Up until recently, the housing crisis has been mysteriously absent from the GOP candidate’s agenda – when they discuss economics, they talk about creating jobs and reducing debts, while largely ignoring the fact that millions of American homeowners are fighting to avoid foreclosure.
But as the Republicans battle for votes in Florida’s crucial January 31 primary, the housing issue has suddenly become much harder to simply brush under the carpet. Along with California and Nevada, Florida has been an epicenter for foreclosures over the last five years, with residents in some areas seeing more than 50% wiped off the value of their homes. Clearly then, housing is a crucial issue in a crucial vote that could go a long way to securing the presidential nomination for whoever wins.
So with the Republican candidate’s stance on housing firmly under the microscope at last, is it too much to ask the respective candidates to come up with any concrete solutions? Unfortunately, it appears it may well be…
Mitt Romney has been the most vocal of candidates in the housing arena in recent days, staging rallies at Florida foreclosure hot spots, laying the blame on fellow candidate Newt Gingrich and President Barack Obama while asserting he can fix the problems.
But despite all of his bluster, Romney, like the rest of the GOP’s remaining candidates, has offered few concrete ideas.
Romney, along with Gingrich, has argued that the repeal of new federal banking regulations, together with the reform or dismantling of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will free up lending and help to boost home prices.
But aside from these ideas – which have faced sharp criticism from economists and consumer advocates – the GOP candidates have offered little in the way of answers to millions of homeowners threatened with foreclosure.
Romney’s apparent lack of ideas was exposed last Monday when the Massachusetts governor held a discussion with eight Tampa Bay residents who lost homes, business and jobs during the housing crisis.
The residents poured heavy criticism on banks for their troubles – accusing them of refusing to reduce mortgage principals or interest rates. Several of the residents pleaded with Romney for stronger intervention by the government.
Romney appeared to be sympathetic, and agreed that banks need to do better, but stopped short of promising to push for mortgage modifications, an issue that goes against the Republican’s traditional emphasis on minimal government intervention in the economy.
Sadly, Romney’s rivals offered little more in the way of ideas. Ron Paul seems to have taken a non-intervention stance on the housing issue as well, saying that the housing crisis is “government manufactured” and that “the best thing you can do is get out of the way.”
When questioned about the housing issue in a debate on NBC on Monday night, all that Rick Santorum could propose was that we “let capitalism work.”
As for Newt Gingrich, all he appeared to do was echo Romney’s statements, saying that by repealing the Dodd Frank financial regulations we would see the economy “improving overnight”. Gingrich stated that he believed Dodd Frank had an “anti-housing bias”, slowing down federal regulators and making it harder to make loans for housing.
Few people are convinced by this argument however. Kathleen Day, of the Center for Responsible Lending, said that the attacks on Dodd Frank were “ridiculous”.
“The radical notion in Dodd Frank is that lenders have to make a reasonable assessment that the person can afford the loan,” she said. “That is really fundamental. It’s quite remarkable the industry abandoned that notion.”
In the wake of last week’s State of the Union address last week, when President Obama outlined the housing problems and a number of solutions at length, it's fast becoming clear that the GOP candidates are going to need to offer a lot more if they want to be taken seriously on the housing issue.