Mortgage

Housing rights protestors shut down FHFA Director Watt’s lecture at Harvard

They want principal reduction and they want it now

A group of “anti-foreclosure” protestors disrupted a lecture given by Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt at Harvard Law School on Monday, eventually leading to the event being prematurely canceled amid security concerns.

According to the Harvard Crimson, the event was supposed to be a “fire-side chat” about the role of the FHFA and federal housing policy, but scores of housing rights advocates showed up and repeatedly interrupted Watt.

The Harvard Crimson report states that members of three groups, City Life, Lynn United for Change, and Springfield No One Leaves, made up nearly all of the audience at the event.

And what do those groups want? They want Watt to approve principal reduction plans for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FHFA recently approved a plan for the government-sponsored enterprises to engage in principal reduction on a large scale for the first time since the housing crisis.

But later that same day, Watt gave a speech at a public policy luncheon hosted by the Women in Housing and Finance, in which he said that the issue of principal reduction has been the “most challenging” that the FHFA has faced in his two years there and that in actuality, no decision on principal reduction had been made.

Watt also said that his objective for any principal reduction plan was to achieve a “win-win” situation for borrowers and the GSEs alike.

“Many have asked why it has taken so long to reach a conclusion. The direct answer is that making this determination involves consideration of an extremely complicated set of factors,” Watt said at the time.

Watt told the audience Monday that the FHFA is not prepared to announce a decision on principal reduction, but planned to announce it soon.

“We are, however, drawing close to the end of this difficult process, and I expect to announce a decision within the next 30 days about whether we have been able to find a ‘win-win’ principal reduction strategy or whether, on the other hand, we will take principal reduction off the table entirely,” Watt said.

Watt gave that speech on March 22, so the 30-day window for announcing a decision is still open, but the protestors at Harvard want a decision on principal reduction made yesterday not tomorrow.

But after the protestors continually interrupted Watt, Harvard Law School professor Hal Scott, who organized the event, escorted Watt from the event, citing security concerns.

From the Harvard Crimson:

Scott expressed disappointment that Watt was unable to finish the discussion, and raised concerns over security protocol in place at Harvard. Scott said he thinks security should have removed the protesters.

“I would hope Harvard’s policies are that we don’t allow people to come and disrupt events,” he said. “Where do we draw the line? Can these people come into classrooms, and we do nothing?… I was appalled, quite frankly, that security didn’t do more.”

According to the Crimson report, Scott took Watt to his office to finish the discussion and plans to release it to his students at a later date.

A representative from the FHFA told HousingWire that they would not be commenting on the Harvard event.

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