President Obama recently nominated Melvin (Mel) Watt, a long-time North Carolina Congressman, to direct the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). While major news media reported on the development, few mentioned exactly what the new job would entail or the significance of an African-American potentially leading a key financial office.
Voice of reason
When our nation faced the worst financial crisis since that of the Great Depression, the House Financial Services Committee faced dealing with the nation’s financial solvency on one hand and millions of homeowners who were in or approaching foreclosure on the other. Through a lengthy series of discussions and hearings, Rep. Watt emerged as a voice of reason, consistently fair and balanced in crafting solutions to complex problems.
Following the Watt nomination, the Center for Responsible Lending said of the nominee, “He was one of the first elected officials to recognize and warn about the dangers of subprime lending, offering legislation to nip predatory lending in the bud and tirelessly advocating for ways to prevent needless home foreclosures…The Senate should move quickly to confirm him.”
Created by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, the FHFA oversees the nation’s secondary mortgage markets: 12 Federal Home Loan Banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHFA is also empowered to make policy, implement rules, and regularly report to Congress. In 2010, the combined debt and obligations of these 14 government-sponsored enterprises totaled $6.7 trillion.
Watt became a 1967 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a result of having the highest academic average in its business school, he also became president of the business honors fraternity. Three years later, he earned a JD degree from Yale University Law School and was a published member of the Yale Law Journal.
For communities of color that lost a trillion dollars in wealth during the housing crisis, we share an important stake in Rep. Watt’s nomination. It is an opportunity for an accomplished African-American to develop consumer-focused policy and implement rules to better serve all of America’s people.
Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.firstname.lastname@example.org.