As the nation emerges from the recession, it is widely accepted that housing, as in the past, will be an instrumental part of a meaningful economic recovery. While opinions may differ on the role of the government and the best approach to meet our current and future needs, we can all agree that the housing finance and delivery systems in place today are in desperate need of repair.
As a co-chair of the new Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission, I will work closely with my fellow colleagues and co-chairs— former Senators Kit Bond, George Mitchell and Mel Martinez — over the next year to craft a set of recommendations for how we can begin to address the nation’s struggling housing sector. Together with a slate of experts drawn from housing and related industries, we will focus on developing practical solutions that can be championed by Republicans and Democrats alike.
There is no denying that we face formidable challenges.
A large inventory of vacant foreclosed homes continues to weigh on the market, depressing property values and dampening new construction activity. Millions of homeowners have fallen behind on their mortgage payments, and millions now owe more than their home is worth. At the same time, many prospective first-time buyers continue to delay purchasing a home because of concerns about their job security and a lack of confidence in the economy. These trends put pressure on a rental market that, in many places, is already unaffordable to working families.
The interests of the various stakeholders who stand to gain or lose from interventions in the housing sector often do not align, nor do the philosophical views of our lawmakers, making it difficult to build consensus around solutions. Adding another layer of complexity, as the first baby boomers reach retirement age and growing numbers of immigrants call this country home, we face rapid shifts in demand and household composition for which we are ill-prepared.
Notwithstanding these obstacles, it’s clear that a full economic recovery depends on the health of the housing sector. A fully functioning housing market makes it possible for jobseekers to relocate and pursue employment opportunities in other cities and states. Robust residential growth generates jobs for workers in a variety of occupations across the construction, finance and building materials industries, not to mention the indirect employment effects created by this activity.
Common sense suggests, and research has verified, that a stable, affordable home lays the essential groundwork for children to succeed and reach their full potential. And just as having a stable, affordable home is critical to the health and well-being of children and families, sound housing policies are fundamental to the nation’s prosperity and ability to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.
The Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission has an opportunity to renew and improve the nation’s housing system, and ensure that our programs and policies align with current and future needs and imperatives. I am confident that the diverse viewpoints of my fellow co-chairs and commissioners will contribute to the development of balanced, innovative and forward-looking solutions that will help to turn around the economic prospects of the nation and enrich the daily life of those who call it home.