Crushing student debt stalls housing: Ex-FHA head

The housing comeback is stumbling, in part, under the weight of student loan debt in excess of $1 trillion, former Federal Housing Administration head David Stevens told CNBC on Friday.

"Average college graduates, which is the first-time homebuyer, have $35,000 in student debt," Stevens, now chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said on "Squawk Box."

Read MoreGrandparents are paying for college ... again

Couple that with the many Americans still having trouble paying their bills each month, he said, "it tells me we still have a ways to go in this recovery."

New research shows that 52 percent of U.S. adults have had to make at least one sacrifice in order to cover their rent or mortgage. While some people are feeling better about housing, 70 percent of the American public are not feeling relief, according a survey released by the MacArthur Foundation.

"Home prices ... are only halfway back to pre-recession levels," Stevens said. "The opportunity to get the market kick-started has to come with increased confidence."

Job creation is key to making that happen, he argued.

The government said Friday that 217,000 new nonfarm jobs were created in May, as the jobless rate head steady at 6.3 percent. The April payroll number was revised slightly lower to 282,000.

Read MoreWhat housing didn't get in this jobs report

"Jobs are the core value proposition for getting the economy back on track," Stevens said.

Until employment prospects improve, many people are renting instead of buying. But that's led to a shortage of affordable rental housing, Stevens said, "particularly in urban markets where the jobs are."

So renting instead of buying is not necessarily the answer because imbalances can be created on either side of the equation, he said—adding there are many economic benefits to homeownership including the creation of stability for communities and their citizenry.

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  • Diana Olick

    Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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