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An Opportunity to Reshape Housing Policy

At a press conference last week, BPC launched a new initiative to address the nation’s housing policy.

For too long the United States has lacked coherent federal housing policy. Democrats and Republicans have volleyed back and forth the responsibility for decisions having led to the nation’s economic growth and decline. This blame-game scenario is playing out with regard to the recent financial crisis. The ensuing recession has been said by some to have been triggered by federal policies put in place to increase homeownership to never-before-seen, perhaps unsustainable rates.

[Watch the event video here]

It is for these reasons BPC launched a bipartisan Housing Commission. Led by former U.S. Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Henry Cisneros and Mel Martinez, also a former U.S. Senator, former U.S. Senator Kit Bond and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and BPC Co-Founder George Mitchell, the Commission will address the future government role in housing policy. Each co-chair noted that bipartisan partnerships had led to some of the most successful achievements in their respective careers.

Throughout the next year the Commission will draw on its collective expertise, bring together experts from across the political spectrum, invite public opinion, and conduct rigorous research. In early 2013 it aims to put forth a package of policy recommendations for consideration by the administration and Congress. The Commission’s recommendations should firmly establish national goals in housing, and map out a strategy for meeting future housing needs. Secretary Cisneros stated that the intention of the Commission is to build a bridge, with housing policy, that can move our nation from here to tomorrow. 

With any crisis comes an opportunity. The economic crisis enveloping the world, which has created market instability and contributed to waning consumer confidence, has presented an imperative to change course. Each of the Commission’s co-chairs have supported the notion that our nation is at a major point of departure, perhaps more so than at any moment in recent history. The financial crisis that revealed devastating weakness in our housing finance system has, as a result, hurt so many families, calling into question the very policies that got us here. Senator Mitchell, during last week’s event, said that housing should be high on the priority list given its inextricable link to jobs and economic growth. 

While job creation and deficit reduction have rightly dominated the national discussion, strengthening housing markets, consumer confidence, and market liquidity should now be a major focus of our economic recovery and long-term growth. The housing sector can once again help lead. Since the end of World War II, whenever our nation experienced an economic downturn, it has always been the housing sector that led the country to economic recovery. As pointed out by Senator Martinez, we will not get the economy back on track without a robust housing recovery.  

Much of the discussion during last week’s launch event was about the nation’s shifting demographics, and the need for a reformed housing policy to meet projected future demands. Future generations, in a nation where the number of seniors, over 65 years in age, is projected to increase from 9 percent of the total population in 2009 to 20 percent in 2030, will bring unprecedented challenges. Ours is a nation of increasing diversity. Based on reports from the U.S. Census Bureau, researchers at the Urban Institute project that Hispanics will account for 28 percent of Americans by 2050 and white non-Hispanic for just half of Americans even if current immigration levels—about one million net immigrants annually—remain constant indefinitely.  This ethnic, racial, and cultural newness will certainly impact housing demand. Senator Bond stated that in order to construct effective policies we must have a clear idea of where we are going. An examination of demographic and economic trends will help provide that context. The leadership of the Commission must be strategic in advising policies that look toward tomorrow, in order to more effectively target investment today. 

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