The drive to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may pick up some steam in January when the Republicans actually take over control of the House of Representatives. But it will be largely a lot of hot air, according to federal policy specialists at the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
There will be “a lot of public discussion” because of the political shift, Tony Hutchinson, senior financial services policy rep in NAR’s government affairs office, told the group’s annual convention in New Orleans. “But it will be mostly around the edges.”
Hutchinson is looking for “a lot of loud talking next year” but a “quieter 2012.” But he doesn’t anticipate any big legislative push until after the next presidential election.
“I don’t think we’ll get any true idea (about the fate of the GSEs) until after 2012,” he told a standing-room-only audience during the staff’s annual federal issues update forum.
Hutchinson’s boss, NAR’s chief lobbyist Jerry Giovaniello, agreed. “I’m not sure anything is going to get done,” he said, noting that the Republican party is on record as saying its primary goal is to make sure President Obama is not re-elected.
Even with its 60-seat gain in the House, Republicans will have only a 22-seat majority, Giovaniello pointed out. “That’s a lot less than the current Democratic majority and you know how hard it was for Democrats to pass bills.”
Of course, the last thing Realtors want to see is an end to their government-backed lifeline to affordable housing credit. After all, without a plentiful supply of financing, realty agents and brokers can’t sell houses.
While the politically powerful NAR admitted that the old way of financing homebuyers may be broken, it wants to be certain any new system assures there is money available to all types of buyers in all types of markets in all types of locations.
Toward that end, Giovaniello said his staff’s main job now is to educate the incoming crop of lawmakers.
“The debate over the fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is going to start, and we have to make sure the new people understand the issues,” he said.
While the freshmen legislators hold the votes, though, the leadership holds the power. And Giovaniello assured his members that leaders on both side of the aisle and in both houses are “old friends.”
“We’ve been working with them for years,” he said, especially in the Senate, where Democrats still hold sway. Finance Committee chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., may be retiring, he said, but “we’ve worked with his successor, Tim Johnson, D-S.D., for four years and he knows out issues.”
Thomas Hoenig knows the issues, too. But Hoenig, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, has a sharply different view from that of the Realtors, or most lenders, for that matter.
Hoenig, who has led the Kansas City Fed for 20 years, told the conference he supports “a greatly reduced role for governmental intervention” and so should Realtors.
“The American public, including aspiring homeowners and those of you employed in the housing industry, might be best served, over time, by reducing or removing those subsidies as part of our housing national policy,” he said.
But even Hoenig doesn’t want to see an end to all government support. Rather, he favors “some modest” backing under either of “two basic options” that would create a more transparent and competitive marketplace.
Under one choice described by the Fed official, public entities would be established to focus solely on securitizing conventional, conforming mortgages with strong underwriting standards, tight public oversight and “balance sheets limited to holding amounts necessary for warehousing loans to be securitized.”