The housing market may be stuck in low gear for the next several years -- continuing to drag the U.S. economy -- according to federal and private experts addressing the Women in Housing & Finance (WHF) 2015 Annual Symposium Thursday at the law offices of Arnold & Porter. The event featured luminaries such as Sandra Thompson, Deputy Director of the Division of Housing Mission and Goals of the Federal Housing and Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage finance powerhouses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since their conservatorship (government takeover) during the financial crisis.
Speaking of powerhouses: Overseeing a portfolio of $1.5 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, Ginnie Mae Executive Vice President Mary Kinney, named one of 2014's Most Influencial Women in Housing by Housing Wire, attended the annual event.
In his presentation titled "The Incredible Shrinking Mortgage Market," Chris Flanagan, head of U.S. Mortgage & Structured Finance Research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said new home sales will continue to be weighed down by tight credit partly as a result of financial regulation and the number of homeowners still effectively under water in their current mortgages.
Other housing finance leaders addressing the nationally-recognized group included Patrice Alexander Ficklin of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Benson "Buzz" Roberts, CEO of the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders.
"It seems like the quest for universal homeownership has become universal mortgage debt in America," one conference attendee quipped. Flanagan and Roberts, among others, said a "national conversation" on housing and mortgage policy is needed.
Women in Housing & Finance President Anastasia Stull of NewOak Capital, an alum of Merrill Lynch's Global Private Client Group with an LLM from of Georgetown, welcomed the packed conference room of over 100 attendees, along with President-Elect Karen Bellesiof the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Bank of New York Mellon's Joanna Shapiro, currently serving as WHF's Secretary. WHF Foundation Chair Mary Martha Fortney reminded attendees to check out WHF's financial empowerment programs to help D.C.'s homeless and underserved women.
Sponsors included NewOak LLC, Booz Allen Hamilton, BuckleySandler LLP, the Mortgage Bankers Association, Navigant, Quicken Loans, and CoreLogic.
For more information about Women in Housing & Finance, click here.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I approached an unmarked building in Anacostia to participate in a financial literacy training for homeless women. As I walked from the subway, a woman on the sidewalk crushed a burning cigarette against a brick building, blew the hot ashes off, and put the remaining butt in her pocket for later.
While the streetscape was gray and drizzly on this dark February day, a white staircase inside Calvary Women’s Services led to brightly-lit classrooms and women shuffling with books to get to class.
I peeked in a room and found Mary Martha Fortney, a sparkling former Congressional aide who chairs the Women in Housing and Finance (WHF) Foundation, a prestigious organization that offers financial empowerment training to the women at Calvary. While WHF attracts cabinet members, Federal Reserve governors, and prominent elected leaders as speakers and members in the nation’s capital, Mary Martha’s mission on this day was to offer a FDIC-designed literacy course on “financial recovery” for the homeless women. It’s part of an ongoing effort by WHF using FDIC’s MoneySmart curriculum.
As women took their places and the class filled up, it was soon revealed that not one of the women had a bank account. One had gone through foreclosure, with her credit destroyed. Only one woman had a job – part-time as a clerk at a drug store in far-away Crystal City. It would take her 45 minutes on the subway and buses to get from the shelter to work. But she was very grateful to work. She had income.
Mary Martha and another WHF volunteer, a U.S. Senate staffer, listened to the women’s stories and led them through various exercises: how to cut expenses, how to stretch dollars, how to set financial goals.
“We don’t call it financial literacy,” Mary Martha says. “This is financial empowerment.”
At the end of the class, a dozen women graduated during a ceremony with certificates, cake and ginger ale – the fifth class in the WHF program to do so. One of the graduates, a woman in her 60s hadn’t said much during the class, but leaned over to an instructor and whispered, “I don’t like to share too much in the class. I’m a private person. But I save.”
Her case worker from Calvary, which offers housing, health, education and employment programs that empower homeless women to live independently, said, “I’ve got that money order ready for you, when you’re ready.” The woman looked around at the crowded room asked quietly if the transfer could be made later.
The case worker nodded in approval. “She’s one of our best savers,” the case worker whispered to the WHF instructor.
The WHF Foundation is starting its next eight-week financial empowerment session at Calvary on May 5, and I can’t wait to get to class.
We volunteers will work with a new group of women, empowering them to make financial decisions to improve their lives. "This is a win-win for everyone involved," Mary Martha said. "We are grateful to work to make a difference - one hour, one woman at a time."
For more about Women in Housing and Finance, click here.
For more about Calvary Women's Services, click here.
D.C. Mayor Murial Bowser joined federal officials including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at a series of weekend events honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., featuring a clean-up around the MLK Jr. Memorial and a wreath-laying honoring the civil rights leader's legacy.
IMPACT, a D.C. organization that engages young professionals of color in economic empowerment and political activities, hosted the events along with the MLK, Jr. Memorial Foundation and the Faith and Politics Institute. Addressing a group of 150 volunteers who gathered early Saturday morning weilding hoes, pruners and bags of mulch to help the National Park Service polish up the memorial grounds before the weekend's ceremonies, Jewell became emotional in speaking of King's legacy. "The Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial is halfway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial," she said, noting that King had advanced America's core principles of justice and equal rights. "But the work is not finished," she said, with tears in her eyes. "We have a lot to do in education and economic empowerment to make Dr. King's dream a reality."
Bowser, speaking for the first time at the memorial since becoming Mayor, noted King's youth. "He was called home when he was just 39," she said. Bowser emphasized the importance of youth in carrying King's legacy forward.
IMPACT, led by Director Brandon Andrews, is an organization that is helping to advance King's legacy with programs for D.C. youth. "We work with companies and governments to offer internships and jobs to get D.C. youth into the workforce," Andrews, who previously worked in the U.S. Senate and for Hand On/DC Cares, said. The group also encourages political engagement by D.C.'s young people, ages 18-40. The group will host a State of the Union Party Tuesday, Jan. 20, 8:00-10:00 pm at Busboys & Poets at 5th and K Sts. NW in Shaw.
For more information about IMPACT, click here.