Top Democrats urge FHFA's Otting to clarify plans for GSEs

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WASHINGTON — Two leading congressional Democrats called on the acting Federal Housing Finance Agency chief to detail his plans for the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac following reports he may shake up the agency's approach to the two mortgage giants.

Joseph Otting, who is running the agency on an interim basis while also serving as comptroller of the currency, is reported to have said at an agency meeting this month that the Trump administration is planning an announcement within weeks that could "set a direction for what the future of housing will be in the U.S. and what the FHFA’s part of that will be.” Politico reported his comments Thursday after obtaining a recording.

While the details of what Otting is planning are unclear, his comments caught the attention of House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the Senate Banking Committee's top Democrat.

In a letter to Otting Friday, Waters and Brown said the prospect of an acting FHFA chief, who lacks Senate confirmation, pursuing policies outlined by the Treasury Department and White House prompts concerns about the agency’s independence.

“While you have provided your views on bank regulation as Comptroller of the Currency, we have not had an opportunity to explore your views on the housing finance system and the policies you hope to pursue at FHFA,” Waters and Brown said.

“To date, we have not seen a comprehensive statement from the White House and Treasury Department under the Trump Administration providing their views on regulation of the housing finance system. Additionally, your comments call into question the independence of the FHFA under your leadership.”

It is unclear how long Otting will serve at the FHFA. President Trump nominated Vice President Mike Pence’s chief economist, Mark Calabria, to be the next permanent director of the FHFA, to succeed Mel Watt, whose term expired at the beginning of the year.

Waters and Brown noted that Congress has directed the FHFA to monitor the activities of the government-sponsored enterprises to ensure that they are properly serving underserved markets.

“The Enterprises’ activities are especially impactful in traditionally underserved parts of the market, including low- and moderate-income households, rural areas, affordable rental housing, and manufactured housing,” the members said.

Waters and Brown are asking Otting for a detailed description of the mission that the White House and Treasury Department have outlined for FHFA by Feb. 1 “to ensure that any action taken by the Agency will continue to meet Congress’s direction.”

“We look forward to hearing more about your goals at the FHFA and what steps you will take to ensure that the Enterprises continue their work to facilitate a liquid national mortgage market and access to affordable rental housing under your leadership,” Waters and Brown said.

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