The housing market is a grand, influential sector of the global economy, one that ebbs and flows with overall economic performance. But even though the message remains consistent – fix housing, fix the economy – very few of the politicians campaigning for the presidency are addressing the topic.
“Home prices across the U.S. have dropped 30 percent from their peaks, a downturn that has sapped trillions of dollars in wealth from Americans,” said NPR’s Chris Arnold in a report on housing. “But so far, new ideas about how to fix the crisis have been scarce.”
It was a tale of two narratives in Nevada, Arnold said. In one section of the state, President Obama was unveiling a long-awaited revision to the Home Affordable Refinance Program, a measure aimed at helping one million underwater homeowners refinance their mortgages. In the other section, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were engaging in a televised debate, though little was said of housing.
In fact, of what was said, the candidates were critical of the President’s new initiative. “The right course is to let markets work, and in order to get markets to work and to help people, the best we can do is to get the economy going,” said Republican candidate Mitt Romney, according to Arnold’s report.
So why would politicians be so skittish with housing, when it’s so important for economic growth? Molly Ball, a writer for The Atlantic, thinks that the polarizing nature of housing, as well as its unruly complexity, plays a part.
“The housing issue, it seems, is a political hot potato – one every candidate can’t wait to toss to the next guy before it burns him up,” Ball wrote. “It’s one of those issues that confounds partisan equations and eludes easy messaging, because voters basically want to hear politicians say two contradictory things. They want the government to act to stem the tide of foreclosures. But they don’t want their money going to help those they see as irresponsible.”
The latter factor, Ball writes, is particularly precarious; after all, housing policy was what ultimately inspired Rick Santelli’s now infamous rant on CNBC that sparked the Tea Party protests.
But according to a recent article on the Wall Street Journal Dante Chinni, housing is simply too important to ignore, regardless of its politically dangerous nature.
“The truth is the housing mess is big and complicated,” Chinni wrote. “It’s tied to the overall economy and consumer confidence. It’s tied to the unemployment rate. It’s the kind of multifaceted problem that defies easy answers and that will take time to fix.”
Answers must be provided, though; and Chinni points out that voters in tough housing markets will be expecting them.
“Should the housing market continue to limp along – and foreclosures were up in a lot of counties over the last few months – people in these places are going to be demanding answers from those running for president,” Chinni wrote. “And any candidate who wants to win their votes will need to have an answer.”