On the House: Feeling squeeze, housing industry pushes back

Posted: January 29, 2012

The grandson runs up to the front porch, leaping into a hug from Grandpa. Without missing a beat, he asks how long Grandpa has lived there.

"A long time," Grandpa says, reminding him that his mother grew up in the house.

"I'm gonna have a house like this when I grow up," the youngster chirps. A worried look crosses Grandpa's face as the camera pans across the street to a house being emptied into a moving van.

"I hope so, buddy," Grandpa says. "I hope so."

The ad, created for the National Association of Realtors, reflects the housing industry's widespread contention that homeownership is under attack.

On Jan. 12, builders, supported by other housing-industry groups, gathered in Columbia, S.C., to "rally for homeownership," realizing, of course, that Republican presidential candidates were campaigning in advance of that state's primary. (Newt Gingrich visited.)

Issues for the builders, as summarized in a petition to Congress that was circulated at the meeting, are protection of the home-mortgage tax deduction, easing of mortgage and business credit, and resolution of the foreclosure crisis.

"We believe housing and homeownership issues affect all Americans and stabilizing and restoring the health of the housing market is critical" to economic recovery, said Moe Veissi, the Realtors' national president.

In the past, "we have submitted statements to both parties' platform committees before each political convention," Veissi said.

Housing became a national campaign issue in the last century. Herbert Hoover's promise of a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage assumed the stove and automobile storage would be part of a voter's house.

President Harry Truman made it a major part of his 1948 campaign, since the 19 previous years of the Great Depression and World War II had created a huge shortage of affordable housing.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan, facing reelection, was lobbied by Realtors into removing the mortgage-interest deduction from tax reform. Early in 1992, another election year, President George H.W. Bush proposed a tax credit for first-time buyers of new homes, but the legislation never became law.

Bush's Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton, promised funding for affordable housing, but the money wasn't there. So the Democratic platforms in 1996 and 2000 focused on expanding the homeownership rate by cutting costs, making financing easier, and removing barriers to low- and moderate-income buyers.

President George W. Bush also expanded efforts in his first term to increase homeownership rates. The 2004 campaign saw Bush propose zero-down-payment mortgages that critics said would cost taxpayers $500 million. Democrat John Kerry wanted to restore funding for affordable housing he said the GOP had excised during Bush's term.

By the 2008 election, housing issues had moved to the forefront of both party platforms.

Democrats wanted the foreclosure-prevention program enacted by Congress implemented "quickly and effectively so that at-risk homeowners can get help and hopefully stay in their home."

Republicans advocated "timely and carefully targeted aid to those hurt by the housing crisis so that affected individuals can have a chance to trade a burdensome mortgage for a manageable loan that reflects their home's market value."

Four years later, the housing crisis is still playing out, and it's anyone's guess what proposed cures this election will bring.

One thing is certain, however. Veissi said Realtors would push for preservation of the mortgage-interest deduction "as soon as the platform committees are formed."

On the House:

Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens' home improvement column appears Fridays in Home & Design. See instructional videos at Al's Place. Go to philly.com/yourplace

Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com, or @alheavens on Twitter.

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