Who’s in the mix to be the next FHFA director

The nation's housing finance regulator has an acting director. Now what?


Former Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mark Calabria is cleaning out his desk, and the Biden administration has moved quickly to install an acting director.

Over a whirlwind four hours on Wednesday, the Supreme Court found the structure of FHFA unconstitutional, the White House publicly stated its desire to immediately remove Trump-appointed Calabria, followed by the FHFA director issuing his resignation.

In the hours that followed, the FHFA did not immediately know who would helm the agency. But late Wednesday, a name emerged: the White House appointed Sandra Thompson, a career regulator, to serve as acting director of the FHFA. With an experienced hand now at the helm of the nation’s housing finance regulator, the question becomes, who will fill the permanent role?

Thompson, in her first public statement as acting director, drew a sharp contrast to Calabria’s focus on building up the GSEs capital reserves.

Thompson said she would steer the nation’s housing finance system in a “safe and sound manner,” while at the same time maintaining a “laser focus on mission and community investment.”

“There is a widespread lack of affordable housing and access to credit, especially in communities of color,” Thompson said. “It is FHFA’s duty through our regulated entities to ensure that all Americans have equal access to safe, decent, and affordable housing.”

Thompson has overseen housing and regulatory policy, financial analysis research and all mission activities for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since 2013. Prior to that she held numerous leadership positions at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation over the course of 23 years.

Prior to the announcement, Bob Broeksmit, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said the MBA has worked constructively with Thompson in the past, and characterized her as very knowledgeable and experienced.

Whoever is appointed to the permanent role, the FHFA director is of utmost importance to the mortgage industry.

“The powers of this role while in conservatorship are vast,” said Broeksmit. “It is absolutely central to how the housing finance system functions in the U.S.”

Although there are many other high-level positions in the Biden administration unfilled, the director of the FHFA oversees the entities that guarantee half the nation’s $11 trillion mortgage market.

“It is the most powerful and consequential job in housing in America. There is no close second,” said David Dworkin, the president and CEO of the National Housing Conference. “This makes this one of the most important decisions Biden will make.”

While neither the FHFA nor the White House have said publicly who is under consideration for the permanent role, industry experts and D.C. insiders shared their candidates with HousingWire.

Multiple sources said Biden is considering Mark Zandi, chief economist at credit rating agency Moody’s Analytics.

Throughout the pandemic, Zandi provided regular updates on numerous topics, including a potential wave of evictions, and the impact that Biden policies would have on the housing market.

In April, lawmakers relied on Zandi to provide an analysis of a bill, introduced by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to reduce rents by 10% and build 3 million new housing units. Zandi’s independent analysis was favorable: it found the bill would save families an average of $100 per month and produce no long-term deficit impact.

Jim Parrott, a nonresident fellow at the Urban Institute, is also rumored to be under consideration. Parrott has written extensively about the GSEs. Last year, in an article he co-authored with Zandi and Jared Bernstein, he argued against the controversial 50-basis-point adverse-market fee the FHFA imposed on all refinances backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“At the very moment families desperately need cash in their pockets, President Trump’s mortgage regulator has decided to take cash out of their pockets,” the authors wrote.

One potential candidate for the position is already in the Biden administration. Tia Boatman Patterson, the former executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency, joined the Biden administration at the White House Office of Management and Budget as the associate director for housing, treasury and commerce.

Boatman Patterson greatly expanded the CalHFA during her tenure. The year before she took over, the agency lent less than $100 million. Last fiscal year, it lent nearly $5 billion. 

Julia Gordon, too, is said to be under consideration for the post. Gordon is president of the National Community Stabilization Trust, a D.C.-based nonprofit that facilitates the transfer of foreclosed and abandoned properties from financial institutions nationwide to local housing organizations. She has advocated for the expansion of homeownership to close the racial wealth gap.

Bob Ryan, an Obama-era appointee and former senior advisor to Calabria, is also said to be in the mix. He stepped down from the FHFA in 2019. Before that, he was a senior vice president of capital markets at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. He has also held senior positions at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he served as the first chief risk officer at the Federal Housing Administration.

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