Home Builders Lobby Congress for Billions

The nation’s home builders, tired of being left off the economic bailout train, launched a lobbying campaign on Monday to push for $200 billion in housing assistance in a stimulus bill that is likely to be a top priority when the new Congress convenes in January.

Why, homebuilders argue, should the industry that triggered the recession not get some government assistance to help right the faltering economy?

“Housing has led the country into and out of every recession since World War II, yet no one is pointing to how we can lead them out,” said Jerry Howard, chief executive officer of the National Association of Home Builders. “Everyone’s pinning the blame on how we got them into it, but nobody’s helping figure out how we lead them out,”

The association has teamed with other housing-related industries to form the Fix Housing First Coalition. With Congress back in town this week to consider a bailout for the Big Three automakers, the housing industry thought it was a good time to remind lawmakers that they still haven’t addressed the cause of the recession.

“The root cause of all of those problems is housing and the challenge is to get folks to focus on the underlying problem and not on the symptoms,” said Ken Gear, a lobbyist with home builder Pulte Homes, one of the coalition’s founding companies.

On Monday, the coalition launched a weeklong inside-the-Beltway print advertising campaign and next week will begin airing radio ads in states and congressional districts with lawmakers who sit on key economic committees, Howard said. The group would not disclose the cost of its advertising efforts.

The group is also working to win local media coverage of struggling business owners, the local drywall subcontractor who lost his business and is facing foreclosure, for instance.

Also on the local level, the coalition is asking its membership to call or e-mail their lawmakers to push for housing relief.

Because this is the first such grassroots push, officials did not know how many contacts they might generate. But this summer, during debate over reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the home builders association generated 10,000 phone calls in two days, Howard said.

Come January, the coalition plans to fly in housing workers to Washington to press their case and plans a more aggressive national media campaign, Howard said.

The coalition is asking Congress to support measures almost identical to ones it passed during the 1974-75 recession – a buydown of mortgage interest rates and tax credits for home buyers.

The $200-billion plan would provide home buyers with a credit worth up to $20,000 and would drop mortgage interest rates to as low as 3 and 4 percent next year. The plan is aimed at coaxing scared homebuyers back into the market.

While there has been much talk about stemming foreclosures and keeping people in their homes, Howard said lawmakers also need to focus on increasing housing demand.

“The bottom line is that until you stabilize house values, which means limiting supply and stimulating demand, you cannot stop the declines in the financial sector. You can’t stop the declines in the manufacturing sectors,” Howard said. “And when you have three sectors in the tank, you can’t stop worldwide recession.”

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