HUD Vacancies Remain as Reverse Mortgage Final Rule Approaches

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is set to roll out its final rule for Home Equity Conversion Mortgages on September 19. But as the deadline approaches, the department — along with the Federal Housing Administration — remains without leaders in several key posts, mirroring the situation at several other federal departments as the Trump administration enters its eighth month in office.

Today, Reverse Mortgage Daily takes a look at who’s in and who’s still yet to be hired at key HUD posts.

Still vacant

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FHA Commissioner: Also known as the assistant secretary for housing, this post directly oversees the FHA-backed HECM program and remains unfilled — despite rumors in May that President Trump would nominate former officeholder Brian Montgomery for the job.

Biniam Gebre, the longtime public servant who had filled the post on an interim basis, left the department last winter, a HUD spokesperson confirmed to RMD, and eventually took a job with consulting firm Accenture, the company announced Wednesday. Gebre was replaced with Dana Wade, a former staffer for the Senate Banking and Appropriations committee, as well as the House Budget Committee. Wade also serves as the general deputy assistance secretary for HUD’s Office of Housing.

Montgomery, who now works as vice chairman of Washington, D.C.-based advisory firm The Collingwood Group, was the FHA commissioner under George W. Bush from 2005 and 2009.

He also showed support for the reverse mortgage program in the past, saying he’d recommend the product to his own mother if the situation was appropriate and serving on the board of Reverse Mortgage Funding. HUD and FHA additionally rolled out the HECM for Purchase program during Montgomery’s tenure at the helm.

Deputy HUD Secretary: President Trump nominated Pam Patenaude, a former assistant HUD secretary for community planning and development under the younger President Bush, to the deputy HUD secretary post in April. Formerly the president of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families, a non-profit focused on affordable rental housing, Patenaude still awaits Senate confirmation.

The Senate Banking Committee in June advanced Patenaude’s nomination to a full vote. 

Patenaude had been floated as a potential HUD secretary candidate before the nomination of eventual officeholder Ben Carson. Once Carson got the nod, Patenaude offered her support, calling him “the right man at the right time to lead HUD” in an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm.

Who’s in

HUD Secretary: Then-President-elect Trump raised eyebrows last year when he nominated Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and former 2016 Republican presidential foe, to the HUD secretary position despite having no public-sector or housing-policy experience. 

But Carson has turned out to be a cheerleader for the HECM program, praising the products at length in a speech to LeadingAge Florida, a trade group that represents non-profit long-term care providers, in July. 

“This is a top priority for my department: To give seniors more opportunities, more alternatives, more choices, and, if desired, to help more people age in place,” Carson said in a speech that also included a detailed breakdown of recent improvements to the HECM program, including additional non-borrowing spouse protections and Financial Assessment.

“As reverse mortgages have become more popular, we have learned more about the needs of seniors,” he said.

The idea of using home equity to cover expenses in retirement also generally fits into Carson’s view of HUD’s role in helping Americans; in multiple speeches, the secretary has expressed a desire to emphasize self-reliance over direct government assistance.

“The Founding Fathers wanted you and me to determine our needs and our spending, not some far-off monarchy in Europe or some self-interest in Washington,” Carson said in his remarks to LeadingAge. “And our freedom is a continuous struggle. Every day we fight for freedom, looking for ways to have more choices, to make up our own minds, and to use our resources for our needs, in our own way.”

Carson’s tenure has not been without controversy, however. He drew sharp criticism for describing slaves as “immigrants” in his welcome speech to HUD employees in March; a few months later, he raised ire for saying poverty was “a state of mind.”

The secretary has also had to defend the administration’s proposal to significantly slash HUD’s budget, and several reports have painted a picture of an understaffed, undermotivated department — including a Tuesday piece from New York magazine and ProPublica that asked, “Is anybody home at HUD?”

Reporter Alec MacGillis describes a department with little leadership at the top and listlessness among rank-and-file workers who aren’t sure of HUD’s direction seven months after the presidential transition.

“I’ve never been so bored in my life,” one unnamed HUD employee told New York and ProPublica. “No agenda, nothing to move forward or push back against. Just nothing.”

Other Key Players: Among other top positions, HUD currently has chief operating officer David Eagles, deputy assistant secretary for single family Gisele Roget — a former assistant vice president at MetLife — and assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity Anna Farias.

Written by Alex Spanko