It’s Time to Debate Home Opportunity

Alan Jenkins

For months I’ve been part of a chorus of voices calling on the presidential candidates to talk about home opportunity. Their virtual silence on addressing foreclosures, restoring devastated communities, ensuring fair housing and lending, and resurrecting the American Dream has been both outrageous and baffling. Outrageous, because abuse by banks and inadequate consumer protections have cost millions of Americans their homes and visited untold suffering. Baffling, given the toll that the crisis continues to take on voters in battleground states like Nevada, Florida, and Ohio.

The tide, however, has begun to turn. After a broad coalition of housing, civil rights, and consumer protection groups sent an open letter to the candidates asking tough questions on housing, media outlets from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to U.S. News and World Report also joined the call.

Finally, last week, the Romney campaign released a white paper on housing policy. And, on Saturday, the President devoted his weekly radio address to the subject. The attention was welcome, but the candidates’ broad pronouncements lacked the specifics that American voters, including over 11 million underwater homeowners, need and deserve.

Tonight’s debate provides a chance to put meat on the bones. Moderator Jim Lehrer has announced that three of the debate’s six segments will focus on the economy, with a fourth focusing on the role of government. Along with job creation, home opportunity questions should be front and center in both categories.

Among the most important questions for both candidates:
How will you stem the flood of foreclosures that continues to inundate too many American communities? How will you ensure that Americans with the resources and desire to be successful homeowners are not thwarted by arbitrary restrictions, exploitation, or a lack of sound information? How will you help rejuvenate neighborhoods devastated by predatory lending and mass foreclosures? And how will you ensure that Americans of all races, ethnicities, and communities have an equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream?

For President Obama, an important follow-up question is what he would do differently, if reelected, to move effective reforms through a recalcitrant Congress? For Governor Romney, key questions arise from his statement a year ago in Nevada that the foreclosure crisis should be allowed to “run its course and hit the bottom.”

The groups who signed the letter to the candidates identified over two dozen policy solutions that can reverse or mitigate the current crisis. They provide the detail necessary to demand specificity from the men who would be president.

With 2 million foreclosure filings this year, and millions more at risk, it’s hard to see how a debate on domestic issues could reasonably ignore these questions. Let’s hope that Jim Lehrer sees things the same way.

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