The Republican presidential candidates let a great opportunity slip away during Tuesday night's presidential debate to explain how they would address the nation's housing problems to get the housing market and economy back on track.

There can be no economic recovery without a housing recovery, yet the silence on housing was deafening during the debate.

As a homebuilder from Reno, Nev., it is particularly ironic that with the debate in Las Vegas — the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis — the candidates chose to duck this topic and other critical housing issues.

But the absence of specific policy proposals to spur the housing market and promote homeownership is not limited to the GOP presidential contenders.

President Obama needs to take an affirmative position on homeownership as well. The failure of the administration to put forth pro-housing policies is impeding the economic recovery while hurting job growth and consumer confidence.

In normal economic times, housing accounts for more than 17% of the nation's economic output. Building 100 single-family homes generates 305 full-time jobs, $23.1 million in wage and business income and $8.9 million in taxes and revenue for state, local and federal governments.

Although more than 1.4 million residential construction workers have been idled since April 2006, several markets are showing signs of improvement, but policy headwinds are preventing workers from returning to their jobs, keeping homebuyers on the sidelines and harming the economic recovery.

Credit conditions remain extremely tight for homebuyers and homebuilders alike, preventing creditworthy borrowers from obtaining affordable home loans and small firms from getting construction loans to build even pre-sold homes and create jobs in their communities.

Policymakers are also considering mandating 20% down payments for homebuyers and abolishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which would make it even more difficult to obtain an affordable 30-year home loan, the major housing finance tool for most Americans. On Thursday, the traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage came under attack during a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

Meanwhile, some leaders in Washington are calling for eliminating or drastically reducing the mortgage interest deduction, which would act as a tax on millions of middle-class homeowners, place more downward pressure on home values and further inflame the foreclosure mess.

Instead of arguing who is to blame for the downturn, all the 2012 presidential hopefuls need to be addressing these housing issues head-on. Housing and homeownership are critical to a strong and prosperous nation. If any of these anti-housing policies are codified, it could fundamentally alter the ability of the nation to sustain a middle class that has contributed to a century of economic progress.

Nielsen is chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, a Washington-based trade association representing more than 160,000 members involved in home building, remodeling, multifamily construction and related aspects of residential and light commercial construction.