Fixing the economics of housing starts with trust

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What are some of the key characteristics of a healthy housing system? And how can the success of these features be measured?

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Our great nation is experiencing a crisis in housing. Too many (lenders, borrowers and others) have taken advantage of a system that allowed the common values this country was founded upon to be violated. Therefore as we consider the solutions to our housing challenges, it is critical to remember our formative values. One such value was discussed at a recent Bipartisan Policy Center's Housing Commission meeting. Commission member Rob Couch recommended that trust must be overtly recognized as the bedrock upon which our housing system flourishes. Too many don't believe any more in the legal contract and this is a breakdown in trust according to Couch. The Housing Commission at BPC is collaborating with the Jack Kemp Foundation to ensure that common-sense solutions to today’s complex and dynamic challenges are considered and highlighted. My father, Jack Kemp, believed deeply in people and in the institutions of this country, which he understood as a grand experiment.

In 1992, he spoke about his and our responsibility with regard to the welfare system as well as the values which undergird the housing system:

"On the left, there are too many who think people don't want to work. They want to be perpetually on welfare and if they get a job, they could not fulfill the welfare conditions, and over on the right, you get an equally elitist attitude: Well I picked myself up by my bootstraps, why can't they?

It is very difficult to pick yourself up by the bootstraps when you don't have boots, let alone bootstraps. The purpose of government policies and public-private partnerships is to provide some opportunity for people to get access to the boots and straps of ownership, entrepreneurship, jobs and education - an opportunity to improve their lot in life - and right now the system is not working. It is not the values of the poor or the low-income women who live at Dearborn that need to be called in to question in the United States of America; it's the values of the welfare system that keep them poor, that perpetuates poverty and dependency and that hurt people for trying to get out of poverty that ought to be called into question. It is not the values of the poor that we should challenge; it is the values of the system that perpetuates poverty, and I want to say here tonight that we can fight poverty, but we've got to change the system, and the only way to change the system is to introduce market-oriented, incentive-based rewards back into housing, employment, entrepreneurship, ownership and education.."

Thankfully, Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros channeled grassroots energy and helped change the housing system and President Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott and Clay Shaw helped change the welfare system. These examples of serving one's party best by serving one's country first are worth remembering. The BPC Housing Commission is addressing our housing challenges by remembering that critical values, like trust, equality of opportunity and incentive-based policy will restore our housing sector as a vital component of our recovering economy.

Another BPC Housing Commission member, Renee Lewis Glover, reminds us of another principle that my dad believed in, "when such great economic disparity exists between the races, the simple-minded who don’t know or understand history will conclude it’s because of race. No, it’s because of economics."

The economics of housing needs to be fixed and it starts when everybody believes in a foundational value, trust.

Let's establish trust and then grow together, endeavoring to leave no one behind.

Jimmy Kemp is President of the Jack Kemp Foundation.


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