Policy

Help Wanted: 'The Most Powerful And Consequential Job In Housing'

The newly-open FHFA permanent director position has become a lightning rod for battles over government's role in housing's affordability crisis.

John McManus July 6th, 2021

Open headcount positions are a big deal these days.

Skill, talent, capability, or just plain rote completion of tasks – it's all hard to come by in an economy with one foot on the train and the other on the platform, it seems.

Now, thanks to a Supreme Court decision late last month, housing's vaunted skilled labor shortage includes a job opening at the very top of the housing food chain.

In case you missed it, a June ruling by the Supreme Court allowed President Biden free-rein to fire and hire the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Without missing a beat, the President relieved FHFA director Mark Calabria of his role and duties, appointing in his place acting director Sandra Thompson.

The headhunt for a permanent successor is fraught – like so much – in a highly polarized and politicized Capitol Hill environment bereft of compromise, common ground, and common sense.

Clearly, at issue, though, is a position whose sway in matters that impact federally-supported housing finance policy – which could, in turn, domino into either less or more access to housing options for more American households – is meaningful.

Politico staffer Katy O'Donnell wrestles with the conflicts, the competing views, the backstory and the forward-looking implications that orbit the President's eventual choice of a successor to Calabria, an appointee of Biden's predecessor in the Oval Office.

Progressive Congressional Democrats want the FHFA director appointment to signal and deliver no-less than a new era of greater access to home loans for people with lower incomes, Politico's O'Donnell writes.

While Biden has proposed a raft of home-affordability measures, having control of Fannie and Freddie might be his most effective tool.
The FHFA director “is the most powerful and consequential job on housing in America,” said David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference. “There is no close second.”
Dworkin and other housing advocates want FHFA to allow Fannie and Freddie to take on more financial risk — meaning more government intervention backed by taxpayers — in the name of expanding access to mortgages.

Of course, there's the other side of the debate, which argues a) that housing's biggest challenges right now are on the supply side, not expanding demand, and b) putting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back into the business of expanding their balance sheets as government-run enterprises subjects them to the threat of needing more publicly-funded bail-outs.

Biden, Politico's O'Donnell writes, appears to be leaning in on making housing affordability a cornerstone of his agenda.

Erika Poethig, special assistant to the president for housing and urban policy, said the administration is "committed to expanding access to affordable homeownership, especially for low-wealth borrowers and communities of color that face challenges in the housing market."
“In the coming months and years ahead, we look forward to working with FHFA leadership to use the levers of housing finance to address the racial wealth gap, expand housing supply and ensure housing affordability,” she added.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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