(NNPA)—President Obama recently nominated Melvin (Mel) Watt, a long-time North Carolina Congressman, to direct the Federal Housing Finance Agency. 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.
At a news conference announcing the nomination, President Obama said, “Mel understands as well as anybody what caused the housing crisis. He knows what it’s going to take to help responsible homeowners fully recover. And he’s committed to helping folks just like his mom—Americans who work really hard, play by the rules day in and day out to provide for their families.”
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’s nomination is reminiscent of an earlier one in 1966. The late Andrew Brimmer, nominated by President Lyndon Johnson, became the first African-American member of the Federal Reserve Board. A Louisiana native, Brimmer attended segregated elementary and high schools but went on to earn in a Ph.D. in economics in 1957 from Harvard.