Fannie Mae's Line In The Sand

FANNIE MAE, AS savvy politically as it is financially, is fighting a Clinton Administration plan to boost low-income mortgage lending. The Federal National Mortgage Assn., a federally chartered private company that buys mortgages from lenders and bundles them into bonds, has called in a cavalcade of big-time pols to help.

At issue is a program by Fannie to spur lending for affordable housing in urban and rural areas, to low- and moderate-income homebuyers. Fannie chief James Johnson, a former Walter Mondale aide, is upset over pressure from the Housing & Urban Development Dept. to focus on minority and low-income buyers regardless of their location. And HUD has considered making Fannie police bias by lenders, which Johnson sees as unworkable.

Fannie Mae complains that the HUD plan would ignore the urban middle class, potentially prompting their exodus from cities. Johnson has enlisted the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and Oakland as well as Representatives Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to lobby against the HUD plan. Their impact has been felt. The word is that HUD thus far has backed off on the idea of Fannie Mae as an antibias enforcer.

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