Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the housing market downturn is that homeownership is an enduring ideal. The devastation of the Great Recession notwithstanding, Americans continue to value homeownership and believe in it.
Unfortunately, many policymakers apparently don’t share that view. Tax, legislative, and regulatory proposals under consideration would strip housing of its long-standing status as a national priority.
Among these proposals are measures that would reduce or eliminate the mortgage interest deduction, effectively make 20 percent down payments the market standard, eliminate the deductions for property tax and interest on home equity loans, and remove the federal backstop for the mortgage market.
These proposals wouldn’t just make it harder to buy a home; they would create insurmountable barriers that would put homeownership beyond the reach of millions of responsible families that could afford and benefit from homeownership. They also would threaten the system that ensures that affordable, high-quality rental housing is available to meet the market’s needs and help provide consumers with a variety of housing choices.
Ultimately, such a radical policy shift would have a profoundly negative impact. It would destabilize the nation’s housing markets, harming both the economy and millions of families. Mortgage interest rates would rise, home values would drop, more homeowners would be forced under water, and the number of foreclosures would increase. Rents would also escalate, making it more difficult for moderate- and low-income families to secure adequate housing.
Homeownership remains an enduring ideal for most Americans because its benefits are undeniable. Owning a home is still the single best long-term investment for most Americans, and the home is a primary source of wealth, financial security, and even upward mobility for many households.
Housing is also a significant and essential part of the nation’s economy. When new homes are built—both single-family and multifamily—new jobs are created and permanent sources of ongoing revenue for local, state, and federal government come to life.
For almost a century, national policy has acknowledged housing’s importance and made homeownership a priority. But the serious challenges that housing and homeownership face today would put homeownership on the scrap heap of broken dreams for millions of households. There’s no question that elements of the nation’s housing finance system need reform. But we need prudent underwriting standards that ensure that buyers can afford their mortgage and safeguards preventing the excesses that led to the housing market meltdown.
The NAHB believes that the only way to ensure that homeownership remains a national priority is to elevate it on the national agenda and make it an important issue in the upcoming 2012 presidential election.
During my term as chairman in 2011, the NAHB focused a great deal of energy on an effort to do just that, and we made significant progress in meeting that goal. We took our message to the public and lawmakers. We met with every presidential candidate, and we took the case for homeownership directly to the president’s advisors. We had a prominent presence at high-profile political party events, held press conferences, and formed coalitions with other like-minded groups.
Succeeding in this mission is extremely important to everyone who works in the housing industry, and during the coming year the NAHB will continue the effort under Barry Rutenberg’s able leadership.
But the NAHB cannot do the job alone. Such a campaign is infinitely more effective when it comes from the grassroots. We need for you to take the message about the threats to homeownership and housing to your neighbors and friends, and to your customers and colleagues. Every person in this nation is a stakeholder in housing. We need for you to help us sound the alarm, raise awareness of the threat and build a grassroots groundswell that will keep homeownership in its rightful place as a national priority.
NAHB members can access information about participating in this crucial effort at www.NAHB.org/messaging.