President Obama will square off in a debate against his Republican opponent Mitt Romney in Denver, Colorado tonight. According to the latest data, Colorado is in the top ten states in the nation for foreclosures, with one out of every 617 housing units receiving a foreclosure notice in the month of August. Housing has remained a consistent drag on the economy over the last several years.
If the candidates are asked about housing policy, and there’s certainly no bet that they will be, neither of them has much of a record at which to point. Romney recently released his housing “plan,” which was nothing but vague assertions and right-wing rhetoric. For foreclosure prevention, all the plan says is “a Romney-Ryan Administration will bring clarity in this area.”
The paper also gives no specifics about Romney’s plan to reform government backed mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, but merely asserts that reform will take place. So far, the clearest sign of what a Romney administration would do on housing comes from his statement that the foreclosure process should “run its course and hit the bottom.”
Romney’s refusal to release any details is a bit surprising considering the Obama administration’s weak record when it comes to housing. The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which was supposed to prevent three to four million foreclosures, has resulted in 825,000 permanent mortgage modifications; one million borrowers, meanwhile, have started the program without successfully navigating it to the end. According to a recent report, recalcitrant banks caused 800,000 more foreclosures under HAMP than they should have.
Obama’s Federal Housing Finance Agency — which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — has steadfastly stood against the two mortgage giants providing principal reductions to homeowners with federally backed mortgages, even though principal reduction is one of the surest ways to keep a borrower in her home. Adding insult to injury, the FHFA is planning to punish homeowners in states that make it harder to foreclose by raising their fees.
This seems to be a ripe topic for discussion, if moderator Jim Lehrer decides to ask about it. Hopefully he does better with the subject than CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.