Holiday Gifts For The Housing Industry

Yes, it is that time of year again. And in the spirit of the holiday season, I gladly pull out my bag of goodies to distribute to the most significant, provocative and ridiculous participants in this year’s world of housing finance and mortgage banking. This year’s gift giving goes along these lines:

Edward Pinto and Stephen Oliner: A Gold Medal for Innovation. Incredibly, the year’s most innovative housing product was not introduced by a financial services company, but by a right-of-center Washington think tank. Pinto and Oliver are co-directors of the American Enterprise Institute’s International Center on Housing Risk, and their Wealth Building Home Loan is, hands down, the most exciting new product to be introduced in too many years. The loan is currently being tested in pilot programs with the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America and Bank of America, and here’s hoping that the success of this product will finally spur lenders to begin plumbing the much-needed innovation that the industry has been hungering for since the dawn of Dodd-Frank.

The MBA Opens Doors Foundation: A Gold Medal for Philanthropic Outreach. This charitable arm of the Mortgage Bankers Association rarely gets the level of attention it deserves. And that is a major shame, because its mission – providing mortgage assistance for families with sick children – is not only serving a vital purpose in the lives of many homeowners, but it beautifully refutes the lies spread by the industry’s detractors that mortgage bankers are only interested in raking in money and kicking people out of their home.

Senator Elizabeth Warren: A Dunce Cap. Whether she’s launching surprise attacks on Mel Watt over principal reduction or pocketing $525,000 for a book in which she babbles about income inequality, the Massachusetts senator has gone out of her way to make a fool of herself without actually accomplishing anything that could be defined as a legislative triumph. Maybe next year she will finally do something of value. And here is an idea: perhaps Warren could recall her supposed tribal heritage by donating her extraordinary book advance to finance scholarships for the American Indian College Fund.

Extell Development: A Calendar and a GPS. Extell Development is the company behind a New York City luxury high-rise that, as per municipal guidelines, must have a certain number of affordable housing units. However, their building is being designed with a separate entrance for the resident of the affordable housing apartments – Extell thought it was disgusting to have lower income people occupying the same lobby and elevators as the building’s upper income residents. My suggested holiday gift may remind Extell that we are living in 2014 America and not in the France of Marie Antoinette.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: A Copy of its Original Mission Statement. What in the world has happened to HUD? In the half-century since its inception, HUD has gone off on bizarre tangents that include an annual “Reconnecting Families and Dad’s Program” (which has nothing to do with either housing or urban development), “Promise Zones” in areas that are not in need of federal funding (including Hollywood, of all places!) and an arm-twisting campaign to force providers of affordable housing to commit to the installation of expensive on-site renewable energy solutions on HUD-assisted multifamily housing. Meanwhile, affordable housing has evaporated in many major markets despite HUD’s worthless efforts to correct the problem, while the department’s leaders – along with the White House – have stubbornly refused to push for the expansion of the Fair Housing Act to protect gay and lesbian Americans that have no legal recourse to fight against housing discrimination in nearly half of the country. To be blunt, HUD is an embarrassment, and I am hard pressed to argue why it should be around for another 50 years.

Brandon Friedman: A Volunteer Job at a Veterans Hospital. Friedman is HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, and last spring he took to Twitter to question the sanity and honesty of U.S. military personnel that openly called into question the reasons behind the disappearance in Afghanistan of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Why was a HUD bureaucrat talking about this? Who knows, but his disgraceful badmouthing of the men and women of the U.S. armed forces was thoroughly inexcusable. The holiday gift chosen for him might serve as a reminder of the painful sacrifices that our nation’s military heroes have given in order to preserve the freedoms we often take for granted.

Cher: Membership in the Mortgage Bankers Association. Another bizarre Twitter rant involved the iconic singer and Oscar-winning actress, who took online aim at Zillow, of all things. Her October 15 stated, “#CHINA IS ON REAL ESTATE BUYING SPREE ALL OVER USA. #ZILLOW Has Agreed 2Make Their Listings Available 2 CHINESE CONSUMERS. BOYCOTT #ZILLOW.” I am not certain whether Cher is angry at China, at Chinese investors in U.S. real estate, or in Zillow for listing properties that Chinese consumers may want to consider. In any event, maybe Cher can take a break from her concert gigs and allow Dave Stevens and his team to offer a crash course on how the real estate finance industry works.

Yes, it has been an interesting year. And I would like to take this moment to thank this column’s readers for their continued support and input. I am taking the next two weeks for a holiday break, and I hope to reconnect with everyone in 2015!

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