For all their posturing and preaching, until very recently, many (if not all) of the candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign had not even broached the subject of housing in their campaign speeches.
That all changed last week, when Martin O’Malley, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, and Rand took part in a day-long Housing Summit at the Saint Anselm College New Hampshire Institute of Politics, which was organized by the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families.
So why do the candidates not normally talk about housing?
When asked at the Housing Summit why it’s so hard to stay focused on housing, Christie provided the primary reason why housing doesn’t make the stump speech: “It’s not a sexy issue, it depresses people,” he said.
But could housing prove to be a critical part of the campaign? Pam Patenaude certainly thinks so.
In a blog posted on HousingWire earlier this week, Patenaude, the president of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America's Families and the former director of housing policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, argues that the 2016 candidates need to be talking about housing, going so far as to write that pushing valuable housing policy could help the next president get elected.
Well, it turns out there’s a new candidate who will talk about housing, and talk about it extensively. In fact, he’s making housing his sole campaign platform. And given his day job, it makes sense.
Meet your new presidential candidate: Jonathan Smoke.
Smoke, the chief economist at Realtor.com, declared his candidacy in an article posted to Realtor.com entitled “As President, I’ll Make American Housing Great Again—Really.”
According to Smoke’s article, he’s neither Republican nor Democrat. Rather, he’s a member of the self-founded Housing Party.
“The market won’t solve all of our housing problems on its own,” Smoke writes.
“And our government seems incapable of working together to find solutions that can help,” he continues. “America needs a leader who will put housing first on the national agenda.”
Smoke, who was featured in HousingWire Magazine in January, writes that given the nature of the 2016 election thus far, with “weirdly unlikely ascendant candidates,” like Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Ben Carson near the lead in their respective parties, why not cast “your precious vote” for someone who actually cares about housing?
Everyone’s worried about the overall health and direction of the economy. Well, addressing our housing needs will produce substantial economic and societal benefits. Trust me on this.
Housing typically represents 18% of all economic activity in the U.S., and its growth has one of the largest multiplier effects on the economy. Each new home sold relates to construction jobs, building materials, real estate services, financial services, government services, and spill-over consumer services.
But six years into an economic recovery, new construction remains well beneath normal levels of activity. Just catching up to normal would help get the economy out of the lackluster growth we’ve seen so far. However, the market doesn’t seem capable of getting us back to normal any time soon.
And Smoke writes that he knows how to fix it.
Smoke’s platform is built on four major tenets: immigration reform, financial reform, reforming local regulations, and affordable housing aid.
In Smoke’s own words, immigration reform is critical to housing. “Builders are facing labor shortages to construct the below-normal number of units they are starting today,” Smoke writes. “The lack of progress on immigration reform is therefore also hindering housing.”
Smoke also argues that lending needs to be made easier. “Lending for land acquisition, development, and construction has disappeared from its traditional source for many local builders: community banks,” he writes. “The impact of new financial regulations is hampering traditional local lending.”
Smoke also calls on local authorities to do away with “exclusionary zoning policies and fees applied to new construction” that make constructing new homes an incredibly expensive proposition.
Smoke also writes that the country needs more affordable housing aid. “The most effective way to fund affordable housing, the low-income housing tax credit, is too limited today to make substantial progress in addressing the acute shortage of affordable housing that most cities face,” he writes.
Here at HousingWire, we’re all in on Smoke’s campaign, even if it’s not a real one.
Helping to bring housing to the forefront of the country’s political discourse is a noble effort, and for that, we applaud him.
So, vote Smoke in 2016. At least he knows what he’s talking about.