WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama intends to nominate Rep. Melvin Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the government regulator that oversees lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a White House official said Tuesday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Watt, D-N.C., a 20-year veteran of the House, would replace Edward DeMarco, an appointee of President George W. Bush who has been a target of housing advocates, liberal groups and Democratic lawmakers.
The president was expected to name Watt on Wednesday, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.
Watt’s nomination comes at a crucial time for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government sponsored mortgage-finance enterprises that the government rescued at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008 as they teetered neared collapse from losses on soured mortgage loans.
Taxpayers have spent about $170 billion to rescue the companies. So far, they have repaid a combined $55.2 billion.
Fannie and Freddie together own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million home loans. Those loans are worth more than $5 trillion. Along with other federal agencies, they back roughly 90 percent of new mortgages.
The nomination also comes as the housing industry is making a comeback. Home prices are up, foreclosures are down and housing construction is on the rise. Moreover, Fannie Mae had its biggest yearly profit last year, earning $17.2 billion.
Watt, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, played an influential role in the passage of a financial regulatory overhaul in 2010. That legislation, however, did not address the fate of the major mortgage lenders, an issue likely to come up during Obama’s second term.