Federal Actions We Need Now

TARP is a start, but we need to get credit flowing again.

February 1, 2009

Helping you succeed in real estate is my No. 1 priority as president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

That's why, in January, I testified before Congress on the critical actions the federal government needs to take to bring balance back to our nation's real estate markets.

NAR pushed hard for passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008—the $700 billion rescue package signed into law in October to shore up our nation's ailing banks. The centerpiece of that bill was the Troubled Asset Relief Program. At the time the bill was passed, we said that the rescue would be effective only if this program got capital flowing again. So far, that hasn't happened. Without delay, we need government action to stimulate lending, boost homebuyer confidence, and reduce the current foreclosure rate. In my testimony, I strongly urged Congress to pass NAR's Housing Stimulus Plan, which would:

  • Target funds to lower mortgage interest rates.
  • Eliminate the repayment feature of the first-time homebuyer tax credit and expand it to all buyers.
  • Make higher FHA and conforming loan limits that applied in 2008 permanent.

These core priorities will go only so far, however. The federal government and the mortgage lending industry also need to address operational issues that are impeding the delivery of mortgage credit and increasing foreclosures. For example:

  • The Treasury Department should provide funds through TARP to make loans for housing and other consumer purposes, establish foreclosure prevention programs, modify more mortgage loans to prevent foreclosures, and establish an efficient and effective short sales process.
  • Mortgage lenders and private mortgage insurers should reexamine underwriting standards to determine whether they have overcorrected for abuses in the mortgage market.
  • FHASecure should be reinstated. This program helped more than 450,000 families modify their mortgages and stay in their homes but was allowed to end on Dec. 31, 2008.
  • The FHA should make investors eligible to participate in its Section 203(k) Rehabilitation Loan Program. Additionally, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should increase their selling guide ceilings on investor loans.

I've also urged Congress to take action to support commercial real estate's credit needs. This sector creates some 9 million jobs and generates millions of dollars in federal, regional, and local tax revenue. Local governments in particular depend on this revenue (approximately 70 cents of every local budget dollar) to pay for public services such as education, road construction, law enforcement, and emergency planning and response.

With a new administration in office, Congress is poised to release more funds for troubled real estate assets. I feel optimistic that we'll see provisions for restoring confidence in our vital wealth-building and commerce-generating industry.

Charles McMillan

Charles McMillan was 2009 president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.