Politics & MoneyRegulatory

Biden nominates Thompson to be permanent FHFA director

Earlier this year, President Biden named the veteran regulator acting director of FHFA

Sandra Thompson, the acting head of the FHFA

President Joe Biden has nominated the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s acting director, Sandra Thompson, to become its permanent director.

Thompson has been doing the job on a temporary basis since June, after Biden removed the former Trump-appointed FHFA director, Mark Calabria.

While the housing finance industry had a prickly relationship with Calabria, it has welcomed Thompson, a veteran regulator. Affordable housing advocates, too, have praised her efforts to tackle the racial homeownership gap.

Early on in her tenure leading the FHFA, Thompson made it clear she would prioritize both stability and sustainable lending practices, as well as expanding credit to underserved communities.

“As a longtime regulator, I am committed to making sure our nation’s housing finance systems and our regulated entities operate in a safe and sound manner,” Thompson said in June, when she was appointed acting director. “We can accomplish this, and at the same time have a laser focus on mission and community investment. There is a widespread lack of affordable housing and access to credit, especially in communities of color.”

She has made substantial progress toward that goal in the first six months of her tenure. Within three months, she had set new affordability benchmarks to expand access to credit in underserved communities, made on-time rental payment history part of Fannie Mae’s underwriting process and signed a historic interagency fair lending agreement.

The FHFA has tasked the government sponsored enterprises with crafting equitable housing finance plans — which could potentially include special purpose credit programs — by the end of this year. The FHFA has also directed GSEs to make housing affordability a top priority for 2022.

The housing finance industry has also welcomed the FHFA’s actions under Thompson. In September, at an industry conference, Thompson announced desktop appraisals would become permanent, easing a choke point for the industry. The crowd of industry professionals erupted into cheers at the news.

Yet while Thompson is well-regarded in both the industry and affordable housing circles, for a time, it was not certain she would be the permanent nominee. In September, sources floated Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, as Biden’s choice.

Calhoun had in the past advocated for treating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as public utilities. An analyst at the time said that Calhoun’s nomination would have been neutral or positive for the housing finance industry.

But California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, called on Biden to nominate Thompson for the permanent job. It further consolidated support for Thompson among both industry stakeholders and affordable housing advocates.

“It is in part due to the past and ongoing lack of representation of people of color in the senior ranks of our financial services regulators that we see stark racial and economic inequities throughout our country today,” Waters said. “We will not find a more qualified, more dedicated, or more deserving public servant than Ms. Thompson to lead the FHFA at this moment in our nation’s history.”

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