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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Housing Issues in the 112th Congress

Katie Jones, Coordinator
Analyst in Housing Policy

David H. Carpenter
Legislative Attorney

Darryl E. Getter
Specialist in Financial Economics

Sean M. Hoskins
Analyst in Financial Economics

Mark P. Keightley
Analyst in Public Finance

Maggie McCarty
Specialist in Housing Policy

N. Eric Weiss
Specialist in Financial Economics

As the 112th Congress began, the economy was no longer officially in recession. However, housing markets remain fragile, many economic indicators remain weak, and home foreclosure rates remain high. Against this backdrop, the 112th Congress has begun to consider, or is likely to consider, a number of housing-related issues. Broadly speaking, these issues are likely to include long-term questions related to reforms to the housing finance system, short-term concerns related to ongoing turmoil in housing markets, perennial issues related to housing assistance programs, and possible reductions in funding for housing programs administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Given the role that housing played in the recent economic downturn, Congress has expressed interest in reforming the housing finance system to help protect the economy from similar problems in the future. In this vein, the 112th Congress has begun to consider questions about the government’s role in housing finance going forward, including questions about the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) currently in government conservatorship, and about the role of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The 112th Congress has also begun to exercise its oversight powers with regard to the implementation of housing- and mortgage-related provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 111-203), which was enacted during the 111th Congress. Such provisions include ability to repay standards that apply to mortgage originators and risk retention standards that apply to asset securitizers. Many Members of Congress have expressed concern about the implications that some of these provisions could have for private mortgage lending and access to mortgage credit.

At the same time, the ongoing effects of the recent economic turmoil on consumers and housing markets raise questions about whether further government intervention is warranted in the short term to address ongoing foreclosure issues or to stimulate housing demand. The housing markets’ fragility has also led to debates about whether policy options considered by the 112th Congress to reduce government involvement in the mortgage market would have negative effects on the housing recovery.

Concerns about the nation’s budget deficit have led to increased calls for reduced government spending, and an environment of fiscal austerity will likely have implications for housing-related programs and activities along with other domestic discretionary programs. A law providing fullyear FY2011 appropriations was not enacted until several months into the 112th Congress, and that law included cuts to several HUD programs, including reduced funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) and HOME programs. Appropriations for FY2012 included further cuts to housing programs, although some specific programs saw increases in funding. The 112th Congress will likely also consider perennial issues related to housing for low-income and other vulnerable populations, including possible reforms to the public housing and Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher programs. The debate over the future of federal housing assistance programs is likely to be affected by both the fiscal environment and the ongoing effects of the recent recession and turmoil in U.S. housing markets.

This report provides a brief summary of major housing issues that are active in, or may be considered by, the 112th Congress. It does not provide comprehensive coverage of the issues or closely track active legislation, but it includes references to related CRS products that offer more detailed information and analysis.

Date of Report: January 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R42145
Price: $29.95

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