Mark Winston Griffith
Treasury to Promote Homeownership? Not so fast
A version of this entry was posted on Huffington Post
It couldn't be more obvious that this country needs a response to the financial crisis that allows the housing bubble to deflate and the housing market to correct itself. So why is the Treasury Department actually conspiring to keep housing prices high and aggressively encouraging a new wave of homeownership?
The Wall Street Journal reported last week:
The Treasury Department is considering a plan to revitalize the U.S. home market that would push down interest rates for loans to purchase a home, according to people familiar with the matter.
The plan, which is in the development stage, would temporarily use the clout of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to encourage banks to lend at rates as low as 4.5%, more than a full point lower than prevailing rates for standard 30-year fixed-rate mortgages....
Treasury views this plan as potentially halting the slide in home prices by enabling borrowers to afford bigger loans, thus increasing demand and pushing up home values. The lower interest rates would be available only to borrowers who are buying a home, not those refinancing a mortgage.
Most supporters of this idea would argue that the housing market, without this kind of intervention, could be in for an "over-correction." They point out that the Treasury plan could jump start the housing market and this would lift all boats. Others are not so sure.
Alyssa Katz, the former of City Limits Magazine and the author of the upcoming book, Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us, commented that the plan "will do wonders for the share prices of homebuilders and prompt millions of homeowners to refinance, creating a swell of new business for mortgage brokers and bankers, but won't actually help those who are having real trouble paying their mortgages -- whose incomes and credit won't allow them to take advantage of the new rates. Low interest rates will keep home prices propped up at wildly inflated levels and encourage the continued reliance on excessive debt to sustain households and the economy."
The truth is homeownership as the path to the American dream has been oversold and recklessly exploited to fuel the American economy. Attempts to resurrect the so-called "ownership society" from the dead, will only come back to haunt us.