The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) took a definitive, if procedural, step toward a Senate-confirmed commissioner this morning.
In a morning session, the Senate narrowly voted to advance Julia Gordon’s nomination to be federal housing commissioner. Vice President Kamala Harris’ vote broke a tie, placing Gordon’s nomination on the Senate calendar. Senate leadership can now call a vote at any time, which would be the last step of what has been an arduous and controversial nomination process.
Gordon, in an email broadcast last week, said she would step down as president of the National Community Stabilization Trust, writing that the uncertainty of her nomination had been “a drag” on NCST since President Joe Biden nominated her in June 2021.
“The role of FHA Commissioner is critical to HUD’s work and mission,” said a spokesperson for HUD, which oversees the FHA.
Gordon did not respond to requests to comment.
Republican lawmakers have opposed Gordon’s nomination from the outset, raising questions over tweets critical of the police — now deleted — she made the previous year. After Gordon’s initial nomination hearings, the Senate Banking Committee voted not to advance her nomination, and returned it to Biden in early January 2022.
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But the nomination process restarted just days later, when Biden sent Gordon’s nomination to the Senate for reconsideration. When Gordon’s nomination again fell short of approval from the Senate Banking committee, her nomination went to the full Senate for a vote on whether to allow the nomination to go forward.
The FHA, which insures single-family mortgages that disproportionately serve borrowers of color and first-time homebuyers, has been operating without a commissioner since early 2021.
Industry observers, former HUD officials as well as fair housing advocates have all said that the FHA, which oversees $1.2 trillion in single-family forward and reverse mortgages, sorely needs a commissioner.
A lobbyist who works with FHA lenders said that HUD Sec. Marcia Fudge is aligned with the Biden administration’s push to reduce the racial homeownership gap. But the lobbyist said Fudge needs a leader at FHA to help set the agenda, in part because career staff are “cautious.”
There are long-standing and acute challenges facing the FHA that a commissioner might address. Fair housing advocates and industry stakeholders have called for lowering the fees the FHA charges borrowers.
Systemic problems at the FHA include uncompetitive pay, a lengthy hiring process and an imminent wave of retirements, although the FHA got a modest budget boost for payroll and expenses.