The Mortgage Bankers Association has a new director of legislative affairs — a former Bush administration official whose job was to push legislation on housing and mortgage finance through Congress.

Len Wolfson, formerly deputy assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental relations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be a member of MBA’s lobbying team on Capitol Hill, the MBA said. Wolfson will lobby members of the House of Representatives and Senate on legislation and regulations of importance to MBA members, reporting to the group’s chief lobbyist, Francis Creighton.

Before taking his new position with the MBA, Wolfson’s job was to make a case in Congress for the Bush administration’s legislation and policy initiatives, including budget and appropriations, FHA modernization, strengthened oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and RESPA reform, the MBA said.

Wolfson’s new job could require him to make an aboutface on HUD’s proposed changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, or RESPA.

Although Congress passed a sweeping housing bill in July that included aspects of the Bush administration’s proposals for modernizing the Federal Housing Administration and strengthening oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the MBA and other real estate industry groups are pushing lawmakers to block HUD’s proposed changes to RESPA.

HUD says simplifying mortgage disclosures and providing incentives to package settlement services like title insurance with loans could save consumers $8.35 billion a year by helping compare competing offers from lenders. Critics say HUD has overestimated the benefits to consumers and underestimated the impacts to the industry.

Secretary of Housing Steve Preston says HUD amended its proposed RESPA rule changes in an attempt to address industry concerns before submitting them to the Office of Management and Budget for review on Aug. 21. But Preston has said HUD intends to push forward with implementation of the changes next year (see Inman News story).

Even if OMB signs off on HUD’s rule changes, Congress could still block HUD from implementing them. Real estate industry groups, including the MBA, have asked HUD to withdraw its proposed RESPA rule changes and instead collaborate with the Federal Reserve on simplifying loan disclosures. In August, 243 members of the House — a majority of its members — asked HUD to do just that.

Wolfson has more than a decade of experience working on the Hill and in the Bush administration on issues related to housing and mortgage finance, the MBA said. He started out in Washington, D.C., working for Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and was the northwest Pennsylvania field director for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004.

"We have worked with Len both at HUD and on the Hill," said Steve O’Connor, MBA’s senior vice president of government affairs, in a statement. "He knows our issues, knows his way around Capitol Hlll, and is passionate about the housing industry. He will be a great asset to MBA’s lobbying team."

The Mortgage Bankers Association spent nearly $3 million on lobbying in 2007, according to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets.org.

Of the $20.1 million that mortgage bankers and brokers spent on lobbying in the first half of this year, the Mortgage Bankers Association accounted for $2.36 million — a total surpassed only by Freddie Mac ($4.47 million) and Fannie Mae ($2.92 million), according to OpenSecrets.org. Since being placed in conservatorship by the government in September, Fannie and Freddie are barred from lobbying.

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