatively safe.

Rules in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010, enforced by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, require all lenders to look at borrowers’ income, assets and debts to verify that they can afford repayment — something subprime lenders never had to do.

Related rules also give lenders some legal protection when they underwrite loans to meet the federal standard for a “qualified mortgage.”