Support for home owners is lacking in Washington, D.C., and Congress isn’t doing all it could to help the housing market recover, said industry experts and analysts who gathered yesterday in the nation’s capital to discuss ways to solve the country’s housing crisis and economic challenges.
Government policies that increase down payment requirements, reduce the size of federally insured mortgages, along with a failure to extend the federal flood insurance program long-term, and talk of reducing or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction are all harming home owners and the real estate market, said NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® President Ron Phipps, speaking at New Solutions for America’s Housing Crisis conference. “The market will self-correct if we stop doing harm,” he said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said he’d like to change many of those housing policies, including raising mortgage loan limits, which would make more home owners in high-cost areas eligible to refinance using lower-cost government-backed loan programs.
He also opposes a plan that would make loans more expensive by raising down payments for loans not backed by government loan guarantee programs, estimating that it would negatively affect 40% to 60% of would-be home buyers and refinancers.
The plan also includes “onerous” new credit standards that could leave millions of consumers unable to purchase or refinance home loans, said Ellen Schloemer, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending, a national consumer advocacy group.
Speakers also criticized Congress for failing to pass a long-term extension of the National Flood Insurance Program. As part of the budget agreement reached yesterday, Congress agreed to fund the flood program only through Nov. 18. When flood insurance isn’t available, home buyers can’t purchase homes in federal flood zones.
The mortgage interest deduction is also up for debate this year as Congress seeks ways to increase revenues and cut the federal deficit. Taking it away would be unfair to home owners who bought their homes counting on using the mortgage interest deduction, the panelists said.
Donald Marron, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center countered that the tax code has too many preferences. He suggested eliminating the mortgage interest deduction for second homes or gradually reducing it for primary homes. “All the changes we want to make it the tax code are going to hurt people,” he said.
Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries took a middle path on the mortgage interest deduction, saying that Congress should make any changes gradually over multiple years while creating new ways to support home ownership.
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