Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What the State of the Union should say about housing

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference 

From the buzz in Washington, we expect President Obama to deliver a State of the Union address that picks up the theme of inequality and ways to remedy it. Some topics like health care, unemployment assistance, and immigration are unavoidable. Housing looms too large to be ignored entirely, but will it receive a passing mention or be a central theme? Here are a few reasons why housing should be prominent:
  • Housing is a pocketbook issue. Few other expenses consume as large a share of the household budget. For the more than 18 million households spending half of their income on housing, it’s issue number one. 
  • It’s still hard to get a mortgage. That is, unless you have lots of cash on hand and pristine credit. We’re overdue for housing finance reform, and there’s momentum in the Senate the president could build on. Getting it done is a tall order, but if done right it could do a lot to help both owners and renters. 
  • Neighborhoods are still struggling with foreclosures. The pain of the foreclosures wave is more concentrated than it has been in the past few years, as some places have started to bounce back. In many neighborhoods, however, folks are still working hard to break the cycle of disinvestment that comes with foreclosures. President Obama could champion new efforts to keep families in their homes, right-size mortgages, and bring stability to struggling neighborhoods. 
  • Good housing policy can pay off. There are a host of ways that smart housing policy pays off: housing the homeless reduces costs for emergency response; stable housing improves children’s school performance; greener housing makes families healthier and reduces energy costs; new housing production boosts economic growth and creates jobs. 
We’ll see tonight how President Obama chooses to include housing in his State of the Union message. Watch for more from NHC after the speech.

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