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Santorum ignores own record on housing

After zooming back into relevance Tuesday night by sweeping all three GOP contests, Rick Santorum is touting his record as a conservative stalwart in order to be seen as an alternative to Mitt Romney. He seems to be forgetting his past record on housing.

While the views he presents on housing seem in line with the conservative mindset, he presented a view in the late 1990s and early 2000s in stark contrast to his current “hands off” campaign message. I attempted to get the Santorum campaign’s viewpoint on the contradictions I’m about to point out, but a campaign spokesman asked to check the facts and get back to me by the end of the day and never did. 

On the surface, Santorum seems to repeat the same mantra on housing as every other major member of the GOP: It’s all the Democrats’ fault. He penned his blame in a 2010 op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“In the 1990s, the Clinton administration pushed the mortgage giants to take on more subprime debt — and therefore risk — to accomplish Democrats’ affordable-housing goals,” he said. In the article, he also said Congress created Fannie and Freddie “to provide the affordable housing that Democrats thought the market was incapable of providing.” 

Given the heavy blame, it would seem that Santorum had no part in the encouragement of Fannie and Freddie or affordable housing, but such an assumption would not be true. He attempted to use them and increase their powers on more than one occasion to produce his own ideal of affordable housing — a fact his campaign is now puddle jumping over.

Distinguishing himself as a “compassionate conservative,” he wrote an article for the Washington Times in 2000 in which he said homeownership should be a “primary focus” of revitalizing neighborhoods.

“It is often homeownership that anchors the financial stability of American families and the civil stability of our communities. Our challenge is to make the American dream of homeownership accessible to all Americans,” he said.

He talked of the success of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying they “make homeownership possible for more Americans by creating and maintaining an efficient secondary mortgage market to increase the funding available to lenders.” He also lauded the Federal Housing Administration, saying it “helped more families purchase homes by lowering the amount required for down payment.” 

Where did that approval for government programs go?

In 2000, he proposed an act along with Sen. Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat and now an Independent from Connecticut, called the “American Community Renewal and New Markets Empowerment Act,” which, among other things, gave tax incentives to citizens who chose to invest in “entities seeking to provide capital to create new markets in low-income communities.”

The bill never made it out of committee, but it points out an obvious contradiction with his current view that the government should be hands off and let the market work itself out. Or maybe he thinks tax cuts don’t influence market behavior. 

In 2002 he continued his mission, co-sponsoring “The Community Development Homeownership Tax Credit Act” which would have spurred the construction and rehab of over half a million low-income homes. The legislation, while widely supported by low-income housing advocates — and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — was never enacted.

But he didn’t stop there. In 2005, when many in Congress were concerned about the staggering growth of Fannie and Freddie, they drafted legislation to rein in the size of their mortgage portfolios. Santorum, having never expressed real interest in the measure, jumped in only to propose an amendment that would strengthen the affordable housing goals of the two mortgage giants. 

While the measure didn’t end up passing due to Democratic disapproval of the bill, Democrats applauded his efforts to help the poor. 

All of this now seems quite contradictory to the sparse housing policy he seeks to enact now. Much of the “affordable housing” Santorum pushed for in his early days as a politician could only have been acheived by the government taking on more risk — risk he now credits as the reason for collapse but blames only on Democrats.

It seems odd that a “compassionate conservative” once so concerned with the housing plight of the poor would tell those same people, now looking for government assistance, to “be careful what you wish for,” as he did in Nevada prior to the primary there.

It also seems inconsistent, that after promoting low-income housing solutions, Santorum would take credit for predicting the housing crisis, as he did in a recent debate. The now-ultra-conservative candidate said he authored a letter that foretold “a meltdown and a bubble in the housing market” with several other senators.   

The letter actually says no such thing.

PolitiFact rated his claims that the letter was a crystal ball into the future of housing as “mostly false,” and I tend to agree. The letter actually warned of the risk the two giants might pose if they couldn’t cover their obligations, and expressed concern over poor regulation. It said nothing of a bubble, and certainly nothing about a meltdown.

I contacted Matt Beynon, Santorum’s communication director, to get a response to the PolitiFact rating — which they did briefly comment on. He indicated that the letter spoke for itself.

“If PolitiFact can’t read through that letter and see that, then it’s not our problem,” he said. “I’ve read the letter several times and it’s pretty explicit with what’s going to happen.”

Well, I disagree. While the letter certainly speaks of potential problems, it does not have the impact the campaign is framing it to have, and it certainly does not mitigate the damage his past could do to his run at the presidency. 

These issues only lurk in the background of this campaign, which has conveniently placed blame on others and completely avoided a record of inconsistencies. Perhaps now that Santorum has found his place in the campaign, his housing irregularities will come back to haunt him. 

jhuseman@housingwire.com
@JessicaHuseman

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