REALTORS® are asking Congress to strengthen the Federal Housing Administration, extend the FHA's high-cost loan limits, and get flood and disaster insurance reforms passed as part of their push on Capitol Hill this week during NAR 2010 Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

Several thousand REALTORS® are in town and will be meeting with members of Congress over two days this week. Here's a look at some of REALTORS®' top legislative priorities:

Support for small business. REALTORS® would like the government to help small businesses get much-needed financing by allowing federal credit unions to loan a higher percentage of their assets than they can now. The increase is needed to help offset the difficulty small businesses are facing in getting loans from banks.

Stronger commercial market. Extending the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) will help improve commercial mortgage market liquidity and push Congress to act quickly on reauthorizing funds for the popular Rural Housing Service (RHS) Sec. 502 loan guarantee program, which is on the verge of running out of money.

Various FHA reforms. Legislation to strengthen the FHA would allow the agency to increase its annual mortgage insurance premium, which borrowers can fold into the loan amount. FHA Commissioner David Stevens has said that once the agency has that authority, it'll be able to reduce its upfront mortgage insurance premium, which it raised several months ago to meet congressionally mandated reserve requirements. The upfront premium hurts borrowers more because it has to be paid in full at closing.

The FHA legislation would also give the agency more tools for enforcing rules against bad lenders. The legislation has passed the House Financial Services Committee. NAR's goal is to put the bill on fast-track passage in the House, then get it introduced and passed in the Senate as soon as possible.

NAR is also seeking to make the FHA's high-cost loan limits permanent. The limits, now at $729,750, expire in the fall. If the limits aren't extended, they would drop to about $417,000, too low to make the FHA a viable financing option in many larger metropolitan areas like Boston, San Francisco, Washington, and New York.

Flood and disaster insurance. The reforms NAR is seeking of the national flood insurance and disaster insurance programs aim to strengthen private insurers' role in handling most disasters, reserving federal involvement as a backstop. REALTORS® will be asking their members of Congress to pass the legislation in the House before Memorial Day. Then attention would turn to the Senate.

Helping the commercial securities market recover. The commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) market, which for years has been the principal means for getting financing into commercial markets, is starting to come back. Yet new CMBS issues remain only a fraction of the volume that's needed to meet demand. NAR is calling on the government to extend its TALF program to the end of the year so investors will have low-cost loans available to them to invest in commercial securities at a time when a lot of uncertainty remains about the strength of the market.

Preventing bad amendments. The big focus of Congress now is financial services reform. The bill is huge in scope but only a part of it directly concerns real estate. REALTORS® have been successful in defeating draconian amendments, including one that would have required all borrowers to put down a minimum 5 percent. Supporters of that amendment and other tough measures that could hurt housing, including a defeated amendment that would have ended federal control of secondary mortgage market companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the near future, are expected to be introduced again at different junctures of the legislative process, so REALTORS® will be sharing with their members of Congress the danger the requirements would pose to the market now.

Careful treatment of Fannie and Freddie. NAR's position on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform is that it must be taken up separately, next year, and must be undertaken carefully. REALTORS® oppose ending federal control before a structure is in place to ensure the availability of mortgage financing in the market, in good times and bad, which is the role the two companies are playing today.

- Robert Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine