Calling on Congress to Advance Home Opportunity

Alan Jenkins

In tough times, there’s some good news on the housing front. In slow but meaningful steps around the country, decisionmakers are adopting key elements of the Compact for Home Opportunity, and the reality for American homeowners and communities is beginning to improve. But there’s a hitch. The hitch is Congress.

The Compact for Home Opportunity is a collection of solutions from experts around the country designed to stem foreclosures, rebuild communities, protect fair housing and lending, and restore homeownership as one pathway to opportunity. It represents the policy engine behind the Home for Good campaign, a coalition of individuals and organizations throughout the nation concerned about housing opportunities for all Americans.

An upcoming report from The Opportunity Agenda finds meaningful progress—amidst a few setbacks—in implementation of the Compact through action by the Obama Administration, the courts, several states and localities, non-profits, and even banks.

Some of the positive developments include:
➢ The President’s nomination of Congressman Mel Watt, a long-time champion of consumer protections and civil rights, to replace Edward DeMarco as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

➢ The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s release of final rules on mortgage servicing that will help to maintain fair treatment of consumers by servicers.

➢ The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s issuance of a final rule on “disparate impact,” formalizing the national standard for determining whether a practice violates the Fair Housing Act.

➢ A U.S. District Court’s final approval of a settlement in a civil rights case, Thompson v. HUD, that includes key inclusionary zoning provisions for Baltimore.

➢ Provisions of the California Homeowner Bill of Rights and an amendment to the California Civil Code that adopted the Compact’s recommendations on own-to-rent programs.

➢ Exploration by municipalities like Oakland with vacant property registration and related strategies to foster better maintenance of foreclosed properties by banks and other institutional owners.

➢ Wells Fargo’s certification of the Short Sale Lease Back Program, which allows some qualified homeowners to stay in their homes as renters after a “short sale.”

These and other efforts are making a difference. Foreclosures, for instance, dropped this spring by 24% from the year before, despite continuing high unemployment and rising mortgage interest rates. And fair housing and lending settlements are bringing meaningful relief to victimized homeowners and communities, along with accountability to key financial institutions.

But far more is needed. There were still over 1 million homes in some stage of foreclosure in April, and that’s on top of the 4.4 million completed foreclosures since the financial crisis began in September 2008. Thousands of communities, like Oakland and Baltimore, remain devastated by long-standing patterns of predatory and discriminatory lending. The Home Opportunity crisis continues to harm millions of families and communities, and to hold back our economic recovery. And it is taking a particularly great toll on communities of color.

While all housing stakeholders must do more, the upcoming status report finds that it is Congress that is missing in action. Whereas some innovative lawmakers like Keith Ellison and John Conyers have introduced bills that would advance important elements of the Compact, Congress has passed virtually no legislation to address the continuing Home Opportunity crisis. And the slow-motion train wreck known as the sequester is eroding some of the effective solutions that other actors have initiated.

That’s unacceptable. It’s also profoundly unnecessary. Many of the Compact’s legislative recommendations, like expanding consumer counseling and piloting federal own-to-rent or “sale-leaseback” initiatives, would demonstrably save taxpayer funds as well as families’ homes and security. Others, like extending or making permanent the Protect Tenants at Foreclosure Act, would represent a continuation of existing policies that have proven effective.

There’s still time for Congress to act, but it will only happen if we demand it. As this blog goes online, the Senate has finally confirmed Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by a vote of 66 to 34. Call on your Senators and Representative today to advance the Compact for Home Opportunity.

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