Last week, Democrats debated, but not about housing. Fortunately there was a bipartisan candidate housing forum later. Unfortunately, no A-list pols showed. This week: News on home sales and construction, we have a surprise for Marty McFly, and a bug-infested ballroom.
Seven candidates walk into a housing summit
Do they talk about housing? A little (see below). The J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families invited presidential candidates to New Hampshire last week to coax them into a conversation about rental affordability and homeownership.
Lindsey Graham, Martin O’Malley, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore and Rand Paul RSVPed.
Politically, the housing-industrial complex (which includes us homeowners and renters) is plagued by a multitude of problems and a lack of focus. There’s no single “housing market”, no unified “housing industry”, no one canon of “housing law”. “Housing policy” might refer to building codes and bus routes or Wall Street bankers and Chinese investors.
So what? If we don’t agree on what the problem is, we can’t fix it. Do we want lower rents? More homeownership? Easier borrowing? All of the above?
That’s a big reason you don’t hear national candidates talk much about housing, even though it looms large in our economy and our lives.
“It’s not the sexiest issue in the world,” said Christie, a Republican and governor of New Jersey.
It’s also complicated. Overheard after the event:
Aide: “I had no idea what you were talking about.” Presidential candidate: “Neither did I.”
Housers will get another crack at shaping the political conversation Jan. 20, when the National Association of Homebuilders and National Journal host a candidate forum in Las Vegas: “Building Opportunity: Solutions for the American Dream.”
Meanwhile, keep an eye on this
With the federal budget in chronic disarray, more people are calling out the inequities of tax breaks for homeowners.
“Too much of the benefit in housing goes to people who have a lot of money,” Christie said. A lot of people agree.
Take pricey Redwood City, Calif., where more than half of residents take the mortgage interest deduction, for an average benefit of $22,500, according to economist Ike Brannon. Across the country, in humble Rochester, N.H., only about a fifth of people use the tax break, for an average saving of $9,800.
The mortgage interest deduction used to be political taboo. Not anymore.
So? What did the candidates say?
Graham (Republican): The South Carolina senator grew up in a room behind a bar. When the family moved to a mobile home, “my mom cried like a baby…. That house to her and us was a mansion. I get it when it comes to homeownership and all the things that flow from it.”
O’Malley (Democrat): The former Maryland governor wants to preserve the government’s role in funneling mortgages to homebuyers. “It would be a mistake to turn Fannie and Freddie over to the geniuses on Wall Street,” he said. Congress should fix the agencies, not “auction them off.”
Huckabee (Republican): The former Arkansas governor wants to cut regulation to make affordable housing cheaper and more plentiful.
Christie: He dislikes regulation, too, and talked about the links between substandard housing and health and education. “It’s one of the really ugly undersides of American society. We don’t want to talk about it.”
Pataki (Republican): The onetime New York governor wants government out of the mortgage business. “What we should be doing is strengthening our economy. Middle-class Americans aren’t seeing their wages go up.”
Paul (Republican): The Kentucky Senator stuck to his small-government roots, saying housing subsidies should go only to the neediest.
Gilmore (Republican): Less regulation would create more jobs, which would lift homeownership and affordability, the former Virginia governor said.
“Home equity is back, baby!” And so are cash-out refis, says FirstAmerican. Hmmm.
The rent is too $%#^ high. But it can’t stay that way. Apartment execs are starting to think their incredible run of rent hikes might be peaking.
Remember the housing crisis? Seven years later, the mortgage system “remains the great unfinished business of financial reform,” said Treasury VIP Antonio Weiss. It’s not obvious to a lot of buyers and sellers, but the tubes and wires that make the housing market run are still in need a serious overhaul. (Geek factor: High)
The other holiday this month. After the forest products festivities wind down, check out this creepiness.
What are you thinking? Lorraine.firstname.lastname@example.org