*The New Voice for Homeowners*
**By Phil Hall**
***This week, I am stepping out of the spotlight and handing the microphone over to another Phil – Phil Bracken, the founder and chairman of a newly formed organization called the America’s Homeowner Alliance. This new organization is a nonpartisan advocacy group that will serve as an ombudsman for the nation’s homeowners. Its immediate goals include the defense of the mortgage interest deduction, the preservation of the low down payment mortgage, the reduction of the government’s dominance in the housing finance market and the protection of home values.
****Phil Bracken is the right guy to lead the Alliance – he’s been in the housing industry for 35 years, serving as executive vice president at Wells Fargo, managing director at Prudential Home Mortgage and CEO of America’s Mortgage Company. He is also the current chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Missouri and has won numerous awards for his work, most notably the prestigious Andrew Woodward Distinguished Service Award from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
****I interviewed Bracken about the goals of the Alliance and the overall state of the housing market.
****Q: What was the genesis of the America’s Homeowner Alliance? And why does the country need this organization at this time?
****Phil Bracken: The genesis was the fact that there has never been a collective public policy voice of the 75 million existing homeowners (and future aspiring homeowners) in America, and that it was sorely needed.
****The mission is simple: to protect and promote sustainable homeownership for all segments of America. For the second half of this answer, I will pull from our “WHY” document because I believe it answers it pretty well: of the 17 million new households formed in the next 15 years, 13 million will be traditional minorities. The need is immense, and the opportunity is contracting.
****Homeownership is under attack from many different venues. Single family homeowners lost nearly $7 trillion in aggregate value from the peak in 2007 (according to the Federal Reserve). With the $7 trillion value loss, homes are more affordable than any time in the past 15 years. We have the lowest mortgage rates in history, and yet homeownership rates are falling in every segment of America.
****Credit is too tight; government and business policies are making it very difficult for first time homebuyers to achieve the dream of homeownership; and there are severe policy restrictions stifling new construction in America. Legislative and regulation currently under consideration could make homeownership even less attainable. The Alliance will become the advocate voice to ensure policies meet the test of protecting or promoting sustainable homeownership for all segments of America.
****Q: It has been five years since the housing bubble’s collapse fueled the 2008 recession. In the five years since the crash, is life easier for homeowners?
****Phil Bracken: Certainly not. We have the lowest homeownership rate in the past 18 years. Policy makers keep using homeowners as the “pay for” for legislative action. Costs and difficulty continue to rise. Inventory is short in many markets because of government policy to sell property to investors and box out first time homebuyers. New legislation and regulation will impose more cost (Basel III, Corker/Warner, CFPB).
****Q: There have been other groups in the past that advocated the rights of homeowners, most notably the now-defunct ACORN. What makes your group stand out from other homeowners-rights groups?
****Phil Bracken: To our knowledge, no other group was exclusive for homeowners and by homeowners. And this is the only organization ever with such diverse support. In the case of a group like ACORN, they really advocated for ACORN. This group will advocate for homeowners.
****Q: Do you believe that housing can fuel the economic recovery, or is housing primarily a reflection of economic health instead of a component in its growth?
****Phil Bracken: Housing most definitely can and should fuel the economic recovery. As an example of missed opportunity – and wishing we had this Alliance built a few years ago, the government had a chance to really make lemonade out of lemons after the Census Bureau report of 2010 reflected 10 million vacant single family homes. They could have easily created a massive jobs program to repair properties by making them available with FHA 203K financing (owner occupants). But instead, they did virtually nothing, except sell massive amounts of property to investors foreclosing opportunity on first time homebuyers.
****You can find more information on America’s Homeowner Alliance at www.myaha.com.
Phil Hall has been (among other things) a United Nations-based radio journalist, the president of a public relations and marketing agency, a financial magazine editor, the author of six books and a horror movie actor. Also, as you will discover, he is not shy about stating his views.