After a tumultuous millennium year at the Mortgage Bankers Association, which saw members taking potshots at the leadership and an eventual staff shake-up, a major lender, once a critic, is saying the mortgage trade group has started to turn things around.

Other observers also expressed optimism about recent management changes, which they said have put the association on a more solid path.

The MBA's internal troubles boiled over in June when executive vice president Paul Reid abruptly resigned amid talk of internal strife and member criticism. Elaine Graham, head of its lobbying arm, followed shortly, and Suzanne Samson, Mr. Reid's deputy, was also said recently to be negotiating a departure.

An observer close to the MBA said that Mr. Reid "did not have the ways of Washington" and added that Ms. Graham lacked sufficient understanding of the industry to be an effective lobbyist and did not work well with the group's active membership.

The result, critics contended, was that the industry lacked adequate representation. Some observers singled out Mr. Reid's decision to relocate the association's offices as a point of contention, and the critics complained of poor internal organization and high turnover after Mr. Reid joined the association.

But now "our energy level is high, people are committed, people are excited about where we're headed," said Andrew Woodward, the chairman of Bank of America Mortgage who is to become MBA president in October.

Observers close to the MBA said that a key to the group's new outlook was the revamping of its leadership in mid-July. The major lending executive, who is an MBA member and who requested anonymity, said he sees better teamwork and coordination of activities under the new staff leadership.

Among the MBA's legislative efforts in the last couple of months has been the release of a comprehensive mortgage reform plan to address predatory lending, greater flexibility for FHA lenders on down-payment simplification, and an agenda for the mortgage industry on a GSE reform bill, all of which have drawn praise from lenders. The MBA has also stepped up its communications with state and local organizations and has created an "online community," called CampusMBA, which members and the public can use for education, training, and communication.

Under the leadership realignment, general counsel Howard B. Glaser, a veteran of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was named head of government affairs, a newly formed unit comprising his prior role and MBA's legislative and regulatory lobbying functions. Since his promotion, Mr. Glaser has added several of the most prominent Washington lobbyists, with links to both major political parties, to the association's Washington arsenal.

Todd Howe, another HUD veteran, who was in charge of MBA member services, kept that title but saw his responsibilities expanded to include state and local and grass-roots efforts, education, meetings, and MORPAC, the association's political action committee.

Mr. Glaser said, "People in and out of the MBA think that" the new leadership structure "works well: There are very clear lines of authority."

The lending executive singled out Mr. Glaser's contributions to the revamped organization, lauding his understanding of the mortgage industry and calling him "a very smart strategist who understands the Washington scene." High on the list of the group's recent accomplishments, he said, has been its handling of a GSE reform bill sponsored by Rep. Richard H. Baker, R.-La., in a House Banking subcommittee.

The association has also convened a blue-ribbon panel of industry experts representing all parts of its membership to chisel out a definition of the secondary market for residential mortgages. The panel plans to share its work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the two mortgage giants have committed themselves to participate in the panel's discussion of the issue.

Warren Carr, president of Homestead USA Inc., a residential lender based in Michigan, said that with its comprehensive mortgage reform plan the association "has done a lot to make sure that any predatory lending laws that might be enacted will be appropriate to the industry as opposed to having something that is too restrictive," which might hurt "the players that really did not participate in predatory lending."

The executive who asked to remain anonymous added that communication with the membership and state organizations has vastly improved since the new team took over. He said he gets weekly e-mails from Mr. Howe and Mr. Glaser on regulatory and legislative issues and that Mr. Howe communicates daily with the state organizations.

Mr. Woodward, who contends that the recent turnaround is the result of a strategic plan adopted in 1998, said the MBA's recent activity is due in part to the fact that issues such as FHA down-payment simplification and extension of FHA credit subsidies have required quick action. Mr. Glaser added that it is also a consequence of the political cycle.

The association recently hired an executive search firm, to seek a new executive vice president.

"The best is ahead of us," said Mr. Woodward.


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