Senate Republicans today grilled three of President Joe Biden’s nominees for positions at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over their past comments in support of defunding the police, while Democrats asked them how they would tackle housing affordability.
Julia Gordon, Biden’s pick to head the Fair Housing Administration at HUD, Solomon Greene, who would be HUD’s assistant secretary for policy development and research, and Dave Uejio, acting director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and nominee to be assistant secretary for HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, answered questions from the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking Housing and Urban Affairs that ranged from housing policy to opinions expressed on social media.
Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator, ranking member Patrick Toomey, asked Gordon and Greene to explain tweets they made last year that were critical of the police. Republicans on the committee wrote to Biden to ask for the withdrawal of Gordon and Greene’s nomination due to the tweets, which have since been deleted.
Both nominees distanced themselves from their past tweets, and all three nominees, including Uejio, affirmed to the committee they did not support defunding the police.
Toomey also questioned some of Uejio’s housing policy-related actions while directing the CFPB, including a decision to delay the general Qualified Mortgage rule, which was panned by affordable housing advocates as well as the mortgage lending industry. He also took issue with Uejio providing regular updates to Biden’s nominee for director of the CFPB, Rohit Chopra. Chopra has still not been confirmed, after a committee resulted in a tie.
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Visibly strained as he answered Toomey’s question, Uejio said he was not testifying in his capacity as acting director of the CFPB. He noted that Chopra was not kept in the loop on personnel decisions, but was regularly updated by career staff on goings on at the watchdog agency.
Other committee members, including Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts and Tina Smith from Minnesota, drew attention to challenges typical homeowners face when investors purchase homes they otherwise might buy.
Smith said that in Minneapolis, one private equity firm had bought up “hundreds of houses and converted them to permanent rentals,” which she said reduces the supply of homes that can be purchased by typical families.
Gordon said that she had noted the trend in many places, and that it is partly driven by changes to how homes are bought and sold.
“The way we transact housing is evolving from the old system, where you went to the [multiple listing service] and all the houses were there,” said Gordon.
She added, “There’s a lot more happening now on auction websites and a lot more transactions limited to cash. That’s locking typical, not just low-income, but middle-class, families out of homeownership.”
Warren said that the FHA’s past policy of bundling foreclosed mortgages and selling them to investors led to a “payday” for private equity firms, and that now, FHA’s claims without conveyance of title program bypasses a first-look period for homeowners and non-profits.
Gordon said that she would look at changing the program. She added that home-price appreciation seen across the country is “insane,” and that the problem is particularly severe for lower income bands, where there is also typically more competition with cash-only buyers.
She said that making smaller mortgages available to families is a problem she would also like to tackle, to “make sure that there’s a lender willing to do the mortgage, when they could do a more expensive mortgage instead.”
The committee will reconvene in September after the Senate’s August recess to vote on the nominees.