National Association of Home Builders president and CEO Jerry Howard on Tuesday said the group late last week met with senior staff of the National Association of Realtors in an effort to coordinate support in the effort to get Congress to enact a demand-side stimulus program for the housing market.
"The Realtors and NAHB are working hand-in-glove," said Howard, adding that a joint advertising effort between the two organizations that is separate from Fix Housing First will begin appearing later in the week. Talks are continuing with NAR over whether the Realtors will join the nascent Fix Housing First coalition of home builders, manufacturers, suppliers and other housing related businesses, he said.
The FHF proposal as it now stands calls for a 10% true tax credit up to $22,000 for the purchase of new or existing homes between April 9 and Dec. 31, 2009 and a mortgage buy-down that would set fixed rates at 2.99% between now and June 30, 2009 and 3.99% from July 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2009.
"That's at its most aggressive," said Howard of the proposal, indicating that it may be revised as the lobbying effort proceeds. Howard said he sees little chance that the current lame-duck session of Congress will pass housing stimulus legislation, but he said he hoped that the groundwork could done to get a package through Congress in time for the spring selling season. "That would give us the best bang for the buck," he said.
The Realtors' group on Tuesday presented a similar but more modest four-point plan to the House Financial Services Committee. It calls for a repeal of the provision that mandates payback of the temporary $7,500 tax credit for existing home buyers that was passed earlier this year as well as extending the credit to all home buyers. It also asks Congress to make permanent the higher FHA and conventional loan limits that took effect earlier this year but are set to expire, and it seeks a law barring banks from real estate brokerage and property management. It also seeks extension of the TARP program to include mortgage buy-downs.
Howard said the lobbying effort will be aimed at the Senators and Representatives most concerned with housing issues, which, if current committee leaders are retained in the new Congress, would include Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), House Financial Services Chair Barney Frank (D-Mass.), House Ways and Means Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as well as "every member of those committees." Howard said the effort would also be directed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Another target is the Treasury Department, which already has the authority to effect a mortgage buy-down under the TARP program, he said.
As part of the lobbying campaign, several high-profile public home builder CEOs will be enlisted to work the halls of Congress. But, he said, "I can't say who and I can't say when."
Howard said he is optimistic that the coalition will find a sympathetic ear in Congress. Just a short time ago, he allowed, builders were viewed as "just another interest group going to the trough." But, after pointing out facts such as the three-million jobs that have been lost directly to the housing downturn and the success of a 1975 tax-credit-driven housing stimulus program at righting the economy, that view is changing.
There has been an increasing acceptance by leaders in non-housing-related businesses that "until you stabilize house prices, you can't hope to stabilize the financial sectors," said Howard.
He urged home builders and their employees to "at the very least" contact their representatives to register support for the Fix Housing First initiative.