In this year’s Influential Women special section, we talk with 30 women leaders helping to shape the housing sector. These are decision-makers who have distinguished themselves as innovators, entrepreneurs and trailblazers.
Please see our full magazine flip book where we delve into why we think it’s important to get to know them. Some are household names. Others may fly under the radar but are influential in their day-to-day work to make this industry strong. Their experience spans a wide spectrum, from housing policy on the steps of Capitol Hill to running large nonprofits. They include lenders, mortgage servicers, housing analysts and technology gurus.
We hope you enjoy reading their stories of success as much as we enjoyed telling them.
Acting commissioner and asst. Secretary of housing | Federal Housing Administration
Carol Galante inherited a fine line to negotiate when she took the appointment as acting director of the Federal Housing Administration in July 2011.
The agency took to its mission like never before as the credit crisis moved nearly the entire mortgage market to the government. Galante’s agency became the only remaining avenue to homeownership for lower-income borrowers, who were shut out of the tightening financing at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
But there came a cost. She was also charged with protecting an emergency insurance fund stretched to its limits and figuring out how to wind down such a large government footprint growing ever more burdensome.
“Managing both the needs of the fund and the needs of the homeowners FHA was created to help support requires careful judgment and balanced action,” Galante says. “Shifting too much in either direction would harm the fund and recovery in the market overall. That’s why this administration has focused heavily on balancing strong risk management with access to homeownership for qualified borrowers.”
Over the past three years, FHA implemented its most sweeping reforms to credit policy, lender oversight and portfolio risk management, Galante says. And accountability as well.
In fact, the FHA was prepared to ask for a $688 million bailout from the Treasury Department to cover its emergency reserve fund losses by the end of this year. But a settlement struck with Bank of America over faulty lending and appraisal practices at Countrywide sent a much-needed $1 billion to the FHA.
As Galante and her agency search for the right balance between protection for taxpayers and opportunity for borrowers, she seeks to work with the industry.
A recent policy, which would have barred potential borrowers from getting an FHA loan if they had more than $1,000 in outstanding debt collections against them, was delayed when the industry responded. It was eventually withdrawn to write a better rule.
“As a lifelong practitioner in the housing industry, I know full well the importance of engaging with the industry on policy and process changes, and the impact on them when policymakers do not,” Galante says. “As a result, I think it’s important to listen to and work with feedback from users of our programs — particularly with regard to the implementation of specific policy elements, and hopefully the industry sees that.”
But here too is another fine line. She adds some policy directions require a need for independence “in determining a final path” for the agency.
Galante was previously the CEO of Bridge Housing Corp., the largest nonprofit developer of affordable, mixed-income and mixed-use developments in California, before joining the FHA in 2009. She also worked for the cities of Santa Barbara, Philadelphia and Richmond, Calif., as a city planner and in community economic development.
Galante leans on a triplet of leaders at the FHA when weighing an issue. She brought in Charles Coulter as the deputy assistant secretary for single-family housing, Marie Head to run the multifamily housing department and Frank Vetrano to lead the newly created office of risk management.
As the housing market emerges from the crisis, Galante says she will focus more on what the FHA’s role will be in a future housing system.
“That includes taking steps today to reduce FHA’s footprint in the market and setting a long term course in that area, as well as working with Congress to enact reforms that will permit FHA to respond more quickly and effectively in future times of crisis,” Galante says.
Recent raises to mortgage insurance premiums have allowed the FHA fund to recover somewhat. As of this publication, the Senate was still weighing a vote on cementing Galante as commissioner of the agency. Bringing it around to scale the agency to the current market needs may be what installs her as its leader for the longer term.
“FHA is prepared to continue playing its current role as long as is necessary,” Galante says.
Nonprofits — the Cuyahoga Land Bank, NeighborWorks America, Rebuilding Together, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, PCV|VRM Seeds of Hope and many more local organizations — are investing significant resources to improve America’s most vulnerable housing markets.