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Just before his death, the great actor and film director Orson Welles made television commercials for Paul Masson wines sonorously proclaiming “we will sell no wine before its time.” That may be a good rule for selling wine, but generally, when it comes to public policy, that translates into no time is the right time.
The 2008 financial crisis was triggered by the sub-prime mortgage market disrupting the financial system and plunging the global economy into a recession. Many legislative and regulatory initiatives have been launched to address issues related to the Great Recession — Dodd-Frank and Basel III come to mind — but the main issues at the heart of the crisis, reforming Government-Sponsored Entities (GSE's) who backed the mortgages at the heart of the crisis, remains undone.
This isn’t for lack of trying. Last Congress, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Crapo (R-Idaho) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) each tried to solve the problem, but their bills didn’t make it too far out of the starting blocks. So while Congress and the current administration are out of alignment, it is looking as if progress won’t be made until 2017 at the earliest.
While the time lag has delayed progress, it has allowed new policy ideas to germinate and start taking root.
The J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation has put together a unique group of thought leaders to try and create innovative means to help promote affordable housing. The foundation's report, The Silent Housing Crisis: A Snapshot of Current and Future Conditions, lays out the case that we need to have a greater capacity for multifamily affordable housing. Why? Because homeownership rates were artificially increased in the late 1990s and the current homeownership rates, while substantially lower than 2005, are actually at the historic norm.
What does this mean? In short, we need more rental units to fill the affordable housing void, thereby meeting the growing needs of singles and young couples.
An interesting set of problems and solutions have emerged because of a long-delayed debate on housing policy. While the Terwilliger Foundation report may not be a silver bullet, it certainly sets forth interesting ideas that need to be a part of the debate.
Maybe good public policy has to wait in order to be ready in its own time.