Gerson: u201cIt's not healthy for any sector to be so reliant on any one source for capital.u201d

SAN DIEGO-A planned 10% reduction in new multifamily lending from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this year—down from last year’s combined $63 billion to a maximum of $57 billion in 2013—could have serious implications for the sector in the fourth quarter and beyond if other sources don’t step up and fill the gap, Gordon Gerson of locally based Gerson Law Firm tells The big question in the capital-markets arena is how fast other providers of multifamily financing come to the plate.

“It’s not like the faucet is going to be turned off,” says Gerson. “It’s not a time for folks to panic because if the GSEs drop their lending 10% this as they’re planning to, they will still do around $57 billion this year, and even if you divide that by quarters, there would still be production in the last quarter—it just might not be production at the same level as the prior three quarters.”

How quickly other sources of multifamily capital step up is the function of several other factors including their volatility and sensitivity to the economic climate—particularly CMBS and life-insurance lenders. Even so, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have always been important to the multifamily sector, especially when capital from other sources is tightening, but since 2007 the GSE’s have supplied between 60% and 80% of the debt to the multifamily market. “It’s not healthy for any sector to be so reliant on any one source for capital,” Gerson says. “Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s share of financing was in the 35% to 40% range. Over time, it probably needs to gravitate back to that level, but the issue remains: will others step up?”

The answer to that question remains to be seen. Last year, life insurance companies had one of their best years in multifamily activity, generating $10.2 billion, but that’s a far cry from the $63 billion that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did, or even the $57 billion planned for this year.

“Other sources need to begin to step up,” says Gerson. “Life insurance companies—in most years, by the time we get to the last quarter, they have already fulfilled their funding allocations for the year, so that’s not necessarily the opportunity for life insurance companies to fill the gap. That’s a factor in the overall lending climate that we may see in the last quarter.”

Sources such as banks, which returned to the multifamily lending arena in 2012, could help, but banks only lent $12.4 billion last year for multifamily. “When you look at the numbers, you see how important Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are to the multifamily sector,” says Gerson.

The only other possible source would be CMBS, he adds. Multifamily lending from CMBS was up slightly in 2012 from the previous year, “but interestingly enough, in the fourth quarter of 2012, they didn’t come close to the volume they had done in the prior three quarters—that’s my understanding.”

On a going-forward basis, the issue is how America is going to finance multifamily in the years ahead. “There are political winds that would like to blow down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but private capital is not likely to step up and fill the void that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fill,” says Gerson. “There will always be a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac model that they transition to, but there does need to be another alternate model to private capital alone.”

Another issue is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Multifamily differs considerably from its single-family counterpart. “The losses that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Multifamily incurred were minuscule in the last few years as compared to the enormous losses that were in Single-Family,” says Gerson. “In fact, Multifamily may have been profitable throughout every year of the Great Recession, which was not at all the case with Single-Family. They’re a critical cog in the multifamily market. When you look at the needs of the apartment growth in the US, you have to ask, ‘How can we fill the void if we don’t have a strong Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac model that we can transition to?’ ”

Also worrisome is how many new apartment units need to be built each year—300,000, according to Gerson. “In 2011, the number of apartments started was 167,000, which was just barely enough to replace those that were lost to demolition and obsolescence. If you were only doing replacement in 2011, you need to understand the importance of ramping up.”

As reported in March, Freddie Mac Multifamily is contemplating reinstituting some value-add financing programs that had previously been stopped, Brian Eisendrath, vice chairman of CBRE, tells Eisendrath recently had a fireside chat in Los Angeles with David Brickman, head of Freddie Mac Multifamily, during which Brickman discussed the programs, which include acquisition-upgrade and acquisition-rehab programs currently in the planning stages but similar to what the GSE had offered in 2007 and 2008, when CBRE clients were doing many renovations.