The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) wants industry feedback to improve policies governing the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program, Commissioner Julia Gordon said at the reverse mortgage industry’s annual conference last week in Atlanta.
Industry partners, including reverse mortgage companies, should provide complete, detail-specific information as possible when making policy proposals or program recommendations related to the FHA, Gordon said in a sit-down chat with National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) CEO Peter Bell. That’s how improvements are made, she said.
Gordon also offered more details about the scope of her work at the FHA, how she views the HECM program, and some of the agency’s goals. Here are some of the highlights from her chat with Bell.
What Gordon keeps in mind
“What I really focus on is the communities and the people who don’t have a seat at the table,” Gordon said. “And in every job I’ve had, what I’ve wanted to do is try to get access to the decision-making [done at] those tables, and represent the people that I know are out there. And [this audience] — all of you who work in customer-facing businesses — know things about what real life is like for people that not everybody in the government knows. And it’s just so very important to have that information when we are doing policymaking or programmatic design.”
Gordon told the audience that her prior work at the nonprofit National Community Stabilization Trust helped give her detailed knowledge about various housing markets across the country.
“It’s so exciting now to be able to take all that information and bring it [to my work now],” she said. “HUD is what we call a ‘mid-sized’ agency, but the Office of Housing is the biggest office within HUD. I’ve never run anything of this size and magnitude [before], but I will tell you, the fundamentals are pretty similar.”
Those fundamentals include investing in a talented workforce to execute.
“[Having] more staff is harder, but it’s not much different,” she said. “We’re making sure that everyone is aligned around mission, energized and working hard for their stakeholders and their customers. That is the most important job, and beyond that is just really knowing where you want to go.”
The importance of career staff, challenges of working in HUD
Most conversations about government agencies or programs tend to focus largely on political appointees, who came and go with different administrations. Gordon said she has been impressed by the dedication of the career staff, who are more insulated from changing political headwinds, she explained.
“I did not realize how impressive most of the staff were,” she said. “We have a tremendous, very knowledgeable staff. [This audience] is most likely to have worked with people on the single-family team, or maybe in the National Servicing Center. We have people who have been there for a very long time, and they know so much that can only be gained from a lifetime of dedication to this work.”
Gordon also addressed the challenges that come with working in a large government agency, one with a reputation for monolithic bureaucracy and a poor tech stack.
“Working in a federal agency, when it comes to the bureaucracy of federal procurement and human resources and technology, is incredibly difficult,” she said. “The way the federal government is set up, it puts some constraints that are in fact on HUD that are not on other agencies. It’s a continual challenge, and it requires [much of] my attention. I’d like to spend all my time on policy and programmatic design, but I have to spend a lot of time on these other things because we can’t build a modern 21st-century program without having the underlying technology that we need.”
Bell said housing appeared to be more of a priority from the Biden administration than past administrations, which led to a question about how different agencies can work together to accomplish various housing goals.
“I was fortunate enough to be part of the Biden-Harris transition team, where my job was actually to look across FHFA, FHA and the housing programs at VA and USDA to try to set up a path and a plan for the administration,” Gordon said. “I have always believed that the more all of these agencies — bank regulators, and the Departments of Treasury, Transportation and Energy — the more we all work together, the better result we’re going to have.”
Gordon said that interagency groups have been working collectively to tackle challenges in housing and housing-adjacent issues, including with appraisals. Other issues that multiple agencies helped to determine action on included loss mitigation programs, and pandemic-related forbearances, both of which had direct impacts on the reverse mortgage industry and its borrowers.