Every downturn comes to an end. Recovery has followed every recession including the Great Depression. In 1932, John D. Rockefeller said, "These are days when many are discouraged. In the 93 years of my life, depressions have come and gone. Prosperity has always returned and will again." The question is not ”IF”, rather it is “WHEN” recovery will begin. The age-old question remains: what can government do to get the nation out of recession?
Government can act wisely. In the past, it used tax legislation (the mortgage interest deduction) to create the highest home ownership rate in the industrialized world. It can also act stupidly by promoting “Sub-Prime” mortgages, “105%” financing and the “No-Doc” loan that got us into this financial mess. As many as 4.4 million more Americans could lose their homes – unless drastic action is taken to stop the process.
Much of this was built on good intentions. One example of poor planning can be seen in Department of Housing Development’s “Dollar Homes” program. The HUD website describes this as an altruistic program “to foster housing opportunities for low and moderate income families” by selling homes for $1 after the Federal Housing Authority has been unable to sell them after six months.
This sounds like a good idea but the program has become consumed by fraud and waste and has delivered little benefit to the parties intended. First, the policy eliminated any ability to sell the properties at market since it is clear that the value will be marked down to $1 in six months. The result was massive losses to the government as previously saleable properties were re-priced to $1. Second, the homes were snatched up by businessmen and the cronies of politicians who knew how to game the system. These homes were then sold on the retail market for huge profits. Very few homes made it to the needy parties intended. This dumb legislation created and fed a lazy, corrupt, bloated, ineffective and expensive bureaucracy.
In contrast, smart legislation can end the housing crisis that threatens to send our economy reeling into the next Great Depression. A simple but effective governmental action does not have to cost a lot of money and more importantly, does not require a new permanent and expensive bureaucracy. It can be a win-win-win for federal government, local government and working families. This smart legislation is called Eddie Mac, which stands for the Empower Direct Ownership Mortgage Corporation.
The genesis of Eddie Mac comes from the “good old days” when home prices were high. The most common complaint heard from police, fire, teachers, nurses and municipal workers was that they could not afford to live in the very communities where they worked. The lower wages of these groups forced them onto the freeways to more affordable neighborhoods in distant suburbs. The commute of hundreds of thousands of city workers across the nation clogged our roads, added harmful emissions to our atmosphere and exacerbated our dependence on foreign oil.
Simply stated, the Eddie Mac program allows local government to buy vacant foreclosed homes from the banks and institutions. Local government then stimulates the local economy by hiring local realtors, appraisers and contracting with local labor to fix up the deteriorated properties. It then leases the properties to police, fire, teachers, nurses and municipal workers who otherwise could not afford to live in their own communities. Local government enters into an “Empower Direct Ownership Lease Option” with their employees so that the employees have the right to purchase the homes in the future using their rental payments to build equity. The Empower Direct Ownership Lease Option allows the employee to acquire the home in five years for the original purchase price plus 50% of the appreciated value.
Instead of concentrating power in Washington, Eddie Mac empowers local government to solve their own local real estate economy. Eddie would employ local realtors to identify vacant foreclosed properties qualified for the Eddie Mac program. Realtors would earn a 1% fee for identifying and assisting local government with the acquisition. The purchase price would be set by a local appraiser who would also earn an appraisal fee. Use of local appraisers avoids banks profiting unfairly from a government program. The free market system would set the value. The purchase price would include an estimate of costs to bring the home back to local standards, using local workers to fix up these properties. Local government would obtain 100% financing for the acquisition from Eddie Mac bonds that would be sold on Wall Street along side of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae guaranteed loans.
A $200,000 home, foreclosed upon, vacant and allowed to deteriorate has likely deteriorated to just $120,000. Its actual value will be determined by appraisal. At $120,000, a 4% guaranteed Eddie Mac mortgage would cost local government just $4,800 per year. Local government would be able to rent that home for $400 per month making it affordable to police, fire, teachers, nurses and municipal workers.
The Empower Direct Ownership Lease Option allows the employee to acquire the home in five years for the original purchase price plus 50% of the appreciated value. If the baseline value is $120,000 and the home appreciates at 5% per year, it will increase in value $6,000 per year or $33,153 over 5 years. The employee's Empower Direct Ownership Lease Option allows them to acquire the home in five years for the original purchase price plus 50% of the appreciation or $136,577. The price is $16,577 below market price, creating equity for the home buyer of $16,577 which can be used as the future down payment to acquire the home.
This is a win-win-win scenario. Stopping the slide in home values by buying up foreclosed homes with federally insured 4% bonds is a low tech, low cost effort to put the brakes on the recession. And it entails no new bureaucracy. The Federal government is the big winner because they would be footing the bill for the bail-out if the economy continued to unravel. Local government wins by solving an age old dilemma of how to house its local work force. The local economy wins as fresh stimulus is put into the economy to locate, appraise, acquire, insure, repair, repaint and refurbish these homes. The city/county/municipal workers win with an opportunity to enjoy the American dream of home ownership in the very communities where they work. The environment wins as we take commuters off the road and lessen the environmental impact of their commute. And, we help reduce our dependence on Middle East oil as the ripple effect of tens of thousands of Eddie Mac homes are leased to local employees who now live and work in their own communities.
Eddie Mac can become the firebreak to the mortgage crisis, the game changer needed to change market momentum. The hundreds and thousands of vacant foreclosed home sales generated by the implementation of the Eddie Mac program would send a strong signal to the public that the market has bottomed and the recovery has begun. Vacant homes would be acquired, fixed up and occupied by stable, important and long-term members of our communities.
John D. Rockefeller once stood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and quieted the panic by firmly proclaiming; “Buy” in the dark days of the 1929 collapse. Our government can help stop the slide in prices by standing with our local governments and firmly encouraging “Buy” in the local markets. Reckless government got us into this mess. Smart government can get us out.
Robert J. Cristiano Ph.D. has more than 25 years experience in real estate development in Southern California. He is a resident of Newport Beach, CA.