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Who is Maren Kasper, the new head of Ginnie Mae?

Former Roofstock director at the center of numerous issues at HUD

Michael Bright surprised many in the housing industry this week when he abruptly decided to leave Ginnie Mae to return to the private sector, passing on being the permanent director of Ginnie Mae to lead the Structured Finance Industry Group, a trade advocacy group for the securities markets.

So, now we know where Bright is going. But what about what happens now for Ginnie Mae, the government agency that issues mortgage bonds backed by Federal Housing Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs loans, among others.

Ginnie Mae said Wednesday that Maren Kasper, Ginnie Mae’s current executive vice president, will serve as acting president in Bright’s absence. But what do we know about Kasper, who will soon be overseeing an agency that boasts a mortgage bond portfolio of more than $1 trillion?

According to Kasper’s bio on Ginnie Mae’s website, she joined the agency as executive vice president in June 2017. In that role, Kasper oversees all aspects of business and policy development related to Ginnie Mae’s daily operations.

Kasper brought experience in the single-family rental market to the administration.

Kasper joined the Trump administration after serving as a director at Roofstock, a growing online marketplace for single-family rental home investing and an honoree as one of HousingWire Magazine’s HW Tech100 in 2018. According to Kasper’s Ginnie Mae bio, while at Roofstock, she “led efforts focused on business development and fund management.”

Earlier in her career, Kasper worked for Dwell Finance, which also focused on the single-family rental market. In 2015, Dwell was acquired by B2R Finance, a lender for single-family residential rental property investors. B2R Finance was eventually acquired by Finance of America, a Blackstone Group portfolio company, as part of a big move into real estate investing.

According to New York Magazine, Kasper joined the Trump administration early on, serving on the administration’s “beachhead team” that worked at HUD before HUD Secretary Ben Carson was confirmed. During that time, and after, Kasper became embroiled in several internal battles that eventually made headlines on HousingWire and beyond.

From New York Magazine:

As Carson awaited confirmation, though, a leadership cadre was already entrenching itself in the administrative offices on the tenth floor of HUD. The five-person landing team had given way in January to a larger “beachhead” team. This was a more eyebrow-raising group. Its few alums from past GOP administrations were outnumbered by Trump loyalists such as Barbara Gruson, a Manhattan real-estate broker who’d worked for the campaign; Victoria Barton, the campaign’s “student and millennial outreach coordinator”; and Lynne Patton, who had worked for the Trumps as an event planner.

The most influential of the new bunch, it would quickly emerge, was Maren Kasper. Little-known in housing-policy circles, and in her mid-30s, Kasper arrived from the Bay Area start-up Roofstock, which linked investors with rental properties available for purchase. It partnered with lenders including Colony American Finance, a company founded by Tom Barrack, the close Trump associate. This link to Trump, combined with Kasper’s background in one sliver of the housing realm, was enough to win her a place as one of the minders appointed by the White House to keep an eye on each government department, a powerful role without precedent in prior administrations.

According to the article, in those early days, Kasper butted heads with Shermichael Singleton, an associate of Carson, who was eventually fired after anti-Trump writings surfaced from before he was part of the administration.

Again, from NY Magazine:

Kasper, the holder of an M.B.A. from NYU’s Stern School of Business, took her new management role seriously, asserting herself as the final arbiter in the absence of a confirmed secretary. This led to friction both with career housing-policy experts and with Carson loyalists, notably Singleton, who had also been hired on. At meetings, Singleton said, Kasper was often “misrepresenting” herself as standing in for Carson. “I made it clear, ‘You don’t speak for Dr. Carson.’ She said, ‘Well, the White House …’ ” To which Singleton said he responded, “I get what the White House has selected, and I respect that, but he’s the secretary and you need to make sure you understand that.”

A background check eventually turned up an article Singleton wrote for TheHill.com during the 2016 presidential campaign, in which Singleton wrote that Trump is “unfit” to be president and said that he cannot support Trump.

After the article was discovered, Singleton was asked to leave HUD, but that wasn’t the only time that Kasper had issues with a fellow administration member.

According to the Washington Post, Kasper was also at the center of an issue with Lynne Patton, who is close with the Trump family, and was eventually chosen to lead HUD’s Region II office, which oversees federal housing programs in New York and New Jersey.

The Post article, published late last year, claims that Patton tried to use her Trump family connections to get Kasper fired.

From the Post:

Just three weeks into the Trump presidency, Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump family aide and freshly minted senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, had a personnel problem she deemed serious enough to invoke her powerful connections.

In a flurry of emails to the Office of Presidential Personnel in February 2017, Patton sought to remove Maren Kasper, the White House’s HUD liaison, because Patton felt undermined.

“Dr. Carson & his team deem her divisive and disruptive, as do I,” Patton wrote to John DeStefano, assistant to Trump and then director of presidential personnel, and his deputy director, Sean Doocey, on Feb. 8. “If it helps, Eric Trump agrees that it’s best to nip this potential problem in the bud & told me to call Jared [Kushner], if necessary, but I prefer to go through you all first.”

According to the article, neither Eric Trump nor Jared Kushner actually got involved in the dispute at HUD, and Patton later apologized to the White House over the affair. The article also states that Carson “intervened” to keep Kasper at HUD.

Kasper was also reportedly involved in the imbroglio over HUD’s plan to spend $31,000 on a custom hardwood dining set that was to be installed in Carson’s office.

That situation began when Helen Foster, who was HUD’s chief administrative officer, first spoke out about the controversial dining set.

Foster filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, accusing HUD management of taking “retaliatory personnel actions” against her for raising concerns about the dining set purchase, which was supposedly made by Carson’s wife, Candy.

The furniture order was eventually canceled, but Kasper was involved in that mess when it was ongoing, according to ABC News.

From ABC News:

Foster's complaint says that that same month Clemmensen (former HUD Acting Secretary Craig Clemmensen) asked her to find two Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information about a HUD appointee and submitted by the Democratic National Committee.

After she sent him the requests she alleges she was told by an attorney in the ethics department of the Office of General Counsel to handle the FOIA requests "discreetly" outside the normal FOIA process. The complaint says Foster was told that decision was made by Maren Kasper, the head of the Trump transition team to the department and White House adviser to HUD.

So, Kasper may have some housing bonafides, but she isn’t controversy-free either. Sounds like it’s about par for the course these days. And in less than a week, she’s going to be in charge of Ginnie Mae and its $1 trillion portfolio for at least some time. Should be interesting.

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