What is the role of housing education and counseling in the future housing economy and finance system?
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In the past, housing education and counseling would have been considered ‘fluff’, brought out only for purposes of helping in a crisis, such as the past Section 235 homeownership defaults and the present underwater mortgage situation. Even today, the terms ‘waste, fraud, and abuse’ are thrown at such activities for pre-homeownership and even rental functionality. This was true also of housing management, until a HUD task force explained to a skeptical Congress its importance to sustainability of the housing stock it had been subsidizing. In times of fiscal austerity, like gym, art, and music classes in the education sphere, the software of housing tends to get the budget-cutters’ and Inspectors’ General gazes.
But, such quality controls and informed choices fall both under the goals of longer-term beneficial fiscal outcomes, prevention of future crises, and consumer rights. Whether it is part of the best practices of Family Self-Sufficiency home ownership for low-income person, written into the laws and regulations of middle-income housing purchases and rentals through HUD/DOJ, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection or State Attorneys Generals, fair housing initiatives, homeownership/rental association governances, or taught and discussed in various online, community educational venues, or marketed by non-profits and profits, the BPC Housing Commission can provide a helpful voice in the present conversation ‘cacophony’.
Part of the commission’s voice can be to start sorting out the bewildering ‘alphabet soup’ of federal, state, and local agencies that are present to provide for more intelligent choices on the part of the consumer and the places he/she can go for remedy and relief.
Step one would be to review the state of the practices, both here and abroad, in connection with the public policy assumptions connected to them. When a threshold of ‘just enough data and anecdotal evidence’ has been reached, step two would look at any outstanding issues and gaps in reaching sustainable public policies that the commission could present in terms of options. Some issues could include: Are there sufficient standards and criteria for measurement of success in whatever investments have been made (e.g., see NeighborWorks, NAR, and other partners in their efforts)? What about the role of timing as discussed in a recent Freddie Mac paper? Is there a ‘clearinghouse’ sufficient to provide ready access to strategies and informed choices? How can ‘waste, fraud, and abuse’ prevention be built in to a sustainable system and ward off critics, both concerned and ideological?
Step three would ask the blog question in this context: Do present practices fit in with the future demographics of household formation, age distribution, and cultural diversity? Step four would lead the commission to propose gap-filling and strategic recommendations for illuminating and supporting this significant look in the overall toolkit that the commission is refashioning and reinventing. It is an ideal organization for doing so.
Kent Watkins is Chairman of the National Academy of Housing and Sustainable Development.
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