The United States Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm Julia Gordon as Assistant Secretary for Housing, Federal Housing Commissioner. Gordon is now the first full-time FHA Commissioner to serve since the departure of her predecessor Dana Wade at the conclusion of the Trump administration in January 2021.
Gordon was first nominated to the position in the summer of that year, and at that time served as president of the National Community Stabilization Trust (NCST). NCST is a nonprofit organization dedicated to neighborhood revitalization and affordable homeownership through facilitating the rehabilitation of residential properties in underserved markets.
Gordon’s nomination was heavily opposed by Senate Republicans, who grilled her during her initial confirmation hearings. Senate Republicans took time before this week’s vote to castigate Gordon about the content of social media posts she had either posted herself or retweeted, according to reporting at RMD’s sister publication HousingWire.
However, the confirmation of a new FHA Commissioner should be encouraging for those operating in housing businesses that interact with FHA, including the reverse mortgage industry. Since the business primarily deals with a product sponsored by FHA in the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program, the leading industry trade association is pleased that a new commissioner has finally been confirmed.
“I congratulate Julia Gordon on her confirmation as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development/FHA Commissioner,” says Steve Irwin, president of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) in an email to RMD. “This position has remained vacant for too long, and we are pleased that this position is finally filled by such a qualified individual who we trust will continue the well-considered stewardship of the HECM program.”
As FHA’s responsibilities have become more pronounced in recent months, particularly in support of the Biden administration’s housing agenda, the filling of this position could make a big difference at the Agency, Irwin explains.
“As of September 30, 2021, FHA had active insurance on more than 7.8 million single-family forward and reverse mortgages, with a total unpaid principal balance of more than $1.2 trillion, yet FHA has been operating without a Commissioner since early in 2021,” he says. “With the Senate confirmation of Commissioner Gordon, FHA’s mission-critical decisions, many of which were deferred pending the confirmation of Ms. Gordon, can now receive sufficient attention and resolution.”
The new commissioner’s experience in the housing realm is encouraging as she enters her new position, he says.
“Commissioner Gordon is a knowledgeable housing professional with substantial policy and administrative experience,” Irwin says. “Her background includes serving in executive positions at the Center for Responsible Lending, FHFA, the Center for American Progress, and the National Community Stabilization Trust. She is extremely well-versed in housing policy issues and is familiar with HUD programs and operations. We certainly wish Ms. Gordon well in her new role.”
Government, other industry responses
HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge lauded the confirmation shortly after it was voted on by the Senate.
“I congratulate Julia Gordon on her confirmation to serve as HUD’s Assistant Secretary for the Office of Housing and the Federal Housing Administration Commissioner,” she said. “Julia is a respected leader with decades of experience working to create more vibrant and equitable communities. I am confident that she will bring a depth of expertise and perspective to FHA at a critical time for our country’s housing market. I thank the Senate for confirming Julia, and I look forward to working with her to expand access to safe, affordable, and sustainable housing.”
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) released a statement on Thursday morning praising the confirmation.
“MBA congratulates Julia Gordon on being confirmed to lead the Federal Housing Administration (FHA),” said MBA President and CEO Robert Broeksmit. “Her knowledge and experience in housing policy and community development will serve her well as she leads FHA’s mission to support homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income and minority borrowers in underserved communities, as well as increasing affordable rental housing.”
The National Housing Conference (NHC) — which had previously encouraged Gordon’s swift confirmation — similarly lauded the confirmation, according to a statement from its President and CEO David M. Dworkin.
“Julia Gordon brings deep experience to address the significant challenges that face FHA. If we are going to succeed in closing the racial homeownership gap, FHA must be in the forefront,” Dworkin said. “Through her leadership of the [NCST], she has a nuanced understanding of local housing markets and how they can function sustainably even when under stress. She also has the skills, experience, and relationships to bring people together, both within FHA and among stakeholders, to address challenges collaboratively and effectively.”
A narrow vote, recent history of FHA Commissioner
The vote to confirm Gordon was split 50-50 along party lines and required Vice President Kamala Harris to cast an additional tiebreaking vote, as required by the vice president when such a situation would deadlock the Senate according to Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution.
Gordon’s is a more politically divisive nomination compared to recent previous FHA Commissioners and their confirmation vote tallies. During the Trump administration, Dana Wade was confirmed by a vote of 57-40 while Brian Montgomery’s second time in the role was confirmed by a vote of 74-23.
During the Obama administration, Carol Galante was confirmed to the post by a vote of 69-24, while her predecessor David Stevens was confirmed via unanimous consent according to the official record of the U.S. Senate.
At NCST, Gordon’s specialty was in federal policy related to homeownership, housing finance and community development in addition to managing the organization’s programmatic work. Prior to her time at NCST, Gordon served as senior director of housing and consumer finance at the think tank Center for American Progress, as well as manager of the single-family policy team at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).
Gordon has also previously served as senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending and worked in the civil legal aid sector and as a litigation associate and pro bono coordinator at the law firm of WilmerHale.