Q&A: Government Finance Vet Dana Wade on Her New Role at Walker & Dunlop

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Dana Wade, former commissioner at the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), joined Walker & Dunlop earlier this month in the role of chief production officer for all FHA-backed loan originations with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In her role with the Bethesda, Md.-based firm, Wade will also help drive the company’s affordable housing financing activities.

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While at the FHA, Wade implemented enhanced risk management for its $1.4 trillion portfolio, oversaw the agency’s mission of providing affordable housing for moderate and low-income households, and led an FHA team of more than 2,400 employees.

In addition to her work with the FHA, Wade served as the associate director at the Office of Management and Budget, where she led budget oversight for six executive branch agencies and held senior roles in Congress, including working as deputy staff director for the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

Wade spoke to Commercial Observer about her new role, her past experiences and what she sees ahead in affordable housing. 

Commercial Observer: After a career mostly spent in the government sector, what made you interested in joining Walker & Dunlop?

Dana Wade: I wanted to come here because these are the people I want to work with. Not only is affordable housing and FHA going to be a continued priority for Walker & Dunlop, but it’s a great company, one that has evolved over time and has a tremendous amount of potential. It understands the emphasis in affordable housing and the need there. My coming to Walker & Dunlop is a signal that the company is doubling down on affordable housing.

How familiar with the firm were you coming in?

From my perspective at HUD, Walker & Dunlop has a great reputation in this part of the business. The firm has an extremely high success rate when it comes to working with HUD. They understand the nuances of a deal. You have the experts, and you also have the relationships that have been built over years and years. I’m incredibly impressed with the way this team works together and the collegiality.

How would you characterize the state of affordable housing in the D.C. region in 2021?

Honestly, the whole multifamily sector in general has weathered the past couple of years extremely well. We have had unprecedented challenges brought on by COVID-19, and this is a strong and stable segment. I believe that will continue to be the case. 

Where does that belief come from?

You have a few things going on. The first is that HUD and other entities have stepped in to provide stability to the market. They have played a countercyclical role in order to ensure there are no disruptions. That’s part of what gives this market stability. In terms of once COVID-19 passes, which it will, and the dust settles, we will look at the multifamily segment and realize there is still a lot of need in affordable housing. That will continue to be a priority and I see a lot of growth there. 

What are the challenges that are impacting affordable housing?

One of the challenges is uncertainty, and that’s why you want to be working at a place like Walker & Dunlop, which has been around a long time and can evolve and adapt.

This particular segment is well poised to face whatever challenges are out there, because you have the strength of the federal government, who are committed — working around the clock — to stepping up to ensure we have a well-functioning multifamily market.

I’ve had a lot of experience through very difficult circumstances. I worked at HUD not only through the COVID crisis, but the year I started, we had three hurricanes hit in the U.S. within a span of a month or two. We had to develop a toolkit to be able to respond to the crisis on the ground, to understand what the damage was on the properties, to help these communities recover as quickly as possible. That prepared us all for what we’re going through now.

How have your past experiences prepared you for this role at Walker & Dunlop?

I am taking years of experience understanding how HUD operates and works, which I can tell you is not a pretty place cosmetically, but the people who work there are wonderful. They work very hard and are committed to the mission. I have spent a lot of time with them prioritizing things like affordable housing goals, working to get a lot of programs aimed at revitalizing communities. We want to make sure communities can thrive and how we can handle the housing stock in the nation that is aging, and the need for additional supply.

I’ve been on all sides of programs like the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD); I was there when that program was created, and I got to work on it at HUD. It’s been a very successful program. It’s basically converting aging housing stock and revitalizing it into properties where residences can really have a better quality of life.

What was the secret to success as commissioner of the FHA?

It was about being nimble and adapting to circumstances. It’s a lesson I have taken with me to be able to jump into anything quickly. It was about getting everyone moving in the same direction from a leadership perspective.

What goals have you set for yourself in 2021?

To grow, to grow, to grow. Having done $17 billion in affordable business over the last three years, Walker & Dunlop is going to take that number and continue to grow. It’s already in the top five in HUD lending in almost every state and it’s a leader in new construction. There is definitely room to enhance that leadership position. What we’re going to be doing is figuring out how to position the multifamily and affordable business to increase that growth, driving to be the number one multifamily lender in real estate finance, and I want to help the company get there.