Republicans blast FHFA plan to restart contributions to housing trust fund

Congressional Republicans on Thursday blasted a plan by a top housing regulator to restart contributions to a housing trust fund.

Mel WattMelvin (Mel) Luther WattNew kid on the tech block Watt sounds warning bell on Fannie, Freddie Watt defends FHFA moves on familiar ground MORE, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), sent letters to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac asking the entities to begin setting aside and allocating funds to the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund, reversing a six-year suspension of payments.

ADVERTISEMENT
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingTrump signs Dodd-Frank rollback Candidate endorsed by Pence loses Texas House primary Overnight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews MORE (R-Texas) said Watt "is making a grave mistake that harms hardworking taxpayers and violates both the letter and spirit of the law."

He accused Watt of timing the decision for the end of the 113th Congress "in a transparent effort to evade scrutiny and frustrate congressional oversight."

He vowed to call Watt to testify in early January to discuss the issue.

"Diverting assets to housing trust funds instead of repaying taxpayers or stabilizing Fannie and Freddie’s finances only makes matters worse," Hensarling said.

"Director Watt’s decision to activate the Fannie and Freddie slush fund may be an early Christmas present for Acorn-like, liberal housing activists, but it’s a lump of coal in the stocking of every American taxpayer.”

In his explanation, Watt said that while the profit levels of Fannie and Freddie have experienced since 2012 "are not expected to be sustainable" there are reasonable projections that the entitiies "will remain profitable for the foreseeable future."

In November 2008, shortly after the Fannie and Freddie were taken under government control, the FHFA suspended payments to the permanent federal fund that focuses on providing support to states to build and boost the supply of affordable rental housing for extremely low- and very low-income families, including homeless families.

Rep. Randy NeugebauerRobert (Randy) Randolph NeugebauerCordray announces he's leaving consumer bureau, promotes aide to deputy director GOP eager for Trump shake-up at consumer bureau Lobbying World MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, said he was "outraged" at Watt's decision and said the "timing could not be more suspect."

"Recent history should serve as a reminder that failed government housing policy can have catastrophic consequences for hardworking American taxpayers and the overall health of our economy," he said.

This is déjà vu all over again. Director Watt may have forgotten the path of destruction left by the GSEs, but the American people have not."

Fannie and Freddie needed about $190 billion to stay afloat during the financial crisis. Congress has yet to agree on a plan that would bring them out of conservatorship and reduce the risk for taxpayers.

"Contrary to what Fannie and Freddie apologists claim, the GSEs have yet to repay any of the taxpayer-funded bailout funds they received, which makes today's announcement by the FHFA outrageous. Money coming in from the GSEs should go to the taxpayers instead of a slush fund for ideological housing groups to play around with," said Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceSteyer-backed group launches 0,000 voter outreach campaign in California Election analyst moves four House seats toward GOP Dem peace deal reached in crucial House district MORE (R-Calif.), a member of the Financial Services panel who has worked on the issue. 

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHillicon Valley: Experts worry North Korea will retaliate with hacks over summit | FBI works to disrupt Russian botnet | Trump officials look to quell anger over ZTE | Obama makes case for tighter regs on tech Senate GOP sounds alarm over Trump's floated auto tariffs Biden, Corker honored with Freedom House human rights awards MORE (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, called the decision “beyond irresponsible to restart these affordable housing allocations without first dealing with the underlying problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

"These two entities would not be generating one penny of revenue without taxpayer backing, and until the American taxpayers are taken off the hook for a future bailout, FHFA should continue to suspend payments to these funds," Corker said. 

But Democrats said it is time to take steps to help families in need. 

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersFor .2 billion, taxpayers should get more than Congress’s trial balloons Overnight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews House votes to ease regulation of banks, sending bill to Trump MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee and co-author of legislation that created the fund, praised the announcement

"In the richest country in the world, it is unconscionable that there are 7.1 million American households for whom safe and decent housing is neither affordable nor available," she said.  

By allocating a tiny percentage of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s profits to these funds, we have the chance to improve the lives of millions of American children, families, people with disabilities and the elderly."

Several Democractic senators — Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Defense bill moves forward with lawmakers thinking about McCain Overnight Defense: Trump aide's comment mocking McCain sparks outrage | Haspel gets another 'no' vote | Pompeo floats North Korea aid for denuclearization MORE (R.I.), Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenRising star Abrams advances in Georgia governor race Progressive rise is good news for Sanders, Warren Juan Williams: Trump gives life to the left MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump: ‘Clapper has now admitted there was spying on my campaign’ Overnight Defense: Trump decision on Korea summit coming 'next week' | China disinvited from major naval exercise | Senate sends VA reform bill to Trump Senate sends major VA reform bill to Trump's desk MORE (I-Vt.) — called the  move "a smart step toward strengthening our economy and increasing the supply of affordable rental housing across the country."

"It will allow more renters to find the homes they need at prices they can afford and will help with economic development initiatives in low income or rural areas,” Reed said.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro hailed the decision and said it "will help people across the nation secure a decent place to call home."

"This effort will assist individuals from all backgrounds — including low-income families and those experiencing homelessness — in building better lives."

He said HUD will soon issue regulations to implement the trust fund.

This story was updated at 3:15 p.m.