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WASHINGTON, DC-The commercial real estate industry has been eager for a hint as to which direction the Troubled Asset Relief Program will take next. Tuesday morning they got one: Federal Housing Finance Agency director James Lockhart told CNBC that he anticipates more “creativity” in the program going forward. Examples might include the purchases of private label and other weaker mortgage assets, he said. FHFA did not return a call to GlobeSt.com in time for publication.

To be sure, Lockhart’s speculation is predicated upon Congress releasing to Treasury the next $350 billion tranche of the $700 billion bailout plan. This may be trickier than the first tranche that Congress dispersed in the fall. Three months later, the legislative body is clearly suffering from bailout fatigue, plus it is not happy with the way Treasury has spent the first $350 billion. Prominent Congress people are calling for the next tranche to be released only with a guarantee that the money will be used for foreclosure relief.

Indeed, the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program has been a source of mystery and frustration to many people – not just Congress. When it was first introduced, it was positioned as a plan to buy up troubled mortgage-backed assets that were choking the real estate capital markets. That was a lifetime ago, however; since then the program has morphed a couple of times with new goals. Now the program is primarily geared to helping jump start consumer finance lending.

Still, though, the real estate industry remains hopeful that at least some of the $700 billion Congress allotted to an economic rescue will find its way into this industry – a hope bolstered by Lockhart’s comments.

On another front, the Real Estate Roundtable is working with Treasury to include real estate loans in the $200 billion credit facility that was set up to back consumer loans, Roundtable SVP Clifton Rodgers told GlobeSt.com in an earlier interview. In fact an intense lobbying campaign from several industry associations is working towards this goal. A credit facility to support CRE loans has strong economic fundamentals to support it, Rodgers told GlobeSt.com shortly before last week’s holidays.

“Commercial real estate has a different dynamic than the residential markets. It went into the downturn in good shape; only now is it starting to see some weakness in certain sectors.” The problems in the residential markets, by contrast, were characterized by a large overcapacity of units. In other words, CRE debt is still largely performing, he says. “So we are not talking about loans on speculative properties or overly optimistic assumptions. A credit facility would support debt for existing cash flowing properties.”

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