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Administration on Fannie/Freddie: ‘No Bold Declarations’

CNBC.com

The financial regulatory reform billis all but getting in a cab to the White House, and that has housing watchers convinced that the next big item on the Administration/Congressional agenda will be the Government Sponsored Enterprises reform.

We all know Fannie and Freddiecan't stay the way they are; we just don't know what to do with them.

Still, for the past few weeks, in anticipation of this day, I've been getting dozens of pr pitches from folks representing folks who claim to be "experts" on this particular subject.

Well not so fast.

According to an Administration official, "There will be no bold declarations" about GSE reform before next year. We knew that already, but he went on: "We are not that far removed from a time when the market was in panic. We have to be extra guarded, perhaps overly guarded."

The Administration is saying in no uncertain terms that it is not ready for any clear public articulation of its Fannie/Freddie strategy, but what's so interesting is the fact that they seem so very afraid of the market reaction to any strategy right now. "That could potentially be extremely destabilizing," the official said of floating any reform ideas now.

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The Housing Fix -- A CNBC Special Report >> See Complete Coverage

They are happy to sit and tout the "multi-layered, multi-faceted" government response to the housing crisis, but they do so in a room where the elephant is so large and noisy that it's crowding out anyone's ability to see progress. Without any explanation, any plan, any inkling as to what they're thinking, the housing recovery moves in a somewhat artificial universe.

When will the Administration make its move?

"I don't think we have a hurdle point," the same official said. "We are looking for broader stability among multiple dimensions, and frankly I don't think we're there right now."

Now trust me, I don't believe officials are sitting around their over-air-conditioned Washington offices, twiddling their thumbs and toasting Arnold Palmers to the housing recovery; I'm quite sure they're tackling Fannie and Freddie as we speak.

They'll be the first to admit that their current housing policy is reactive, and that it is going to have to change, despite the fact that they face two major hurdles: Palpable fear in the housing market, and a new Congress in 2011 that may possibly have a few fewer Democrats.

Right now Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA are the housing market, and that housing market is unstable, if not faltering yet again.

Government wants out of housing, so they say, but they are deathly afraid of what that might really mean.

Administration officials also readily admit that the private market has not re-embraced mortgages, and may not for a few years.

Progress will be slow and measured with many varied rulers.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

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  • 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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