Attendees at Goldman Sachs housing and consumer finance conference took a break from talks of regulatory change, alternative asset classes and raising capital funds for a low-key lunch served in the same room.
The lunch boxes, stuffed with a sandwich, salad, chips and a cookie for dessert, also came with an extra side: Housing finance reform.
Goldman Sachs paired what could be argued as the most complex and intricate topic in housing with lunch. As attendees unwound from the back-to-back panel sessions, they sat and listened to five experts on housing finance reform try to unwrap the mess that is housing reform.
Despite the lack of agreement on reform in Washington, the five panelists gave a simplified overview of what’s out there in terms of likely Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and even Ginnie Mae, reform.
The complexity of reform was broken down into easy-to-digest flow charts and graphs to give options on how “easy” some options for GSE reform could be, and yet the industry is still sitting here nearly a decade later with little change/agreement in what was supposed to be a short-term plan.
The panelists, pictured above, are all veterans of proposed GSE reform and included: Edward DeMarco, senior fellow in residence with the Milken Institute, Michael Bright, director at the Milken Institute Center for Financial Markets, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, Jim Parrott, senior fellow at the Urban Institute and owner of Falling Creek Advisors, and Jim Millstein, founder and CEO of Millstein & Co.
After the group was able to give a more informal but pretty standard explanation of what’s out there in terms of reform options, it was an audience member that drilled in the gravity of the situation.
The attendee asked who exactly is stopping GSE reform if there are so many people fighting for various reform options. After all, it’s been nearly a decade with no change.
The panel’s response is quite simple for such a complex topic.
“There’s a foundation of folks who want to come together and change it, but there are a lot of plates spinning on the table,” said Bright.
Parrott took the response a step further and added that there is a significant number folks who want the government’s role completely scrolled back. And, there are also a significant number of folks who don’t want to do anything, he said.
“We need to explain this in a way that is coherent,” said Parrott.
Congressmen don’t want to get involved in it because it’s so complex, he quipped. And while intended as a joke, the audience laughed because they knew it was true.
Even this conference tucked the topic in with lunch, slipping what’s become a conversation that’s barely taken seriously in between bites of food.
But before the idea of GSE reform fully turns into the boy who cried wolf, the industry is walking into a new administration. Add in snippets on reform from other panels at the conference, and there’s a clear change of stance as the Trump administration brings the possibility that GSE reform could finally be a priority.