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Rising Star Matt Jones on the success of the CARES Act

Today’s HousingWire Daily features an interview with 2021 HousingWire Rising Star Matt Jones, who formerly served as senior counsel for the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and as senior counsel for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. In this episode, Jones discusses his experience helping craft the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was the government’s response to the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Alcynna Lloyd:  In a HousingWire HW+ article, you describe how 2020 was a year unlike any other. In fact, I pulled a quote from the article that reads: “It turned into, by far, the most consequential year of the four that I spent on the Hill. As the reports on the coronavirus started to come out in January and February of last year, it didn’t take long for the questions to start flooding in on how Congress would respond.” Can you discuss what the energy and environment felt like in Washington and when it was clear the government would have to act?

Matt Jones: Now that we’re almost a year and a half past when the virus really broke out, we forget how scary it was. Back in the beginning, when there was a run on toilet paper in every store and it seemed like if you took a breath outside you were going to contract the virus, that level of fear was gripping everyone. And on the Hill, there was a tremendous recognition that Congress had to act super quickly, or else the entire economy was going to crash, the likes of which you could compare to 2008, but possibly, in a way we’ve never seen before in terms of scale and scope. So, despite how Congress is often portrayed in the media as being trench warfare, what this crisis really spurred folks to do in those couple of days in March was to work together with a real sense of urgency. To do so, Congress checked party affiliation at the door, and really pitched in on a true bipartisan basis to put together this legislation. 

HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling articles reported across HW Media. Each afternoon, we provide our listeners with a deeper look into the stories coming across our newsroom that are helping Move Markets Forward. Hosted by the HW team and produced by Alcynna Lloyd and Victoria Jones.

Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:

Alcynna Lloyd: Hello, HousingWire listeners. Today, I’m joined with the 2021 HousingWire Rising Star winner, Matt Jones, who formally served as Senior Counsel for the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and as Senior Counsel for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. Thanks so much for joining us, Matt.

Matt Jones: Thanks for having me.

Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. Today, Matt will be speaking to us about his experience in aiding the creation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, which was the government’s response of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Matthew, first things first. Can you tell us more about yourself and your journey in Washington? Was working for the Senate Committee on Banking something you always wanted to do and what drove you in that direction?

Matt Jones: Yeah. So, interestingly, I grew up in a family of mortgage bankers. It was family business and definitely the dinner table discussion du jour growing up. I also had an interest in politics, so kind of in an interesting way, it wound up doing both of them at the same time. I actually had no intention of becoming a Hill staffer originally, but wanted to go to law school and wound up in D.C. for that, found my way to the Mortgage Bankers Association for a couple years and then kind of right place, right time, I found an opportunity to go over to Capitol Hill for the banking committee for Senator Crapo when he became chairman of the committee, and got to kind of get involved with that. And after several years of work there, you know, in 2020, presented a massive crisis, the likes of which we’ve never seen, and also a huge opportunity to make a big difference in that capacity.

Alcynna Lloyd: Yeah, and you did make a big difference, which brings me to my next question, which is the pandemic itself. In a “HousingWire HW+” article, you described how 2020 was a year unlike no other. In fact, I pulled a quote from the article that reads, “It turned into by far, the most consequential year of the four that I spent on the Hill. As the reports of the coronavirus started to come out in January and February of last year, it didn’t take long for the questions to start flooding in on how Congress would respond.” Can you discuss what the energy and environment felt like in Washington, and when it was clear the government would have to act?

Matt Jones: Yeah, so you know, now that we’re almost a year and a half past when the virus really broke out, we forget how it was. We forget how scary it was and back in the beginning when there was a run on toilet paper in every store, and it seemed like, if you took a breath outside, you were gonna contract the virus. And that, you know, level of fear was gripping everyone. And on the Hill, there was a tremendous recognition that Congress had to act super quickly, or else the entire economy was going to crash, in the likes of which, you can compare it to 2008, but possibly we’ve never seen before, in terms of the scale and scope of this thing. So, you know, despite how Congress is often portrayed in the media as being trench warfare, what this crisis really spurred folks to do in those couple days in March, was really to work together and with a real sense of urgency, checking the party affiliation at the door and really kinda pitching in, on a true bipartisan basis, to put together this legislation.

Alcynna Lloyd: Wow. So, I wanna dive deeper on that question. What was the process like when it came to writing a bill as large as the CARES Act, and how do you feel about the implementation of the bill? Do you think it positively impacted American households overall and including the economy?

Matt Jones: Yeah, absolutely. I think the bill was tremendously successful. You know, the part I got to work on, of course, was the mortgage forbearance, the foreclosure moratorium and the eviction moratorium, but that was a small corner of the bill. You remember, the bill also provided $454 billion in emergency lending to Treasury that could, you know, prop up various sectors of the economy that were failing in March to commercial paper market, the muni bond market, several other markets that would have collapsed were it not for the Fed having those resources available You had the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, which was tremendously successful in keeping businesses from going under and keeping employees from losing their jobs. You had the first round of the direct economic impact payments, so the stimulus checks, which provided immediate economic support to, you know, 100 million plus Americans. And then, you had the mortgage items, which I think have been largely successful in preventing millions of homeowners from going into foreclosure and renters from getting evicted. And I think had those, you know, measures not been put into place, the economic damage that the coronavirus would have caused would have been 10 or 20 fold what ultimately occurred, and we would be having a very different conversation today than where we’re at in an economy that is, you know, in the process of recovering, and the biggest problem now is inflation.

Alcynna Lloyd: Yes, inflation is a problem and something else that I just wanna talk about as well, you mentioned forbearance. And I’m curious on as we see more and more people exit forbearance, what do you think the market is going to look like or do you think we’ll see positive or negative impacts from this?

Matt Jones: Well, post-CARES Act implementation, FHFA and others have consistently extended a lot of these protections, right? So, we still have an eviction moratorium in place, that’s been in place for over a year. And certainly, the current policy of debate is at what point should that be sunset, should it be continued. And you know, I think a lot of that, in terms of how you address that, is looking at the numbers, how many people are still in forbearance, that still haven’t been able to get their job back, still haven’t returned to the income level they were at pre-crisis. And I think it’s a challenging issue, in terms of where you kinda draw the line, because I don’t think we’re anywhere near where you would ideally wanna be to prevent some folks from being adversely impacted if you take out the moratorium. But, you know, I think certainly, we’re in a stronger place than we were a year ago. I also think one long-term permanent ramification of our response in the CARES Act is now, you know, in future crises, I think policymakers are gonna turn to mortgage forbearance and eviction moratoriums as a policy tool that they can use to, you know, similarly try to prevent economic damage. And it’s a tool that really, historically hadn’t been used until last year.

Alcynna Lloyd: So, as we talk about economic damage and what that looks like with moratoriums and forbearance, you did mention inflation and I wanna talk about that a little bit more. What are you seeing the market that concerns you most about inflation right now?

Matt Jones: Well, you know, when we did the CARES Act, there was tremendous bipartisan pressure and interest in doing it because there was an understanding it was absolutely essential. There was a subsequent bill in December that passed with less than bipartisan support, and as time went on, you started to see the traditional purpose and divide start to reform as the Republicans are thinking, you know, how much more public money are we gonna put into this economy when it’s starting to show signs of recovery. And the Democrats at the same time, recognizing we haven’t recovered yet in a lot of ways, and we oughta continue to help where we can.

So, I think, you know, that’s the debate where it stands right now. You’re seeing an economy that is showing a lot of signs of recovery and a lot of excess public cash that’s flushing around right now, that was injected into the economy over the last 12 months. And suddenly, a lot of folks are getting their jobs back. I mean, in terms of, you know, my personal view, I think we got it about right. I think any extra stimulus beyond this point might not be the most targeted approach, but I think a more fundamental issue, that I’m sure a lot of listeners are familiar with, is the inventory shortage in the housing market right now that was, you know, in many ways, exacerbated by this crisis and all the buying that’s going on right now. But, this was an issue that pre-dated COVID certainly, but there’s just not enough affordable housing inventory, not enough starter homes, entry-level homes that are being built for a number of reasons. And so, I think the purchase demand that was pent up for a year is now, you know, we’re seeing the impact of that. But, I think in the long-term, that’s gonna be the dominant problem in the housing market.

Alcynna Lloyd: Yeah. We’re hearing from almost everybody that we interview or anybody that we talk to on the site for articles, that inventory affordability are such a huge topic of discussion right now and I’m really curious on how that’s gonna play out throughout the year. I wanna take this opportunity to brag on you specifically. I had the pleasure on joining “HousingWire’s” graphic designer, Emily Carpenter in a photoshoot she curated for your Rising Stars magazine edition. The photo shoot was amazing and I’d love to know how you felt then and also when you were given the award, and how’d you feel when you figured out you’d be appearing on the cover of “HousingWire’s” June magazine?

Matt Jones: When I got the email, I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I was very surprised, very flattered and very excited. Actually, to be honest to you, I wasn’t sure if I was eligible as a government employee, but I’m glad that I was and I’m certainly honored by the recognition. You know, it was a team effort with many folks on my team. You know, I guess my name was put forward, but I certainly had a good team of folks that helped me on working on the CARES Act, and, you know, they know who they are. But, you know, it was just exciting to have been involved in that moment on the Hill, and to have played a role in it and hopefully to have made a real difference for the market, for the country.

Alcynna Lloyd: Well, I’m sure your team is so proud of you and we were elated to have you as our cover Rising Star. There’s so much more to come from you, which brings me to my next question. When we were scheduling this interview, you let me in on a new career opportunity that has come your way. You’ll be leaving the Senate and returning to the mortgage business, as you’ve accepted a position at a Amerifirst Home Mortgage. Can you tell us a bit about your new role?

Matt Jones: Yes. Actually, my family business that I grew up in and was my first job out of college. Seven years ago, I left to go to D.C. and work in the government. Now I’m coming right around back home, moving back closer to family and, you know, bring in a lot of the knowledge and hopefully what I’ve learned over the last seven years, back into the direct mortgage origination market. My actual job description is gonna be work on capital market products and a little bit of policy and government affairs as well, but certainly, you know, coming back home in a lot of ways, coming back with a family business after a stint in public service, but hopefully, you know, I’ll still get to travel to D.C. and keep in touch with all the folks I’ve met along the way.

Alcynna Lloyd: I’m sure you will. Like we said, you’re a Rising Star, so I know there’s more to come for you throughout your career. Well, Matt, I wanna say thank you so much for joining us today.

Matt Jones: Absolutely. Thanks for having me and thanks again for the honor of being a Rising Star this year. It means a whole lot.

Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. Thank you so much. Listeners, join us back here tomorrow for some more “HousingWire Daily.”

HousingWire Daily

Hosted by the journalists behind the headlines, HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling mortgage, real estate, and fintech articles reported from the HousingWire newsroom.

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