The housing market overall remains depressed, according to Freddie Mac's Chief Economist Frank Nothaft; however, there is a glimmer of hope in the rental sector, as the government sponsored enterprise reaffirmed its commitment to providing mortgage financing in the near term. Vacancy gradually drifted lower over the past year, while rental rate gradually climbed, Nothaft said in Freddie Mac's June Economic Outlook. He cited a report by the National Multi Housing Council that found a tightening in rental markets and greater availability of equity and debt financing — a sign demand is increasing. Nothaft said he believes the current economic soft path is temporary, driven by a lack of consumer, homebuilder and small business confidence. Job growth is sluggish and unemployment recently rose to 9.1%, spurring even more economic uncertainty in the markets, Nothaft said. But that is not reason to fret, Nothaft claimed, as he expects more robust economic growth in the second half of the year. "Wage growth improved in May, as average earnings rose 0.3%, following a 0.1% in April," Nothaft commented. "Look for gradual, but substantive improvement in housing activity in the coming year." Meanwhile in a blog posting Monday, Freddie Mac Vice President of external relations Hollis McLoughlin, said that while the mandate is to eventually wind down large parts of the government sponsored enterprise, the firm will remain committed to providing housing finance in the near term. "Today, Freddie Mac is supporting the U.S. housing market – which remains fragile – by keeping mortgage funds flowing and providing needed stability," he wrote on the Freddie Mac executive perspectives blog. "The $105 billion in mortgage loans and mortgage-related securities we bought or guaranteed in the first quarter of 2011 helped 430,000 families buy a home and made rental housing possible for another 83,000 families. We also helped more than 62,000 struggling borrowers avoid foreclosure." "Freddie Mac has been asked to play a vital role in moving the nation toward economic recovery," McLoughlin adds. "We take that responsibility very seriously, and that's where we've focused our work." Write to Christine Ricciardi. Follow her on Twitter @HWnewbieCR.