Problems are opportunities to change what doesn’t work.
Our housing market is broken and despite what the critics now argue in favor of renting, the economy won’t recover until the housing market recovers and first-time homebuyers become a purchase force again.
In a month traditionally dedicated to celebrating the virtues of homeownership, headlines from the housing sector continue to be grim with news of double dip home values and investor purchases outpacing owner occupants. We’re on track to become a nation of renters and nobody seems to be paying attention to the long-term consequences of that. Many analysts and lawmakers have forgotten that it is the ability of working class families to own land, hearth and home that have distinguished our middle class from the rest of the world.
In the aftermath of World War II, with a still wobbly post-Depression economy, it was a housing expansion fueled by the GI Bill that drove the recovery of the economy. From 1944 to 1952, Veterans Affairs backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans. Before the war, college and homeownership were, for the most part, unreachable dreams for the average American.
The nation needed a shot in the arm then just like it does today. Returning GI youth and desire set the nation on an upward trajectory. What we learned: By helping a group of Americans assimilate back into our world, the rise of the tide helped everyone.
Fast-forward to today’s housing stalemate and the spiral of failed programs, and we’re in a political climate of over correction. Despite good intentions, regulators want to make it harder for creditworthy first-time homebuyers to get into the market with strict qualified residential mortgage regulations. In effect, the rule could essentially lock out first-time homebuyers from everything but the government-insured market. This makes no sense because it cuts off broad access to homeownership. When half of mortgage borrowers said in a recent poll that they would never be able to afford a 20 percent down payment, it’s a crystal clear sign that we’re moving in the wrong direction.
Just like the 1940s, we need to make homeownership attainable, safe and sustainable again for the new generation of buyers at hand. Today the segment of consumers with the purchase power to drive home sales is minorities and, more specifically, Latinos.
The size, birth rate, pace of household formation and buying power of this consumer group are well documented. Their strong family values, passionate worth ethic and entrepreneurial spirit are reshaping the marketplace. Latinos also still have a high desire for homeownership that has not been diminished by the foreclosure crisis. Why does this matter now? Because they represent a growing segment of the consumer group 26 to 46 years of age that are involved in most home sales transactions.
Hispanics and other first-time homebuyer groups can play an integral role in forging a turn around, if we let them. If we make it easier – not harder -- for gainfully employed, creditworthy homebuyers to buy a home now we can begin to move the glut of unsold homes and fill shuttered neighborhoods.
The tide can shift with housing as a catalyst. History offers important context to our true problem solving capabilities. If millions of unemployed GI Vets who were given access and opportunity – could help put an economically fragile nation back on track – so can today’s eager young Latino families.
We must not lose sight of the fact that the choices we make today will shape the social and economic opportunities of an entire generation. This much is certain: Without homeownership in the equation, working-class families will not have a financial legacy to leave their children like the World War II Vets did.