President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney should start talking about their housing policy intentions, experts in the industry said.
A group of associations, nonprofits and think tanks made speeches and conducted a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to elevate the housing debate onto the national stage. They challenged political candidates to address the still ailing housing market as the presidential campaign shifts into high gear.
Both presidential candidates have been mostly silent on housing policy aside from Obama's push to allow more homeowners to refinance and Romney's comments early on the campaign trail to let the foreclosure process run its course.
Neither campaign, to date, has released substantive housing policy proposals.
"We are entering a critical phase of the presidential campaign," said David Abromowitz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. CAP and the National Council of La Raza, among others, sponsored the event.
In conjunction with the event, CAP released a set of seven housing questions it said it sent to each presidential candidate in a "Home for Good" campaign to bring more awareness to the still struggling housing market:
1. What will you do to prevent more unnecessary foreclosures and keep more families from losing their homes?
2. How will you address the problem of “underwater” mortgages?
3. How will you revitalize communities already hit hard by the foreclosure crisis?
4. How will you meet the pressing need for affordable rental housing?
5. What will you do to assure that working and middle-class families can achieve homeownership in the future?
6. What do you plan to do with the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and what will take their place in the mortgage market of the future?
7. How do you plan to protect households from predatory lending and discrimination in the U.S. mortgage market?
"We've caused extraordinary damage, my industry has," said Mortgage Bankers Association President David Stevens, who spoke on a panel at the event. "The question is, How do we get hope back into the housing system?"
Stevens said he doesn't want to create irrational exuberance over recent good news about home sales and house prices, but rather seeks balance in the housing market, including a balance between homeownership and renting.
"Clearly we had too many people promoted into homeownership and it disparaged and destroyed communities," he said.
Homeownership needs to shift toward well-qualified borrowers with fully documented loans who can prove their ability to repay while balance on the renter side requires addressing a shortage of affordable rentals in key urban markets, Stevens said.
"I'm very concerned about the future of access to homeownership. In the effort to eliminate risk and unfair practices of the past few years, we've moved too far," he said.
First-time homebuyers, especially, could be locked out of the market with the movement toward requiring a 20% down payment and higher credit scores, he said.
Regulators and the housing industry must find a balance in which access to credit is not restricted, Stevens said.
"That's the fundamental dialogue that we need to be having."