The Future of National Housing Policy

3.5.13 | A new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center calls for a complete overhaul in the federal government’s housing policy — from housing finance reform that eliminates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to more targeted rental assistance and a “more targeted comprehensive focus” on the growing need for housing that allows seniors to “age in place.”

But given what’s going on in Washington, DC, these days, will anybody notice?

Among the suggestions in Housing America’s Future: New Directions for National Policy:

  • Washington should gradually phase out Fannie and Freddie over several years and replace them with a wholly owned government corporation, which it calls the “Public Guarantor” (a phrase that, for reasons that probably shouldn’t be explored too deeply, reminds me of Frank Zappa’s “Central Scrutinizer” from “Joe’s Garage”). The Public Guarantor would not buy or sell mortgages, nor issue mortgage-backed securities. It “would provide a limited catastrophic government guarantee for both the single-family and rental markets,” which would be triggered only after “all private capital ahead of it has been exhausted.”
  • The Low Income Housing Tax Credit should be raised by 50 percent over current levels, federal funding should be expanded to address capital and accrual needs in public housing and to provide federal short-term “emergency assistance” for low-income renters (those whose incomes are between 30 percent and 80 percent of an area median income) suffering temporary setbacks.
  • Federal housing and healthcare programs for seniors should be better coordinated, “aging-in-place priorities” should be integrated into existing programs, and the government should provdie better consumer guidance on products like reverse mortgages.
  • President Obama should direct the Treasury Department and other applicable federal agencies to “assess the current and pending regulatory requirements on the affordability and accessibility of mortgage credit.”

The report is the latest to look at national housing policies and trends, ranging from BRR’s own Vulnerable People in Precarious Housing: An Exploratory Analysis and the Urban Institute’s “The Built Environment and Household Vulerability in a Regional Context” (link available at that same page) to the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Live/Work/Walk Initiative.

But within Washington, the BPC report should carry some heft. After all, in addition to the Bipartistan Policy Center’s founders, its Housing Commission, which issued the report, includes former Senators Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.), Mel Martinez (D-Fla.), and George Mitchell (D-Maine), ex-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, and Renée Lewis Glover, president and CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority.

Moreover, the BPC was founded in 2007 by former Senators Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, and George Mitchell, and touts itself as “the only Washington, D.C.-based think tank that actively promotes bi-partisanship.”

But this report seems destined to collect dust in the corner of many a hard drive. There is no bipartisanship, nor can there be any with the howling id that is today’s Republican Party. So the BPC can issue as many reports as it will; the real question is, will anybody in today’s poisonous atmosphere even notice, much less care?

Political resilience is being tested, and both regional and national housing resilience will be affected. As of today, I have no idea what the outcome will be.

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