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David H. Stevens, an influential leader in real estate and mortgage finance during a public and private sector career spanning four decades, died unexpectedly Tuesday at the age of 66 following a battle with cancer.
A former head of the Federal Housing Administration, Stevens also held executive positions at World Savings Bank, Freddie Mac, and The Long and Foster Companies before leading the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) for seven years, beginning in 2011.
“To those who worked with him at MBA, Dave is remembered as a great mentor, boss and friend,” MBA President and CEO Bob Broeksmit said in a statement Wednesday. “He was quick with a joke, sometimes at his own expense, and truly cared about those he worked with and those who worked for him.”
“Dave’s sincere belief in the value and benefits of sustainable homeownership led him to a career dedicated to making the American Dream achievable for more Americans,” Broeksmit said of Stevens’ passing. “He had endless energy to engage in the fights that needed fighting to ensure that the industry could safely serve qualified low and moderate-income and first-time homebuyers. He was an outside-the-box thinker when it came to trying to solve some of the industry’s greatest challenges.”
He’s survived by his wife of 38 years, Mary Clarke Stevens, daughters Sara O’Brien Nee, Ali Stevens and Maggie Stevens, and several grandchildren.
Stevens, who lived in Virginia, documented his cancer treatments at Johns Hopkins University facilities in Baltimore in a series of public Facebook posts last year. On March 24, Stevens posted a “certificate of completion” for radiation therapy at Sibley Memorial Hospital. As recently as Jan. 5, Stevens said he’d “Just had lab work” at the Skip Viragh Outpatient Cancer Building at Johns Hopkins University’s East Baltimore Campus, and that “if it shows what is expected I’ll be getting some more blood today.”
A 1980 graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, Stevens began his career in 1983 as a loan officer with World Savings Bank in Colorado, working his way up to group senior vice president during his 15 years with the company.
After World Savings, Stevens held senior executive positions at Freddie Mac and Wells Fargo, before taking on a role at one of the nation’s largest independent real estate brokerages, The Long and Foster Companies. After joining Long and Foster in 2006 as president of affiliated businesses, he was promoted to president and chief operating officer.
In the summer of 2009, with housing markets still struggling to recover from the subprime lending crisis, Stevens accepted an invitation by the Obama administration to run the Federal Housing Administration.
At the time, loans that the FHA had insured during the housing boom were going bad at a rate that drained capital reserves to below their congressionally mandated minimums. In the fallout from the 2007-09 housing bust and Great Recession, the capital ratio of the FHA Mutual Mortgage Insurance fund dropped below the 2 percent statutory minimum from 2009 through 2014.
The FHA fund eventually required a $1.69 billion bailout in 2013 — two years after Stevens’ departure. But he was credited with presiding over policy changes, including tightened underwriting standards, increased oversight of lenders, and a restructuring of mortgage insurance premiums, that paved the way for the FHA to become self-sufficient again.
“Assuming this position and the challenges addressed since I took office have been the most intense and significant in my career,” Stevens said when he departed FHA in 2011. “It has been my honor to serve President Obama, (Housing) Secretary (Shaun) Donovan, and the entire administration. I am extremely proud of everything we accomplished to put the FHA back on stable footing.”
For the next seven years, Stevens headed up the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) as the trade group’s president and CEO.
While heading up the MBA, Stevens was singled out by The New York Times as one of several former government officials allegedly lobbying to dismantle Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Stevens was among “a group of high-level housing finance specialists who have moved back and forth between public service and private practice in recent years,” seeking to carve out a bigger role for big banks, The New York Times‘ Gretchen Morgenson reported in December 2015.
The article prompted the National Legal and Policy Center, a right-leaning ethics-in-government group, to call for an investigation of Stevens to determine whether he had violated federal rules barring former government officials from “communicating or appearing on behalf of persons or entities with respect to matters in which the former officials ‘personally and substantially participated’ during their government service,” Morgenson reported in a follow-up piece.
The MBA came to Stevens’ defense, and an analysis by National Mortgage Professional Magazine claimed to have found “major mistakes” in The New York Times‘ research and reporting and questioned the motives of the National Legal and Policy Center.
“Since ending his government service, Dave has regularly consulted with attorneys inside and outside MBA to make sure that he and the Association are always in full compliance with the law,” MBA spokesperson John Mechem said in a press release at the time. “Outside counsel to MBA has specifically reviewed Dave’s activities on behalf of MBA and its members and has confirmed that Dave has operated fully within the letter and spirit of the lobbying laws and ethics rules.”
Stevens continued to lead the MBA until August 2018, endorsing the spirit of a proposal by the Trump administration to privatize Fannie and Freddie shortly before stepping down.
“It includes many core principles that MBA has long advocated for, such as an explicit government guarantee on [mortgage-backed securities] only as a catastrophic backstop, allowing for multiple guarantors and ensuring small lender access,” Stevens said in a statement. “As with any proposal of this size, the devil is in the details.”
In 2019, Stevens founded Moneta, Virginia-based Mountain Lake Consulting, Inc. According to Stevens’ LinkedIn profile, the firm advised mortgage-related companies on “management, organizational structure, strategic planning, federal regulatory and legislative policy, [and] influence opportunities.”
Stevens continued to be an influential voice on policy issues, weighing in on topics ranging from the Federal Reserve’s reaction to the pandemic to the risks climate change poses to lenders.
In an Oct. 30, 2023, interview with National Mortgage News, Stevens lamented that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has had many of its responsibilities for housing policy delegated to other agencies, including the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“There is no single authority with no single leader in the Biden cabinet that has a level of clout needed to create a national sense of urgency around resolving [housing-related] problems,” Stevens complained. “The first priority here is leadership and I think what we’re facing in this country is a really significant leadership void. The unfortunate impact of this is that it’s literally destroying the hopes and aspirations of younger Americans who want to buy a home.”
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