Shelterforce Asks: Should Rep. Watt Take the Helm of the FHFA?

As Senate Democrats and Republicans gear up to battle over President Obama's nomination of Rep. Mel Watts (D-N.C.) to replace Ed DeMarco as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, advocates, too, are debating whether the congressman from North Carolina should be in charge of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Shelterforce asked Chris Estes, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, to weigh in on Watt, as Estes served as executive director of the North Carolina Housing Coalition for nine years.

Here are his responses to our questions:
How did Rep. Watt balance competing interests? 

Rep. Watt had a strong history of focusing on the both the short-term and long-term needs of his district, the state and country. He was aware and responsive to the immediate needs of folks who were struggling, as well how developing the economy of the region was a balance of investment and regulatory reform.

He certainly understood the need for a balanced housing market as well as the value well-suited homeownership programs could have as asset-building tools for low- and moderate-income households.

Was he approachable?

He was always one of the most approachable and accessible members of the North Carolina delegation who I was able to meet with in person on a regular basis. He also always had very strong staff working on housing issues who were engaged and informed on the issues we were working on.

How trustworthy was he? Could you rely on him to follow through on commitments?

I never had an experience with him where he did not follow through on something he committed to.

When thinking about transit, was equity a consideration?

We did not work on that overlap much with him, but he definitely understood the value of access to transit related to affordable housing development as well as how the initial development of the Charlotte light rail project had not included much affordable housing linkage.

At the state level, what was his response to the foreclosure crisis? Neighborhood stabilization?

He was supportive of Neighborhood Stabilization Programs as well as consumer protection reforms. North Carolina has a strong history of fighting predatory lending and he was active on those issues at the federal level as well.

What makes you most hopeful about his being FHFA director? What should advocates keep an eye out for?

I don’t know what his positions are related to the future of the government-sponsored enterprises so it is hard to comment. I can say he understands the importance of affordable housing and access to credit for low- and moderate-income folks. I think he also knows how important private capital is in the financing and lending process related to those concerns. We have been interested to see how the administration will engage on the GSE issues.

Shelterforce is the only independent, non-academic publication covering the worlds of community development, affordable housing, and neighborhood stabilization.


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