Housing experts call for help
By Sue Kirchhoff, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON In a break from harsh, election-year
economic rhetoric, a bipartisan group of housing experts is
issuing a joint call for tax cuts, expanded funding and other
strategies to help millions of Americans stranded in substandard
housing or homelessness, despite record homeownership levels.
In a book being released Thursday, Opportunity
and Progress, four prominent Democrats and Republicans set out
recommendations that include: a federal law barring predatory
lending, incentives for employers to assist worker housing,
a National Housing Trust Fund, a federal tax credit for low-income
buyers and expanded housing for the chronically homeless. "It's
a continuum that begins with housing for the most underprivileged
... through tax credits for homeowners," says Henry Cisneros,
former Democratic secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
"It's a bipartisan call to treat housing as a serious domestic
Cisneros is one of a group that includes Jack
Kemp, a former Republican HUD secretary; Nicolas Retsinas, director
of the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies;
and Kent Colton, former CEO of the National Association of Home
The proposals embrace the conservative standard
of tax incentives and the federal spending that has been favored
by liberals. Among them:
- A federal law prohibiting predatory lending,
a term describing practices such as loans to individuals who
do not have the income to repay, and "flipping,"
in which loans are repeatedly refinanced with no benefit to
borrowers. The group also suggests clear standards for high-cost
- Tax and other incentives for employer-assisted
affordable housing. Given that housing costs have outstripped
wages, the government should help employer efforts to provide
worker housing, such as down-payment assistance, the four
say. Possibilities include tax incentives, federal funding
and encouraging mortgage investors Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac to tailor products for employer-aided housing. They also
suggest steps by Fannie and Freddie to expand the availability
of affordable mortgages.
- A National Housing Trust Fund to support
building, preserving and rehabilitating of 1.5 million affordable
housing units in the next decade.
- A homeownership tax credit to help
low-income borrowers and community development efforts.