Most would think as the economy slows the availability of building materials and products for the home would be more plentiful and lower priced. However, there is a good chance the opposite may be true over the next few months. Building products are heavily driven by commodities like lumber, oil, and steel. When those raw materials face supply disruptions, that can trickle down the supply chain. COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) is slowing the production and delivery of raw materials in certain building material sectors as the requirement of social distancing is limiting manpower. Plus, there are some companies that have closed due to the disruptions.
The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, along with the collapse in the oil sector, is putting enormous stress on the United States economy. The White House, Congress, and The Fed are scrambling for ways to fire up the economic engines. Most of the proposed stimulus programs are one-time shots, industry giveaways, and Wall Street bailouts that seem to mainly benefit the mega-corporations.
If government really wants to crank up the American economy and solve a national problem with little to no cost to the taxpayers, it should implement a real National Affordable Housing Program targeting lower and middle-class workers. If government, at all levels, would shake out all unnecessary regulations, needless government fees, and excessive corporate greed from affordable housing, housing starts would surge from the current levels of 1.3 million up to 2.5 - 3.5 million.
Up until the Great Recession, housing has always been the igniter of the United States economy. It was Wall Street’s greed, through bundling and bizarre financial instruments, that ruined the housing industry. A real American Affordable Housing Program that can crank up the economy and solve the national shortage of homes for working families must be free of Wall Street greed and influence. Yes, it should be a government program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The first and most important aspect of this program is to identify what housing qualifies for affordable housing. The number should be based on what is affordable for lower and middle-income families in the area. Here in Lake and Sumter Counties, that number is $215,000 or less. The program would not be available for housing that cost more than what has been identified in the affordable range. We do not want to fund McMansions again for people on the upper end.
Secondly, mortgage money, controlled interest rates, zero down payment and government backed mortgage insurance should be available to lower and middle-class workers. The caveat for not allowing profiteering off this program would be that the mortgage guarantor, the United States Government, would repossess the property in case of default; the homeowner must make the home their homestead; and they could not sell the property for more than the purchase price for 7 years. The home would be registered in the National Affordable Housing Registry and would have restrictions placed upon it to prevent greed from ruining the program. The homeowner could sell the home for the original selling price and get back any equity.
You need land for affordable housing developments. Both the Federal and State government can participate in helping private developers to make property available. There should be a targeted lot price to qualify for the program. The land must be deed restricted for affordable workforce housing for a period of 20 years to discourage profiteering of the program. Property owners that sell tracks of land for affordable housing projects would pay no capital gains tax and the United States government would pay for all infrastructure costs up front for affordable housing developments and allow the municipalities and utilities to reimburse the cost over a 20-year low interest government bond. Bond costs would be covered by local taxes and fees.
States and local governments’ involvement would be in the reduction and waiving of building fees and impact fees for all nationally registered affordable housing projects. Affordable housing zones should be developed that would take the increased valuations in the land's taxable value and the increased tax receipts for land improvements like a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The revenue could be used for bonded schools and road infrastructure instead of impact fees.
There is so much more that can be done if the Federal, Sate, and local governments truly decide to address the huge affordable housing shortage in America. This program could crank up housing starts above 2.0 million units for several years providing jobs, income, and real wealth to Americans without really costing the taxpayer anything. Why not focus on a real problem and have something to show for it, instead of another Wall Street corporate bailout that rewards greed?
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Television Show which is hosted weekly on Lake Sumter Television.