The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

It’s Time To Talk about Housing

The broad topic of last night’s debate was “domestic issues,” so if presidential candidates were ever going to engage with one another on housing, last night was the night. But they didn’t. Obama mentioned the word “housing” once last night (it’s on its way back), and Mitt Romney said it twice (government regulations are hurting it; he wants it to come back.) While there was some discussion around financial regulation and Dodd Frank, the word “foreclosure” was not uttered once by either candidate. Neither was Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac. (You can double check all of this at the Washington Post’s transcript of the debate.)

From this lack of discussion we can conclude one of two things. Either the housing crisis is over, or neither candidate is ready to propose a bold, new idea to reform the housing market and support families facing foreclosure.

It’s definitely the first option. The housing crisis is over! Congratulations everyone.

Just kidding. According to RealtyTrac the number of new foreclosures crept up in August, 2012. And the number of homeowners who have received successful mortgage modifications has decreased significantly since 2010. The housing crisis isn’t over, and judging by the way the candidates seem afraid to come near the issue, we’re not even close.

Jed Kolko of Trulia wrote for Business Insider that the best indication of a housing recovery is a market recovery, and so perhaps by focusing on the economy, the candidates CAN improve housing. Maybe. But housing is also a issue of human rights, and when millions of Americans are on the verge of losing their homes (or have already lost it) it also needs to be addressed as problem of providing shelter and immediate assistance.

As our blog has already noted, a market recovery without real protections from the pre-2008 manic borrowing climate is dangerous and can only be temporary. President Obama seems to believe that Dodd Frank will prevent loan officers from offering faulty products to homeowners who were “borrowing money to pay for homes they couldn’t afford,” and we hope he’s right. But he hasn’t proposed an idea about how to keep homes affordable as a market recovery drives the price of housing up. Neither has his challenger.

We believe housing is a human right, one that is increasingly difficult to secure in this country. Last month, Alen Jenkins at Rooflines published an open letter to the presidential candidates from the Home for Good coalition. It says:

We are calling on our political, business, and civic leaders, including our next president, for bold action to stop needless foreclosures, expand affordable rental housing, and revive a sustainable path to homeownership.

Neither Barack Obama or Mitt Romney were willing or able to offer us that last night.

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