WHEN THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION is just a memory and the 109th Congress has settled into place, making housing a national priority should be the first order of business for our nation's elected officials.

Fortunately, they will have a detailed blueprint that sums up exactly what needs to be done to fulfill the promises set forth in the Housing Act of 1949: the goal of a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family.

“Housing Policy for the 21st Century,” is a new report on why housing matters and provides the essential elements of a housing agenda for the federal government. It is the joint statement of five organizations that represent the industries that build, finance, and sell housing in America: the NAHB, the American Bankers Association, America's Community Bankers, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the National Association of Realtors. These associations believe that the political leadership guiding our country should adopt these policies to foster economic growth and facilitate investment in our nation's communities.

That's not to say we haven't made progress in meeting America's housing needs. We have made great progress but much remains to be done. Housing America is more difficult today because of increasing demand on limited government resources and more burdensome regulations administered by various layers of government. If the nation is to effectively meet the challenges of tomorrow, it must adopt these recommendations today.

The report is divided into five parts. The first section explains the economic and social importance of housing. The second examines the current housing situation in America and cites reasons for developing a national housing policy. The third describes principles our organizations believe should guide development of that policy. The fourth section presents policy recommendations that deal with current and evolving housing problems in five areas: smart growth, housing finance, tax policy, government regulations, and housing programs. Finally, and perhaps most important, the report stresses the need for a Cabinet-level voice for housing in the federal government.

The federal government has a primary role in housing policy for two reasons. One, the government is in the best position to establish a national housing policy that places housing on the policy agenda for all levels of government. Two, the federal government affects housing affordability and availability through policies that are not directly related to housing. Virtually every Cabinet agency conducts some program, makes some rule, or requires some action that affects housing. Moreover, much of the government support of housing involves credit guarantees and financial regulation, and the federal government is primarily responsible for the nation's financial system.

The Cabinet-level voice, HUD, should play the key role in coordinating housing and community development issues in the government. Without appropriate coordination, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement a policy and attain our housing goals.

By working with the industries that build, sell, and finance the American dream, the federal government can help attain the goal set forth more than 50 years ago: a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family.

Bobby Rayburn
President, NAHB, Washington, D.C.