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FHFA’s Plan to Prevent Discrimination in Mortgage Lending

The Federal Housing Finance Agency Thursday announced its commitment to comprehensive fair lending oversight of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, issuing a Policy Statement on Fair Lending. The statement details the agency’s general position on monitoring and information gathering, supervisory examinations, and
administrative enforcement related to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act.

The policy is effective immediately. The FHFA will accept commentary related to the policy statement for the next 60 days.

Acting FHFA Director Sandra L. Thompson, who last week replaced FHFA Director Mark Calabria, says, in concert with the policy release, that "illegal discrimination has not and will not be tolerated" by the regulatory agency.

"FHFA is committed to fair mortgage lending because it ensures that all Americans have equal access to safe, decent, and affordable housing," Thompson said. "FHFA's Policy Statement on Fair Lending clearly communicates the agency's fair lending expectations for the regulated entities and outlines the agency's fair lending oversight and enforcement to ensure compliance with the law."

The document signed by Thompson lays out other government agencies' responsibilities related to the enforcement of fair housing and explains how several federal agencies work together to prevent discrimination—on the basis of race or color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, receipt of public assistance, familial status, and disability—and the role of FHFA.

For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau oversees the ECOA, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulates the Fair Housing Act, she explained. The Safety and Soundness Act requires HUD to prevent discrimination in the purchase of mortgages within Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the enterprises that FHFA oversees.

According to the statement, "FHFA examiners have [investigative] authority equivalent to other federal prudential regulators ... FHFA carefully weighs the totality of available information, including monitoring information, market intelligence, and relevant data, when considering how best to employ supervisory resources."

As for enforcement, FHFA as conservator "may take immediate action, consistent with applicable law, to direct or restrict the activities at the regulated entity, including the activities of the board of directors and executive management."

The Credit Union National Association this week delivered a letter to Thompson, reiterating its principles for housing finance reform and asking FHFA to work with credit unions to further its mission to support sustainable and affordable homeownership. CUNA (in addition to several other short- and long-term priorities) asks FHFA to "carefully examine the education and training requirements for appraisers to ensure they not only understand the existing obligations under the Fair Housing Act, but that they also receive training on implicit and unconscious bias."

Upon her appointment, Thompson promised a focus on affordable, equal, and equitable housing.

"There is a widespread lack of affordable housing and access to credit, especially in communities of color," she said. "It is FHFA’s duty through our regulated entities to ensure that all Americans have equal access to safe, decent, and affordable housing.”

The full policy and instructions for commentary are available at FHFA.gov.

About Author: Christina Hughes Babb

Christina Hughes Babb is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, she has been a reporter, editor, and publisher in the Dallas area for more than 15 years. During her 10 years at Advocate Media/Dallas Magazine, she published thousands of articles covering local politics, real estate, development, crime, the arts, entertainment, and human interest, among other topics. She has won two national Mayborn School of Journalism Ten Spurs awards for nonfiction, and has penned pieces for Texas Monthly, Salon.com, Dallas Observer, Edible, and the Dallas Morning news, among others. Contact Christina at [email protected].

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