Presidential candidates must address housing
The sky has been falling on housing for four years, and the 2012 presidential election cycle continues to be defined by arguments over the same namby-pamby sound bytes that defined U.S. elections before the housing crisis. But don't bother sending an SOS to the leaders of the free world. They just don't get it. The candidates have largely avoided this issue; and the president has tip-toed over it. A few months ago, the president told the public many of their fellow Americans are underwater on their mortgages. Really? The Federal Reserve – even though it's not exactly popular itself – has been dropping subtle hints about housing to the president, Congress, the candidates and anyone who will listen. Federal Reserve Board Governor Elizabeth Duke recently reiterated Chairman Ben Bernanke's plea for a focus on housing. Duke suggested overly restrictive lending standards, low consumer confidence and falling home prices remain major concerns. Indeed, investors of residential mortgage-backed securities refuse to jump back into a nascent private-label market until sounder, clearer securitization structures and practices are in place. After all, these are true capitalists, and they need sound rules to play the game. But what do we get from the presidential contenders? Honestly, very little detail on housing or what they will do with the mortgage finance space. Do they support bulk REO sales to clear the inventory of REOs held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? What about Bernanke's call for a national rental program? No one knows because no one is talking about it in their platforms in a forward-looking way. Telling the American people one's thoughts on housing may be dangerous territory with RMBS litigation exploding and former GSE executives on the opposite end of a Securities and Exchange Commission suit. Then there are millions of homeowners who have already lost their homes to foreclosure with nearly 2 million behind in their payments. Servicers initiated an average of more than 200,000 foreclosure starts every month in 2011, according to statistics through the month of November, according to Lender Processing Services. (LPS). While staying alive on the campaign trail often means living without specifics, it's time for the president and the candidates to provide a comprehensive, well-thought out housing and mortgage market plan. Make it specific: Does the Corker plan to wind down the GSEs make sense or do you have another idea to get private-label moving again? What about reps and warranties issues? How would you handle the foreclosure backlog and the shadow inventory? What about underwater borrowers and tighter lending standards? Do you support the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? A leader who can discuss these issues intelligently is one who has the potential to capture attention. Times have changed. People are awake ... and housing needs help. SOS Is anyone listening? Write to Kerri Panchuk.