Housing Commission: A Sign Policymakers Finally Get Homeownership?

Reaching consensus in Washington is more difficult today than ever before, but the housing crisis is too big of an economic burden for a new bipartisan commission to get bogged down in politics.

A D.C. think tank, the Bipartisan Policy Center, last week launched a housing commission tasked with finding long-term solutions to help the housing market and address issues affecting home owners. Chaired by former Sens. George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.), and previous HUD Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Mel Martinez, the commission will have to produce recommendations that not only cure the ailing housing market but also pass the Congressional gauntlet.

For several decades now, the housing industry has been the victim of well-intentioned but misguided policies. A commission that will set aside partisan differences and focus on issues like increasing Federal Housing Administration loan limits, making sure flood insurance is available, and maintaining the mortgage interest deduction is needed now more than ever. It’s going to take the best ideas — on both sides of the aisle — to get Americans back in their homes. 

At a recent press conference, each of the commission’s co-chairs said the housing market is inextricably linked to the economic recovery. “Housing isn’t only a basic human need,” Mitchell said. “It’s also a critical element of our economy, and now, more than ever, is the time for a fresh look at this issue.”

Bond said there’s no question that the American housing system is broken. “We aren’t going to come out with a Band-Aid within just a couple of months because, as what’s been described (as) one Band-Aid here may cause a wound to open up over there,” Bond added.

Martinez went as far as to describe the housing crisis as a “human crisis.” His remarks aren’t hyperbole. The negative impact that a weak housing market has on employment contributes to societal as well as economic troubles. How are children supposed to focus on school when their parents are out of work and worried about losing their house because they can’t meet their mortgage payments?

Unfortunately, the commission isn’t slated to release its findings until the first quarter of 2013, making home owners wonder if its work will be too little too late. However, Bond said it’s unlikely for Congress to act before then. “If the Senate is still anything like it was before I left, the chances of them getting anything done on housing in 2012 are somewhere between slim and none,” Bond said.

Despite this delay, it’s reassuring to finally see policymakers recognizing the importance of a full housing recovery. Along with the executive order issued by President Obama last week that introduces new rules for federally guaranteed mortgages, enabling home owners with little or no equity in their homes to refinance and avoid foreclosure, it looks as if we’re making some headway.

Do you think the new housing commission will be able to come to a consensus and find long-term policy solutions that Congress will adopt, or is it too little too late?