Former Freddie Mac CEO says time is running out for housing finance reform

Originally published on September 27, 2019 by Kathleen Howley for HousingWire

FHFA might not have the resources need to complete the steps, Layton said

The clock is ticking on housing finance reform, according to Donald Layton, the former CEO of Freddie Mac.

Layton, now a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, said it’s unlikely the Federal Housing Finance Agency can complete the steps outlined in Treasury’s housing finance plan by the end of Donald Trump’s first term in office.

“Time may be running out,” Layton said in a paper issued on Friday. “The Trump administration ends in about one and one-third years, and that’s likely not enough time to get all the work done to complete the many steps of administrative reform.”

Layton adds, in parenthesis: “Of course, if President Trump is re-elected, then there is abundant time in his second term.” The paper doesn’t address that as a likely scenario.

Layton’s comments don’t take into account Tuesday’s announcement by Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the House of Representatives has launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump – a move that might shorten the timeline of the president’s first term and potentially put housing finance reform in the hands of Mike Pence, the current vice president.

A key reason the FHFA might not be able to complete all the tasks outlined in the housing finance blueprint approve by the White House, even assuming the Trump administration has till the beginning of 2021, is the lack of a “deep bench” at the FHFA, Layton said. The independent regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was created in 2008, shortly before the government seized the companies after deeming them to be insolvent.

The steps outlined in the plan “threaten to overwhelm the agency’s resources – in terms of not just the number of people involved but also its range of expertise,” Layton wrote. “After all, as a new agency, it does not have the deep bench found in its much older sibling financial regulators.”

Layton is not saying it’s impossible. He’s saying it’s unlikely.

“The FHFA would be required to do an unprecedented amount of work at a very fast pace,” Layton wrote. “The FHFA, under its new director, Mark Calabria, is clearly biting off a lot, which will maximize its influence – but we shall see how well it chews it all. It will require significant management and leadership at the agency to increase and organize its resources to do everything it is being assigned to do on an expedited basis.”