With scarcely a mention of housing policy during either presidential candidate’s campaign, the only thing certain with the election just one month away is that there is a lot of uncertainly around how U.S. housing policy would be affected after the new president takes office in January.
While neither candidate specifically addressed housing policy in the first debate in late September, Clinton did resurrect the charge she first levied back in May that Trump was “rooting for the crisis” based on a remark he made back in 2006 that “If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you could make a lot of money.” Trump responded in the debate by simply saying, “It's called business.”
Trump has stated publicly that he wants to eliminate the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which was passed six years ago and is viewed by the Obama Administration as one of its greatest victories. But he hasn’t said much of anything about housing policy.
“Trump really isn't taking a policy position on a lot of key topics,” said Meg Burns, Managing Director of Washington, D.C.-based business advisory firm The Collingwood Group and a former Senior Associate Director for the FHFA. “People certainly understand where he has publicly positioned himself on things like immigration, but housing is a bit more of an unknown other than the party platform. The irony is that is the case with Hillary Clinton as well. Publicly she has aligned herself with the progressives and publicly she is an ally to Elizabeth Warren and their fairly populist anti-bank message. They are pro-CFPB and pro-aggressive enforcement. That has been the public image, but whether or not that is a campaign position that she is taking or whether she would actually govern that way is very much unknown. There is tremendous uncertainty about what either of them would really do if they were to become president.”
Brian Montgomery, Vice Chairman and Co-Founder of The Collingwood Group and former FHA Commissioner, noted that neither candidate is known for single-family housing.
“Someone asked me about Trump, and I said, when you peel it all away, the guy is a real estate developer,” Montgomery said. “He may be developing golf courses and commercial real estate and multifamily, but he knows the process. He knows all the way from acquisition, development, financing, all the way through the whole continuum. Granted, that's a far cry from knowing our industry, but I have to think at least on the issue of housing, he gets that topic. Probably more so in ways that Secretary Clinton doesn't. That said, she's probably much more well-versed in many other areas than he might not be.”
Montgomery added, “In terms of what (the election) would mean for this industry, if it stays Democrat to Democrat, you're going to have more of the same. Based on past experiences, that would be my knee-jerk reaction. Trump wants to roll back Dodd-Frank. He thinks it's costing jobs and he thinks it's too expensive. But the only thing harder than passing legislation is replacing it or rewinding it, so even if he were to be re-elected, who knows?”
According to Burns, both candidates could be intentionally omitting homeownership and housing policy from their campaigns.
“I think it's because it's considered a toxic subject,” Burns said. “We went through a housing crisis, there was a lot of consternation, there were a lot of people who were harmed, and I think that if you can avoid a toxic subject, that you generally do. I think it's hard for people to take a strong position on it when it is such a polarizing topic.”
Burns continued, “Clinton’s party platform doesn't even use the word homeownership. It speaks to affordable rental housing and access to credit, which is terminology that a lot of people don't understand. I actually do think there must be some intentional decision to avoid using the word homeownership and promoting homeownership and supporting homeownership in any traditional sense that we have seen with previous presidents and candidates, and certainly neither candidate is speaking to the role of homeownership in stimulating the overall economy. When we came out of the Great Depression, that was why FHA was actually created--economic stimulus. There was nothing about consumers first and foremost. It was about economic stimulus. The fact that they talk about jobs and the economy and leave out the role that homeownership plays in that, I think, has to be intentional.”