Protecting home ownership will be front and center in this year’s national elections, said top political strategists speaking with hundreds of REALTORS® Tuesday morning at the 2012 NAR Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic political strategist, said middle-aged women without a college education are the key swing demographic in this year’s elections. For this group, home ownership is of vital importance because of the impact of owning a home on family stability. Lake is president of national polling firm Lake Research Partners.
Given the political centrality of home ownership this year, the National Association of REALTORS®’ Home Ownership Matters campaign and the Rally to Protect the American Dream on Thursday at the Washington Monument couldn’t be more timely and important.
The Rally, says Lake, is a “very, very smart” move on the part of REALTORS®. “Your average politician doesn’t want to get on the other side of home ownership,” she said.
Lake’s national polling finds that, despite the downturn in housing, three-quarters of voters see home ownership as central to the American Dream and believe it’s the most important financial investment they’ll ever make and worth taking a risk for. The high regard for ownership is shared by both renters and owners who are underwater on their mortgage, she said. Almost 70 percent of underwater borrowers continue to believe home ownership is worth the financial investment.
Lake told the hundreds of REALTORS® to keep their eye on how the economy is doing in June, because that month is the “most predictive of the vote” in November. So, whether voters think the economy is improving or getting worse next month will be all-important.
Lake said most voters personally approve of President Barack Obama and most voters don’t hold him responsible for the country’s economic problems, but their views are mixed on how well he’s been dealing with the downturn. There’s a concern that what he’s done so far hasn’t worked well and that more needs to be done.
Gene Sperling, President Obama’s chief economic advisor, said later at the same session that the administration has done as much as it could to restore housing, and now it needs Congress to act on mortgage relief measures that are pending on Capitol Hill.
On its own, the administration has crafted mortgage modification standards and incentives resulting in some 5 million modifications, encouraged refinancings, persuaded lenders to extend mortgage forbearance to 12 months from the usual practice of three months, and allowed FHA and the two secondary mortgage market institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to sell their REO properties in bulk to investors — including for conversion to rentals in some cases. Sperling stressed that the REO bulk sales are only for selected markets in which such sales would be helpful to the market.
On the to-do list for Congress is a measure to allow all home owners, not just those with federally backed mortgages, to refinance their loan to take advantage of historically low interest rates.
Michael Steele, former head of the Republican National Committee, who spoke at the forum with Lake, said members of Congress take very seriously what REALTORS® tell them when they make their visits to Capitol Hill later this week. It’s key that REALTORS® tell their lawmakers about the impact of federal policies — such as Wall Street reform enacted two years ago — on the local market. If lenders aren’t making loans to creditworthy borrowers because of that law, he said, then REALTORS® must tell them that in their Hill visits. “You’ll get a response from them when you explain the impact,” he said.
- Robert Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine