But Will It Fly?

*But Will It Fly?*
**By Lew Sichelman**

LewS***One of the cardinal rules of journalism is to write the story first and the headline will follow. Another is that writers should not write the headline; that’s best left to the editors. But I violated those canons here because I just can’t help thinking America’s Homeowner Alliance is likely to fall flat on its kisser.

****Not because it’s not a noble idea. In fact, any body that wants to speak up for the American homeowner has my vote, though not necessarily my money. But because it has been tried before and it never got off the ground.

****Despite what the AHA says is the “first of its kind” attempt at being a voice for the country’s 75 million homeowners, it’s not. At least twice in my memory – and after 40-plus years of covering the housing and housing finance markets, I have a lot of memory – persons or groups have attempted to organize homeowners a la AARP. And neither one lasted very long.

****I don’t know why they didn’t make it. Perhaps they failed because they were the wrong folks to pull it off. Maybe they were after a quick buck and had no staying power. Or maybe they flunked because it was just the wrong time. Or perhaps it was both the wrong people at the wrong time.

****So now, for at least the third time that I know of, someone is stepping forward in an attempt to save homeowners from damnation – or lead them to the promised land, depending on your point of view. This time, the effort is being led by mortgage market luminary Phil Bracken, a giant of the sector if there ever was one. His creds include the Andrew Woodward Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed by the Mortgage Banker Association.

****He is being joined by Tino Diaz, former chair of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals; Armando Falcon, a former director of the Office of Federal Housing Oversight, the forerunner of the current Federal Housing Finance Agency; and Joe Murin, a former president of Ginnie Mae. Other members of the board aren’t as well known. But for the most part, they come from the housing sector.

****And I suppose that’s one of the things that bothers me. The group is terribly industry top heavy. Good? Bad? Indifferent? I dunno. It just bothers me.

****Certainly, the AHA has some lofty goals. The Alliance intends to serve as the advocacy voice to protect against policies that fail to promote sustainable ownership for all segments of society. That means, among other things, defending the mortgage interest deduction and the low downpayment, 30-year mortgage, protecting home values, and addressing the lack of funding for new home construction.

****I suppose that this is something else that has my antenna wiggling. Because if these objectives sound familiar, they should. The National Association of Realtors, the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Home Builders all espouse to the very same things. And that’s just the giants among the many trade organizations which have similar stances.

****The million-strong NAR has done a particularly good job of brainwashing the masses into thinking that it speaks for them. But of course, it really doesn’t. Never has, and never will. To be sure, the interests of real estate professionals and homeowners often align. But when they don’t, guess who NAR speaks for first?

****But more than that, I fear the nation’s owners don’t want their own advocacy, or don’t think they need it. At least, not for $20 bucks a pop. AHA also promises retail and reward-based purchasing benefits from more than 1,000 outlets, Sears, Lowes and Home Depot among them. But I fear that won’t be enough. Where’s the slick magazine, the insurance deals, the newsletters and how-to bulletins? It’s going to take more than a press release to attract dues-paying members.

****I don’t know how AARP got its start many years ago. But I have been a card-carrying member for as long as I became a senior in the AARP’s eyes, and I can tell you the $40 it cost me for the first 10 years was some of the best money I have spent. But I just don’t know about this AHA outfit. I can certainly spare an Andrew Jackson every year, but I don’t think I’m ready to part with him. At least not just yet. I’m going to need more persuading first.