What Next for Housing? 6 Americans' Concerns as Presidential Debates Loom

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With the first presidential debate of the 2012 election set to kick off Wednesday, Americans may soon get a clearer picture of where President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney stand on housing and a better sense of the policies that they might implement.

The 11 million people whose mortgages are underwater and the 9 million who have received foreclosure notices since the housing crisis began are sure to pay close attention to the candidates' proposals. But sharp interest in their plans won't stop there: Other large swaths of voters, including homebuilders, Realtors and investors, are also holding their breath.

To get a sense of their concerns, AOL Real Estate spoke to six Americans from different backgrounds who have a whole lot riding on the next administration's approach to housing. Click through our gallery to learn about the changes that they are hoping for in the next presidential term.

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What 6 Americans Want to See a President Do About Housing
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What Next for Housing? 6 Americans' Concerns as Presidential Debates Loom

“Give me the money for it,” Mark Williams said. “I’m still not buying a house.”

Given the Sacramento, Calif., renter's experience with homeownership, it may not be surprising that he feels this way. Once the owner of a $564,000 home in Lincoln, Calif., he was forced to sell it after the market crumbled for $260,000. But not before he wiped out his retirement savings.

Williams, who was once a spokesman for the Tea Party Express, believes government involvement in the real estate market is largely responsible for the housing slump. The former host of a conservative talk show, Williams also thinks that the government has created a moral hazard that tempts banks to take risks that can have catastrophic consequences. 

“Think Vegas,” he said. “If you could take somebody else's money and hit the Strip, knowing that if you lost, the taxpayer would take the hit -- and that if you won big that it was all yours to keep -- what are you going to do?”

The Hope

“The next administration has to remove itself from the markets as much as possible ... certainly lessen their role,” Williams said. “They also have got to get out of the business of 'too big to fail.' It is the depositor who is supposed to be insured; the government has no right to take money from that depositor … in order to insulate the institution from the consequences of its own actions."

The vacant property to the right of Deborah Jackson's home is the worst of them, she said: The roof is caved in, opossums and stray cats live inside and snakes slither about its overgrown backyard. But there are many other unoccupied homes near Jackson that attract blight, and all of them continue to wear on her quality of life -- not to mention her home's value. 

She thinks that exploitive lending practices are largely to blame for the glut of foreclosed properties that taint her neighborhood.

The Hope

Jackson believes that the next administration needs to do more to crack down on predatory lending. She also thinks that the government should provide more housing relief to the millions of homeowners teetering on the brink of foreclosure.

“It’s not helping poor people,” she said, referring to current assistance programs such as HAMP and HARP. She added that she wants Romney to be clearer about his housing policy. “Romney, in my estimation, has not really been specific about anything that he’s planning to do.”

Doreen Thomas, who has lived in Maplewood, N.J., for 13 years, said that she is hanging on by a thread. The 78-year-old can no longer afford to pay the pre-housing bust interest rate on her mortgage. But so far, her lender, Wells Fargo, has refused to approve her for a loan modification or refinancing, she said. "The little help I used to get, I don't know how much longer I will get it," Thomas said. "But then, something else might turn up. I do a lot of praying."

Thomas thinks that President Obama has made an earnest effort to provide relief to many beleaguered homeowners like herself. But she also believes that banks and government agencies are not adequately implementing the programs.

“You go to these people, and you think it’s going through, but then they say, ‘Oh, no, we can’t do this, and we can’t do that,” she said.

The Hope

Thomas said that the next administration needs to hold banks' feet to the fire and put more pressure on them to assist homeowners with programs like HAMP. She worries that a Romney administration could move in the opposite direction and eliminate aid to homeowners.

“I don’t think Romney has a housing policy. He’s strictly dealing with the people that have [money],” she said. “He’s not interested in dealing with people like me.”

Bill McMachen represents a segment of Americans who could actually profit from the housing slump: investors. Thanks to today’s glut of repossessed homes, McMachen recently was able to bag 627 foreclosed properties for $4.72 million at a foreclosure auction in Macomb County, Mich. McMachen said the crisis may or may not continue to drag on, depending on the winner of this year’s election.   

The Hope

McMachen believes that Obama’s housing policies will prolong the foreclosure crisis by “trying to make everybody equal.” He said that he hopes the next administration will bolster tax deductions for homeowners.

“Give them more incentives to own the house,” he said. He added that he supports revitalization initiatives that provide local governments with funds to reclaim abandoned homes. 

Philip Faranda, a Realtor in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., who specializes in distressed properties, touts the “sexiness” of foreclosures. The distressed properties' appeal to regular homebuyers has spiked amid a glut of distressed properties, said Faranda, who writes about being "a red guy in a blue state" on his blog, The Bleeding Heart Capitalist

But he worries about the expiration of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act on Dec. 31. Enacted at the beginning of the financial crisis, it keeps homeowners from having to pay taxes on forgiven mortgage debt. Homeowners sometimes receive such forgiveness from a loan modification or after a foreclosure. He also expressed concern over the possible expiration of the mortgage-interest deduction.

“The MID [mortgage-interest deduction] has been sacrosanct for generations for good reason,” he said. “It had nothing to do with causing the crisis. Ending it would throw mortgage affordability for millions into chaos."

The Hope

Faranda said that it’s vital that the government extends both tax breaks in order to keep the housing market on the road to recovery.

“Millions of Americans are underwater or teetering on crisis. Eradicating the underpinning of their financial advantage is a faux cure that is worse than the malady,” he said. “Not extending the MFDRA will expose already financially strapped people to possibly ruinous tax debt on the heels of a short sale."

Chris Clothier is a partner with Memphis Invest, an “REO-to-rental company” that purchases distressed properties and rents them out or flips them. He is one of many who is profiting from the single-family rental business, an industry that is flourishing due to rock-bottom home prices, soaring rental rates and strong demand.

Clothier believes that individual “mom-and-pop” investors can help drive a housing recovery. But he said that financial institutions must clear their backlog of foreclosures in order to meet such investors' demand.

“Once they clear the inventory, housing starts are up," he said. “We want to create an environment where individual investors are encouraged to buy.”

The Hope

“There’s a lot of supply in housing and a lot of demand. But today, the demand comes from investors. I would like see a policy that encourages the supply to meet that demand,” he said. “You have to get rid of the properties that are sitting on the books in a foreclosure or holding status." 

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See also:
Romney's and Obama's Housing Policies
Election 2012: Will It Affect Your Decision to Buy a Home?

Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's Homes

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