To help AHF refine this agenda for the new president and HUD secretary who will take office in 2009. Send your reactions and ideas to AHF.
When Carolyn Federoff joined the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1986, she believed in the agencyâ€™s mission of providing affordable housing and revitalizing cities, and many of her 10,000 colleagues shared her idealism.
Today, Federoff and many of her colleagues feel more frustrated than idealistic. The agency is down to 8,600 employees, and is slowly disintegrating as experienced employees depart and those who remain bemoan the lack of leadership and pervasive sense of powerlessness at the agency.
â€œEighty percent of us came to work for HUD because of the mission. We’re not satisfied with mediocrity,â€ said Federoff, who is president of Council 222 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AGFE). â€œIt is not pleasant to come to work and have to face customers with legitimate requests and legitimate needs, and be the front line for HUD’s endless excuses.â€
A few hundred miles away, the former director of a state housing agency remembers how frustrating it was trying to work with HUD collaboratively. â€œThey did not want to be our partner. They treated us like the enemy,â€ the former director said. â€œThe bottom line is things are not getting done, things that are not that difficult to do.â€
Successful housing developers who have worked with HUD frequently in the past told AHF they feel itâ€™s no longer worth the aggravation and cost. â€œHUD has become such an entrenched bureaucracy that it is no longer effective and cannot be fixed. The cost of dealing with HUD has reached the point it where it just isnâ€™t worth it anymore,â€ said a senior executive of a private housing development and management firm who has worked with FHA programs, including the Sec. 236 program, since 1975. He said HUD staff often seem more interested in finding minor flaws with transactions than in finding ways to solve problems.
HUD has a history of bad management and poor responsiveness to markets and programs users under both Democratic and Republican leaders. But a large number of program users have told Affordable Housing Finance they think it has gotten much worse since George Bush has been president. Thatâ€™s largely because, judging from his public statement Bush cares only about homeownership programs and fighting homelessness, and he has given no support at all to other aspects of HUDâ€™s mission.
Many sources said HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson is knowledgeable about housing but is a poor leader who has allowed the agencyâ€™s performance to worsen in many regards.
â€œMy biggest beef with Jackson is that he is an invisible leader within HUD, and this shows in that Agency’s administrative drift,â€ said one respondent to an AHF readersâ€™ survey in 2006. â€œIn the 35 years I have been working with HUD, I have rarely seen it so administratively demoralized, slow to roll out new initiatives and resolve management issues, and so detached from its constituents.â€
The agency that once produced hundreds of thousands of units of new and rehabilitated affordable housing yearly now does very little to add to the stock of affordable housing. The agency is now mostly focused on preservation of thousands of apartment projects it has previously financed and built, but its results are generally poor.
â€œWe as a nation cannot afford to lose that housing, and HUD does not have an effective policy to preserve it. In fact it does many things that work against preservation,â€ said one former senior HUD official.
â€œYou get the sense from them (HUD) sometimes that they feel no responsibility to maintain it in any way,â€ said a former state housing agency director in regard to the Bush administrationâ€™s refusal to adequately fund public housing rehab operations.
The agencyâ€™s main programs for helping to produce new housing are the mortgage insurance programs of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). But multifamily production has been shrinking. From Oct. 1, 2006 to May 14, 2007, FHA only issued firm commitments to insure 64 loans for to-be-built or to-be-rehabbed apartments, and none were out of its Los Angeles, New York, or and Seattle offices. The agency offers some of the best loan terms around but borrowers are turned off by its slowness, red tape, and lack of flexibility.
Even when it comes to single-family homeownership, the only aspect of housing policy that seems to interest Bush, FHA is not doing well. The agencyâ€™s share of single family lending has dropped from 16 percent in 2000 to 5 percent in 2004. It is now estimated at between 2 and 3 percent. At the same, the percentage of FHA home loans that were delinquent has risen from 11.8 percent in second quarter of 2002 to 13.5 percent in the fourth quarter, or about the same percentage as the much-criticized subprime lending industry, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Congressionally approved budget cuts have been a large part of the problem but a wide range of HUD users and program analysts say the agency could accomplish a great deal more with the same funding levels if it would improve its management and streamline its programs.
Can HUD reclaim the role it once played as a leader in housing? â€œThe department needs good solid managers to build morale and attract talent. They are not there now,â€ said Rick Lazio, the former Republican congressman from New York who once headed the House housing subcommittee, speaking at the AHF LIVE Conference last October.
Like Lazio, most experts interviewed by AHF think that the only hope for HUD is a strong new secretary who will bring in high-quality managers based on their ability, not their political loyalties.
Under the current leadership at HUD, many sources said, the key to doing business successfully is working with one of the field offices that has good staff willing to take chances. In such offices, staffers operate independently and decisively, and avoid actions that would require the involvement of HUD headquarters staff.
â€œThere was no leadership coming from Washington,â€ said a former high-level HUD field office staffer, who took it upon himself to make things happen in his office with preservation and other projects.
Not only would headquarters not take any chances or show any innovation in their approach to development challenges, they were painfully slow to respond at all. The HUD field office executive said it would often add six to 12 months to the development process if a request had to be sent to HUD headquarters.
The current HUD secretary and his predecessors are inclined toward autocratic, top-down management, wherein headquarters dictates policies without doing anything to get the views or support of field staff, and often without bothering to train field staff on how to implement the policies, AHF was told.
Andrew Cuomo was considered a very knowledgeable and hardworking secretary. However, his effort to make HUD more responsive to local communities by appointing â€œcommunity buildersâ€ who served a community outreach role was doomed, some said, because he never sold the policy to regular program staff. They did not support the program and actually worked to undermine it, a HUD staffer told AHF.
The most common complaint from HUD users has little do with grand policy choices or innovative program design. It is simply HUD staffâ€™s inability make decisions quickly and its unwillingness to take any risks in its decision-making.
To HUD users, the agency seems more than just slow. In certain offices and for certain programs, it would be easy to conclude that the goal is to prevent deals from getting done and drive the parties to the deals crazy in the process.
Consider the so-called â€œ2530â€ previous participation review process, which is intended to identify participants in a deal and their prior dealings with HUD. First, HUD applies it very rigorously, so that a large number of parties to a deal have to submit all information about their past involvements with HUD deals and get clearance. The reviews were time-consuming, costly, and did very little to protect the taxpayers. Then HUD decided to eliminate paper filings and require the filings to be done electronically. One slight problem: the electronic system it set up to do that does not work much of the time.
The simple notion of getting agency staff to make consistent decisions in a timely way looms as large as an impossible dream to many program users.
To make any impact on bureaucratic inertia, a new leader needs to start with the fundamental task of rebuilding HUDâ€™s work force by recruiting more experienced people, and providing much more effective training and then empowering them to act.
The first step is to make HUD an appealing place to work again.
Morale is horrible at HUD, particularly at headquarters, Federoff and others said. A number of experienced executives have resigned in recent years, largely because of frustration with the agencyâ€™s inertia and the political activities of its top executives. The morale of field staff varies. But sources said most field staff share a sense of powerlessness and frustration with the agencyâ€™s political leaders, and sometimes take their anger out on HUD program users.
A well-trained, well-qualified staff motivated by a sense of mission would be a huge achievement, but AHFâ€™s sources also hope for a fundamental change in how HUD views its role and how it runs its programs.
They think HUD should tear up the playbook it still carries over from its origins during former President Lyndon Johnsonâ€™s â€œGreat Societyâ€ policy initiatives of the 1960s. To be relevant in the future, HUD should rely more heavily on private real estate market forces and much less on detailed, proscriptive regulations and narrowly focused categorical programs.
Many experts think HUD relies far too much on a â€œretailâ€ approach, reviewing individual transactions and trying to apply very detailed regulations. Itâ€™s inherently inefficient, and with less than full staffing by highly trained people, itâ€™s very difficult to do this effectively, especially when innovative approaches donâ€™t fit a standard mold.
â€œHUD’s current situation benefits no one. Is HUD still a retail entity administering active programs? If the answer is â€˜yesâ€™, then the administration should budget properly funding all of HUD’s current programs, and Congress should provide that funding,â€ said David A. Smith, CEO of Recap Advisors, LLC. â€œIf â€˜noâ€™, then we should acknowledge that HUD is nothing more than a conduit for various targeted block grants, give the financial administration and oversight to the states, separately spin out FHA, and eliminate HUD as a cabinet department,â€ he added.
The National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) wants HUD to â€œbuild a culture that encourages employees to approve innovative approaches to solving housing problems and give program administrators more flexibility,â€ said Garth Rieman, director of housing advocacy and strategic initiatives.
Private developers, both profit-motivated and nonprofit, would like HUD to stop trying to micromanage every aspect of the deals it finances and rely on normal market forces. They say HUD should follow the lead of the housing tax credit program, which has produced more than 1.5 million apartments with a minimal commitment of government staffing by relying heavily on private investors in deals to make sure they are run properly and that developers take responsibility for compliance.
To its credit, the Bush administration has made some attempts to increase the flexibility of HUD programs, particularly the housing voucher program. But state and local agencies are concerned that in the current budget situation, flexibility also means funding cuts.
The agencyâ€™s record in actually increasing flexibility, even when directed to do so by Congress, is poor. In 1989, Congress passed legislation directing HUD to begin deregulating public housing, but HUD has been very slow to implement the law. (For an in-depth look at HUDâ€™s implementation of the public housing law, see AHF March, page 46)
Many observers blame this sluggishness on weak leadership, and for executivesâ€™ inability to overcome the inherent reluctance of HUD staff to give up control they now exercise over individual transactions and local housing authorities.
While state housing agencies have steadily gained stature and capacity over the last 25 years, HUD has steadily lost those things, and donâ€™t think HUD staff donâ€™t resent it. For many years, at least since the early 1980s, HUD has had more of an adversarial than collaborative relationship with states.
â€œHUD has not adapted successfully to the devolution of housing program. Housing policy is increasingly being made at the state and local level, and HUD is not set up to effectively “add value” to state and local decision-making,â€ said Jeffrey M. Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference (NHC). He has served as director of the policy development division of the Office of Policy Development and Research at HUD.
The bulk of new federally assisted housing comes from the state-administrated housing tax credit program, which HUD has little to do with. When a developer wants to combine housing tax credits with assistance that is administered by HUD, such as Sec. 8 rental assistance, it can be problematic. Developers say HUD shows no interest in helping resolve conflicts between its programs and the tax credit rules.
There is still a chance that HUD can be dragged into the twenty-first century and begin to close the gap between its methods and the best practices of the nationâ€™s highly successful state and local housing agencies. It has some excellent programs that work well.
One of the most widely cited successes is Ginnie Mae, which provides guarantees for bonds backed by FHA-insured mortgages. The Ginnie Mae regulations are minimal and there is a detailed program guide. â€œLenders and other partners are consulted before major changes are made so that implications for the programs are fully understood before implemented. Lenders are viewed as partners, not adversaries,â€ said Cheryl Malloy, senior vice president of multifamily and governance for the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The Risk-Sharing Program, which allows state housing agencies to handle underwriting of FHA loans, has been a tremendous success, Malloy said. â€œBut HUD should take this program further, delegating more completely and eliminating counter-productive restrictions like refusing to allow cash-out refinancing.â€
Another success is the performance-based Section 8 contract administration initiative, under which HUD has contracted with many state HFAs to administer project-based Sec. 8 contracts, according to NCSHA. But even this program should be more results-oriented, focused more on desired outcomes than mandated procedures. To its credit, HUD is reconsidering this program and looking for ways to improve it, NCHSA said.
The HOMEprogram is a good example of a program that works well, too. HOME delegates substantial decision-making authority to state and local HFAs.
HUD also has many hundreds of very motivated employees who wish their organization did more to help them achieve its mission.
â€œI am totally dedicated to the mission of HUD and love what I am able to do through HUD.â€ â€œMy gratification comes through my team and my community, not from the organization.â€
There are dozens of steps that need to be taken to improve HUD, but AHF has boiled them down to a list of ten, focused primarily on overall operations and multifamily programs. It goes without saying that higher Congressional appropriations would help improve the agencyâ€™s capabilities in many areas, but AHF has focused on improvements which have little or not budgetary impact. Many of them could be implemented by a HUD secretary with strong leadership and management skills, but some would require Congressional action. Help us refine this agenda for the new president and HUD secretary who will take office in 2009. Send your reactions and ideas to AHF at email@example.com
The top ten ways to improve HUD
1. Install new leadership.
The next president should appoint a secretary and senior leaders who are knowledgeable and accomplished in housing and community development and are strong managers. He or she should choose them based on their leadership ability, not their race, ethnicity or personal or political loyalty. The president should direct them to reinvigorate HUD from the top down and should hold them accountable for bringing HUD up to the standards of performance one would expect of an organization with a $33.6 billion-per-year budget. The president should insist that HUD emulate the best practices of the nationâ€™s most successful state governments and set goals for performance and output in all the departmentâ€™s areas of responsibility, not just the one or two areas that have potential for political gain, like homeownership.
The new leadership should make the best use of existing staff by trying to bridge the gap between political appointees in top management jobs and career civil servants who do most of the actual work of the agency. As it is, if civil servants are not supportive of a policy dictated by political appointees, they drag their heels in implementing it, and simply wait for those political appointees to leave their posts.
2. Empower field staff to make decisions.
To get the most out of its existing workforce, HUD must cultivate a new culture that says results are more important than process. One former official said HUD would not need lots of new staff if current employees were encouraged to make decisions and start treating agencies and developers as customers, not adversaries.
â€œThe number one organizational change that will make HUD more effective is to return to the previous regional structure that includes a Regional Administrator with program authority,â€ said Federoff.
For a time under former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, regional administrators had a great deal of decision-making power, but it was taken away under Cuomo, said Federoff. Current HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has restored some authority to the field, but not much, she said. HUDâ€™s multifamily directors in the field still report to a deputy assistant secretary in Washington who has little time to respond to any of them unless itâ€™s a crisis.
Headquarters staff think in broad strokes and long-term planning, while field staff have a sense of urgency that comes from interacting with program users, Federoff said.
Federoff confirmed the widely held perception that HUD staff would rather do nothing than make a decision that could get them in trouble. â€œIt’s far safer to keep your head down, fly below the radar screen, and hope HQ never really knows what you’re doing.â€
Mid-level staff at headquarters are reluctant to take any unusual requests to the top levels empowered to approve them, she added. This all reflects a corporate culture that provides no rewards for risk-taking, decisiveness, or productivity.
3. Hire more staff with good skills, train them, and match people with the jobs appropriate for their skills.
A steep reduction in HUD staff from a peak of 17,000 to about half of that number today has hampered the agencyâ€™s effectiveness. In addition, HUD employees say the quality and skill of the remaining staff is also declining.
With the job cuts has come an increased reliance on contractors to handle basic housing program functions, a practice that is described as inefficient at best and, in the case of some contracts, potentially corrupt and fraudulent. (See AHF June, page 36)
The agency is facing a â€œbrain drainâ€ as experienced executives retire. It often does not replace them until after they have left the agency, so they are unable to pass on institutional knowledge to their replacements.
Training is ineffective, according to a former field office executive. Field offices are told to spend time devising training plans but they plans are not implemented completely because field offices do not get budget authority to undertake training until late in the fiscal year, when they are too busy to allow staff to spend much time in training.
Because of its staffing problems, HUD often asks people to make decisions they are not qualified to make, sources said.
4. Rethink the operations and structure of FHA
Some policy analysts think the best way to make FHA more viable is to split it off from HUD, but that is unlikely to happen. FHA is the part of HUD that has the most real estate capacity and know-how, and if it was taken out of the agency, there would not be much left.
In 2001, the Millennial Housing Commission (MHC) proposed restructuring FHA as a wholly owned government corporation within HUD. Within statutory mortgage limits that focus FHAâ€™s mission on affordability, FHA should have freedom to create or alter specific insurance programs without Congressional direction, the report said.
The MHC report says that FHA should be able to vary the terms of its multifamily insurance programs, giving it the flexibility to react to market changes. Multifamily mortgage limits should be indexed to a construction cost index, according to the report.
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) would like to see FHA operate more independently of the regular HUD chain of command with much more flexibility than it has now, but it does not call for its privatization.
MBA called for Congress to provide broader program authority, to allow FHA to use funds in its reserves for service improvements and to exempt FHA from current civil service hiring and compensation requirements.
FHA should give authority for reviewing applications for mortgage insurance to a chief underwriter who looks at the entire transaction and makes a decision rather than by four different specialists, each focusing on their own narrow review, the group said. Finally, MBA wants HUDâ€™s top brass to encourage staff to take some â€œprudent risksâ€ and do less second-guessing of lenders in the interest of production and preservation of multifamily housing.
HUD also needs to get the Multifamily Accelerated Processing (MAP) program back on track. As it was intended to operate, FHA delegated to lenders much of the processing of multifamily transactions, and the field offices, for the most part, simply reviewed the lendersâ€™ work.
However, MBA added, â€œHUD Headquartersâ€™ commitment to the MAP program and focus on production has waned and as field offices have lost key staff, field offices have begun to deviate from the MAP Guide and timeframes are no longer met.â€
An FHA lender told AHF that HUD offices nitpick each deal and that each office uses different interpretations of program guidance. He said HUD staff are very quick to reject applications and cite errors, but are very unlikely to help fix problems.
â€œDeals take forever to process, borrowers get angry at lenders and lenders get angry at their third party firms, and everyone is mad and disappointed with HUD. This wastes countless hours of time for all involved,â€ he said.
5. Collaborate with state and local housing agencies
State housing agency directors donâ€™t like to talk about their feelings about HUD for the record, but thereâ€™s no silencing John McEvoy, who was executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies from 1989 to 2001.
â€œCongress long ago gave up on HUDâ€™s scandal-pocked multi-family programs and made the states responsible for virtually all low income housing creation. HUD should embrace the demonstrated competence of the states in true partnerships,â€ said McEvoy.
When he was at NCSHA McEvoy argued that states should have a key role in running the Sec. 8 Mark-to-Market program, but that proposal met with stiff resistance from then-Secretary Andrew Cuomo. â€œI read it as Cuomoâ€™s unwillingness to cede any power and more of HUD’s rule-ridden approach and antipathy toward the states,â€ he said.
â€œI got the sense that they did not want to be our partner,â€ said the former head of a state housing agency. â€œThey want to trip you upâ€”I always got that sense in recent years. They wanted to play â€˜Gotchaâ€™ rather than â€˜I want to work with you to solve these problems.â€™â€
NCSHA minimizes the conflict between HUD and housing finance agencies (HFAs), but Rieman said â€œHUD/HFA partnerships might be strengthened if HUD viewed its partners’ successes as its own. That is the way most of us view it: if HUD allows us to achieve more, those successes will be to HUD’s benefit as well as ours.â€
NCSHA would like to see HUD give HFAs and other state and local housing agencies more flexibility to try innovative approaches and exercise their judgment about regulatory waivers and administrative procedures. â€œThe emphasis should be on achieving positive results, not following bureaucratic rules,â€ said Rieman.
A good example of such collaboration is HUDâ€™s recent decision to contract with state agencies to handle the administration of contracts with private owners receiving project-based Sec. 8 assistance, said NCSHA.
6. Move away from heavily regulated, categorical programs and embrace the market.
Congress needs to make HUDâ€™s programs more streamlined and allow more flexibility. For example, because of the categorical nature of the FHA programs, it is virtually impossible to finance a continuum of care facility for the elderly, according to the MBA. â€œEach part of the facilityâ€”independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing sections of the propertyâ€”would have to be processed under a separate mortgage using different underwriting criteria,â€ said the group. â€œWith a more general statute, changing real estate markets and tenant needs could be accommodated, and FHA would be able to provide affordable rental housing and healthcare more efficiently and effectively.â€
AHF sources said the most successful HUD programs are those that have the fewest rules, the least HUD staff involvement, and the greatest amount of decision-making by local granteesâ€”specifically the Community Development Block Grant program and the HOME program. They are allocated by formula, not by review of specific projects, and HUD exercises general oversight over local decision-making.
Long-time HUD program users say agency staff are badly out of touch with the realities of private real estate marketsâ€”the world in which all of the projects HUD finances actually exist. They have a theoretical perspective, and do not understand the pressures of deadlines, the realities of markets, and the risks and costs of actually buying land, moving dirt, and putting up walls, developers said.
â€œHUD programs are intensively regulation-driven and archaic, and have little do with real-world, market-driven real estate transactions,â€ said a senior staffer at a nonprofit housing development organization in California.
HUDâ€™s world view is directly at odds with that of the tax credit program, which takes a very market-driven approach, relying on investors and developers to do good deals and manage them well to protect their own self-interest with only very light government oversight.
7. Eliminate conflicts between programs, increase information sharing
HUD needs to learn to love the low-income housing tax credit program. Enacted in 1986, it has been successful precisely because it is not run by HUD and does not follow the same model as most HUD programs. It is run by state housing agencies with post-development oversight by the Internal Revenue Service, and relies heavily on private market forces to make deals happen and to keep them in compliance.
HUD programs and HUD methodology do not mesh will with tax credit deals, and it is obvious to developers who try to use both programs that HUD is not at all motivated to try to change that.
The House Ways and Means Committee is already on working a bill to make changes to the tax credit program and make it work better with HUD programs. (See story on p. x)
There are also numerous cases where developers must sort out conflicting or duplicative requirements of HUDâ€™s programs and other government agencies. Because projects involve multiple layers of funds, they must comply with multiple sets of rules.
One of the biggest problems is that developers must also go through multiple inspections and reviews by various agencies, which often involve different standards. A new HUD leader should spearhead an effort to achieve greater consistency among agencies, and should encourage agencies to consolidate and share property inspection and compliance information, a move that would simplify the burden on owners and cut costs.
8. Update and improve Information technology (IT) systems
HUD has spent hundreds of millions on IT but results have been mixed, and for many programs, the agencyâ€™s databases appear to be shockingly bad, or in some cases, nonexistent.
The agency should develop a useful FHA project database. Itâ€™s hard to imagine that an organization which has been insuring apartment loans for 70 years does not have a good database of project and loan performance information, but thatâ€™s the case, according to MBA. It wants HUD to â€œimprove FHAâ€™s technology to interface with partners and develop a reliable and useful database.â€
9. Work on streamlining and continuity in funding and rules.
With government programs, some degree of uncertainty is inevitable. Shifts in political power lead to budget cuts and policy change. However, federal housing efforts are severely hampered by federal budget laws inhibit HUD from entering contracts requiring more than one yearâ€™s funding. HUD canâ€™t offer owners of apartments multi-year contracts for rental assistance, which hurts their ability to get financing on the best terms.
In addition, program users would love to see more consistency in how HUD runs it programs. For example, many owners are incensed by the lack of consistency in how inspectors in HUDâ€™s Real Estate Assessment Center evaluate the physical condition of properties. They told AHF that the items inspectors cite them for vary radically from inspection to inspection.
10. Get serious about preservation
The next HUD secretary needs to conduct a comprehensive review of policy and procedures for preserving the thousands of older projects subsidized by HUD, including public housing and privately owned housing.
HUD has done a reasonably good job of restructuring Sec. 8 projects with rents above market though its mark-to-market program. But thatâ€™s largely because Congress directed that the program be set up andrun by an independent entity, the Office of Mulitifamily Housing Assistance Restructuring (OMHAR). Congress also decided that OMHAR would have a limited lifespan and that its functions would be folded back into HUD, which has occurred.
The bad news is that the operation is now getting mired in the same red tape and regulatory minutiae that hamper other HUD programs, said one developer who is active in the preservation of HUD properties. The good news is that the office of Affordable Housing Preservation (OAHP) is staffed with transaction-oriented professionals. If HUD were smart, it could get them involved in other aspects of preservation, including property disposition, Sec. 236 decouplings, and other preservation transactions, as well as 202 development.
One of the obstacles to preservation of older assisted housing is HUDâ€™s policy of severely limiting the ability of nonprofit project owners to realize any financial gain on the sale of a HUD-assisted property. â€œThis has stopped non-profit sales in their tracks,â€ said Laura E. Burns, President or Eagle Point Enterprises LLC, and The Signal Group.
The future of HUD’s public housing and assisted housing stock lies in recapitalizing the stock with bonds and tax credits delivered by state and local housing agencies, said Michael Bodaken, president, National Housing Trust. â€œHUD should emphasize organizing affordable multifamily and public housing operations around the Mark-to-Market model, i.e., hiring outside contractors or employees who have tax credit and other lending expertise to handle complicated housing transactions, who are in turn given the responsibility to bring transactions to a reasonably expeditious close,â€ Bodaken stated.