State of the Housing Market: Removing Barriers to Economic Recovery

WASHINGTON – Today, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) held a hearing on the state of the housing market, and barriers to recovery. The Committee heard from economists and experts in the field, and discussed possible solutions to revitalize the housing market and boost economic growth.

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Below is Chairman Johnson’s statement as prepared for delivery:

“Today’s hearing is a continuation of our in-depth look at housing finance reform that we started last year in a bipartisan fashion. Many of our previous hearings have examined the long-term structure of the nation’s housing finance system. In this hearing, we will focus on the current state of the housing market and its effect on the larger economy.

“In January, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System released a white paper entitled “The U.S. Housing Market: Current Conditions and Policy Considerations.” In this paper, the Board stated that “continued weakness in the housing market poses a significant barrier to a more vigorous economic recovery.”

“The white paper documents the problems that so many families and communities are facing, such as:

  • Declining home prices and the loss of $7 trillion in home equity since 2006;
  • Millions of responsible homeowners are underwater on their homes through no fault of their own;
  • Excess supply of homes for sale at the same time that rents are rising;
  • Obstacles to refinancing at today’s record low mortgage rates.

“The paper also discussed policy options for addressing what it identified as impediments to a housing – and ultimately economic – recovery. Such impediments include: the excess supply of homes for sale, tightened mortgage credit, and the flow of additional homes entering the foreclosure pipeline under current conditions.

“Many potential solutions are being offered by a wide range of interested parties. In recent weeks, the Administration has outlined administrative steps and legislative proposals for overcoming barriers to housing market recovery. An interagency group led by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has begun taking steps to address the large volume of Real Estate Owned properties held by the Government Sponsored Enterprises and federal agencies, including pilot projects converting some of these properties to rentals. I look forward to hearing more from the Administration and FHFA about their proposals.

“Finally, this morning, we are expecting an announcement in the long-anticipated mortgage servicing settlement. I look forward to carefully reviewing the details of these agreements as part of the Banking Committee’s continued oversight efforts to hold servicers accountable for their failures and protect homeowners from abuse.

“I agree with the Fed’s assessment. Without an improvement in the housing market, the economic recovery will also continue to drag. We must do everything we can to help with economic recovery – this is important to me and my constituents. This means we must find ways to improve the housing market.

“Today, we explore potential solutions with three highly respected economists. I have invited our witnesses to share their insights on barriers to and solutions for housing market recovery. These witnesses have extensive experience analyzing the housing market and broader economy. I hope to learn from them practical solutions to improve the housing market, the economy, and lives of millions of Americans.”

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