The Obama administration and states around the country have taken important steps in recent months toward putting American homeownership and financial security back on track. But it’s clear that more ambitious solutions are needed.
After a lull due to negotiations over fraudulent bank practices, foreclosures are expected to come roaring back this year, with hundreds of thousands of Americans newly at risk of losing their homes. As the scourge of foreclosures continues, the economic security of families and the stability of communities remain at risk. The crisis has deepened inequality throughout the country, and continues to hold us back as a nation.
To be effective, America’s solutions to this crisis must match the scale and shape of the problem. They must stem foreclosures while ensuring that the abuses that caused this problem never happen again. They must help families and communities rebuild their economic security while ensuring that successful homeownership remains a firm steppingstone to opportunity for working Americans. They must protect people from discrimination and ensure fair housing and lending for all Americans.
Earlier this month, a group of housing experts that includes The Opportunity Agenda, National Council of La Raza, and the National Fair Housing Alliance released a Compact for Home Opportunity. The Compact offers over a dozen practical policy solutions that, taken together, will reduce foreclosures, help families and communities restore their economic security, and rebuild the American Dream for the 21st century. It is a crucial part of the national Home for Good campaign that is gaining strength around the country.
One of the Compact’s calls is for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce the principal on loans they own or back to fair market value. A range of economists, experts, and Administration officials agree that doing so would prevent foreclosures while strengthening our economy, improving overall property values and, in the long term, benefiting Fannie and Freddie’s solvency. Yet, Edward DeMarco, acting head of the federal agency that governs Fannie and Freddie, has inexplicably refused to consider principal reduction as a broad-based solution. His position is particularly indefensible, given that Fannie and Freddie are currently owned by the American people after a massive federal rescue in 2008.
While keeping the pressure on DeMarco is key, the Compact for Home Opportunity offers many other things that federal, state, and local actors, as well as private industry, can do today to drastically improve Americans’ housing prospects. One particularly effective example is supporting qualified counseling to Americans considering homeownership and those facing financial difficulty. Counseling by professionals certified by HUD significantly reduces the likelihood of being snagged by predatory lending practices and of running into financial trouble down the line. It’s an investment that saves homes and heartache, as well as tax dollars.
Principal reduction by Fannie and Freddie, housing counseling, and many other solutions exist that can strengthen home opportunity for everyone in our nation. It’s not too late to turn things around. But the clock is ticking.