Housing Is a Rare Chance for Bipartisan Action, Experts Say

Policymakers and industry leaders discuss possible affordability and inventory solutions at NAR’s Policy Forum.

Housing historically is a bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill, and there are opportunities for both sides of the aisle to collaborate on solutions to the affordability and inventory crises—dual challenges holding back many would-be home buyers—government and industry leaders said Thursday at the National Association of REALTORS®’ Policy Forum in Washington, D.C.

In a wide-ranging discussion, policymakers and industry innovators examined how addressing housing affordability can benefit all economic sectors. Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Sandra Thompson, in a conversation with NAR Vice President of Policy Advocacy Bryan Greene, focused on not just affordability but also sustainability in homeownership.

“Let’s make sure there is liquidity at all times, in all places—not just some places,” Thompson said at the forum, titled “The Current Housing Market: Implications for Home Buyers and the Economy.” “And make sure people have safe, decent, affordable housing, and do it in a sustainable way. Sustainability means people can stay in their homes. That is really important to me.”

Borrower education and financial assistance are essential to help keep people in their homes when they face unexpected hardships, Thompson said. She also highlighted recent successes in alternative credit scoring, such as including rental payments, monthly subscriptions and utility payments. Using these methods, “we have been able to positively score tens of thousands of borrowers,” she said.

Greene also asked Thompson about recent bank failures. “I spent 23 years at the [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] and served as head of supervision during the Great Recession, when we had to close hundreds of banks,” Thompson recalled. “People at the FDIC care deeply about ensuring no one loses a penny of their insured deposits.” She also reinforced the FHFA's commitment to maintaining public confidence in the mortgage sector.

Thompson and other speakers reflected on opportunities to bring people together to expand homeownership, citing housing policy as an area that has great power to affect the futures of people across the country. “Housing and veteran issues are where Democrats and Republicans should come together; they are no-brainers,” said former Sen. Scott Brown, who also served as a U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. “Everyone wants a safe home, in a safe community, in a good school district. … These are all things that members of Congress should be able to agree on.”

Kevin Hassett, former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, agreed. “The policy challenge for Democrats and Republicans is to think of ways to accelerate supply. There is a record of bipartisanship on this topic, such as opportunity zones.”

In closing remarks, NAR Vice President of Advocacy Pete Kopf praised Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) for giving the charge to turn advocacy into action. “We all share a commitment to making the American dream more affordable, available and accessible,” Kopf said. “To succeed, we need to bring people together from all disciplines and across the political spectrum. That’s what NAR is committed to doing.”