Biden transition team replete with housing experts but lacking lenders

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Several housing experts who worked at government-related agencies during the Obama era are on the Biden administration’s transition teams, but representation of companies currently working in the mortgage business is lacking.

The team-lead for review of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, is the vice president and chief innovation officer at the Urban Institute, Erika Poethig. Poethig previously served as an acting assistant secretary for policy, development and research at HUD under the Obama administration from 2012 to 2013.

Erika Poethig

At least one team member has past mortgage industry experience. Helen Kanovsky, who was the general counsel for the Mortgage Bankers Association from 2016 to 2019, is on the Treasury transition team. Kanovsky served as general counsel for HUD from 2009 to 2016.

The transition teams include people who previously worked for the Treasury and the Federal Housing Finance Agency as well as HUD.

Benson “Buzz” Roberts, for example, formerly served as the director of the Office of Small Business, Community Development and Housing Policy at the Treasury from 2011 to 2015 and will be on that agency’s review team. Roberts most recently has served as president and CEO of the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders.

Julia Gordon, who managed the single-family policy team at the FHFA from 2011 to 2012 and most recently has served as president at the National Stabilization Trust, is on the HUD review team.

So, too, is Eric Stein, the former special adviser to past FHFA Director Mel Watt, who served from 2014 to 2019. Stein was previously a deputy assistant secretary for consumer protection in the Department of the Treasury in the Obama era. He worked on legislation to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011 and most recently has served as the chief operating officer at the Center for Community Self-Help and as senior vice president at the Center for Responsible Lending.

“These names are probably more consumer-centric, which I think is not a bad thing. They are knowledgeable about what government can accomplish,” said Faith Schwartz, owner of advisory firm Housing Finance System Strategies. “The mortgage business, as you know, is very complex and it helps to have people in government who can guide career staff to help consumers navigate that.”

“The only thing I think they need to be careful of is that they should have a mix of some people that have some business background and some that represent consumers,” added Schwartz, who previously played a key role in loss mitigation policy during the 2008 crisis, and has worked with some of the people on the transition team. “That helps businesses do the best job they can as far as making good loans.”

The roles transition team members play is generally temporary but influential. However, some might have long-term involvement with the administration, said Tim Rood, head of government and industry relations at SitusAMC.

“They are definitely kingmakers and the ones who are inclined to stay on have the fast-track to some of the open spots,” he said.

The Biden administration is likely to bring more mortgage professionals and representatives of other businesses into the fold down the road in order to negotiate compromises with Republicans, particularly if they end up controlling the Senate after the two January runoffs, Rood added.

“While I can see why they would mainly bring in people from nonprofits, think tanks and what not if the Democrats are controlling the House and the Senate, that whole thing gets flipped on its head if the Senate remains in Republican control,” Rood said. “So maybe over time things will change.”

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