And yet, 75 days from the election, both candidates are silent on the subject. Considering what’s at stake, they need to be challenged to speak to the issue of housing and provide real, bold plans for our recovery as they head into their conventions.
Finding the details of Romney’s plan requires more than a simple Google search. Romney’s 153 page Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth includes two mentions of housing, both of which are references to the past. We do know that his underwater mortgage fix, to let the market ‘bottom out’ as homeowners across the board lose their homes, would further sink a housing market that has already reached historic lows.
President Obama, unlike candidate Romney, has the power to help stem the tide of foreclosures and heal our housing market right now. There are simple solutions on the table that the administration has failed to take up. At the root is the need for principal reduction -- the writing down of mortgages to their actual value. Principal reduction should be mandatory, not voluntary, for the big banks. Four years in, reforms have focused solely on refinancing or forbearance and made optional for banks, and have failed to make significant impact. By requiring the banks to adjust principal on a loan to actual value and refinance at today’s rates, we not only prevent foreclosures, but also inject the difference between the amount owed and actual value into the economy. It's another form of stimulus, but one that does not require taxpayer dollars. A report by the New Bottom Line demonstrates how widespread principal reductions could create up to 1 million jobs.
Nearly 40 percent of the underwater mortgages in America are in portfolios controlled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The overseer of these two agencies, Ed DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, has continued to block Fannie and Freddie from using the most effective means of preventing foreclosures – principal reduction. Despite numerous reports demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of principal reduction as a means of preventing foreclosure, DeMarco, a Bush appointee holdover, has continued to deny Fannie and Freddie the flexibility of writing mortgages down to their actual value. While the chorus of people calling for DeMarco to be fired continues to grow, the President has remained silent. On May 21, National People’s Action took 1,000 people to DeMarco’s office to hand him a pink slip ourselves, essentially doing the president’s job for him.
Neil Barosfky, the U.S. Treasury Department inspector general who oversaw the Troubled Assets Relief Program and who wrote a new book “Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street,” said on UP with Chris Hayes on Saturday that the Obama Administration likes having DeMarco in place because he serves as an excuse against doing anything. This might sound cynical, but it’s actually a growing concern among those who have worked for the last four years to keep families in their homes and are feeling abandoned by this president.
Yesterday, the New Bottom Line launched Home Is Where the Vote Is, a campaign based on the assumption that if good economic sense won’t get through to the candidates, hopefully political self interest will. It just so happens that many of the swing states for this year’s presidential election are among the most underwater in the country. Underwater homeowners such as Mark Roarty, Cathy Busby and Yesenia Carrizales of Ohio, Colorado and Nevada respectively are among those asking the two presidential candidates to speak out on the issue of housing and preventing foreclosures.
In Nevada, A whopping 62 percent of borrowers are underwater. In Ohio and Colorado 1 out of every 5 mortgages is underwater. And as the Harvard Business Review points out, these numbers should be particularly alarming for the candidates. A recent study says homeowners are 15.6 more like to vote than renters, but will they vote if they don’t see their concerns addressed?
In an election that pundits are continually calling a toss up, you would think that the candidates would attempt to win over a constituency that is very up for grabs. Underwater homeowners are highly motivated to save their homes, and are ready to stand with a candidate that will stand with them.
Goehl is the executive director of National People’s Action.