“My home is better-looking than this,” said Catrese Tucker, a Massachusetts toll collector whose property is in foreclosure. “I don’t believe this is his home.”
As the overseer of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, DeMarco has become the focus of ire from homeowners and lawmakers who want more aid for troubled borrowers, even as the two companies subsist on taxpayer support that now totals $190 billion.
But DeMarco says he’s looking beyond the current housing crisis and working toward a day when the government no longer backs most U.S. home loans.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress and President Obama all say they want to wind down and replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, yet they’ve been deadlocked on a solution. That might make DeMarco the only official in Washington actively working to shrink the government-sponsored enterprises.
“The FHFA under the leadership of Acting Director DeMarco is slowly but surely enacting housing finance reform without the guidance or consent of Congress,” said Isaac Boltansky, a policy analyst for Compass Point Research & Trading. “That’s due in part to the complete inability for Congress to find any consensus.”
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy mortgages and package them into securities on which they guarantee payments of principal and interest. This adds liquidity to the housing market — effectively taking the mortgages off banks’ books and freeing up funds for lenders to make new loans.
The companies, which now own or back $5.2 trillion in mortgages, pushed themselves to the brink of insolvency in 2008 after investing in risky loans. In what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, the federal government stepped in with a financial lifeline and put the newly created FHFA in control.
“When we put Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship, I don’t think any of us thought it was going to be four years before we got through this mess,” said James B. Lockhart, DeMarco’s predecessor as director of the FHFA and now vice chairman of the investment firm WL Ross & Co.
Under DeMarco, the agency has begun changing how the two companies charge for assuming mortgage risk, in an attempt to lure private capital back into the market. It is also pushing the formerly competing companies to synchronize their operations and is working to create common standards and processes for issuing mortgage-backed securities that could be adopted by any entity, public or private.
In an interview, DeMarco said he sees these steps as investments that could pay off no matter what lawmakers eventually decide to do with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.