Fannie Mae – Housing Affordability a Key Issue for Six in Ten Americans, Ipsos Poll

With the quadrennial national party conventions as a backdrop, another poll affirms that most Americans are unhappy with inaction by policymakers on a core element of the American Dream – homeownership and access to affordable housing.

Three-quarters of the roughly 1,000 Americans in a poll by Ipsos Public Affairs, released the same week as a poll on housing views by Schoen Consulting (which we featured in a teleconference) said they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate who makes housing affordability a priority and they want the issue spelled out in the platforms of the two major political parties.

The Republican platform takes up the issue in some detail and takes aim at what is termed the “corrupt business model” of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While reforming the mortgage giants has been delayed longer than anyone would have guessed, the next president and Congress should read the public’s sentiments carefully in designing a system that better serves taxpayers, homebuyers and capital markets.

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The concern about access to affordable housing in the Ipsos survey tracks closely with what Schoen found. In an op-ed for Fox News, Schoen noted that the 2016 election has been defined so far by issues such as immigration, Islamic terror, and economic inequality but a powerful current of uncertainty and dissatisfaction about housing flows deep in the American psyche. Schoen noted a majority (53%) of American voters believe that “It’s too difficult for people like me to buy a home,” and fully four-in-ten (41%) likely voters agree that “Banks don’t want to provide mortgages to people like me.” In the Ipsos poll, just short of half of the respondents said that they or someone they knew had personally struggled to pay rent or a mortgage over the last year. Similarly, Schoen found almost a quarter (23%) of likely voters or their families have lost their home since the 2008 housing crisis, and 43% know someone who has lost their home since the 2008 housing crisis.

In light of these revelations, it is not surprising that both polls found broad and deep dissatisfaction over the response from policymakers, at all levels of government, and a sense that the presidential campaigns this year have been inattentive to the public’s sense of anxiety about homeownership and affordable rental housing access.

The Republican platform, is explicitly billed as restoring the American Dream. It includes two sections on expanding homeownership, with an emphasis on reforming mortgage financing, winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and reducing the government’s role in the market via the Federal Housing Administration.  The Democratic platform, to be taken up this week, is more skewed toward expanding access to affordable housing. It specifically flags increasing funding for the National Housing Trust Fund and other ways to aide those struggling most to find and keep affordable housing, such as low-income families, the disabled, veterans and the elderly.

To be sure, Investors Unite’s chief concern – following the law and upholding the rights of shareholders in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – is too granular for a party platform. Nonetheless, Schoen’s poll did raise the issue. He found that those surveyed think what is happening to shareholders is emblematic of a system that is largely rigged and unfair. When asked about the Net Worth Sweep, a plurality (47%) of likely voters said they believe the sweep takes funds that could be used to increase the availability of mortgages and is a violation of shareholder rights. This perception was especially strong among Black voters. Overall, nearly two-thirds (63%) of likely voters believe the rights of shareholders and investors in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be protected from the government.

Regardless of which party prevails this November, these surveys reveal a nation eager for their elected officials to take up the last and perhaps most important piece of unfinished business from the financial crisis and recession.  It is impossible to extrapolate directly from the data but it is reasonable to assume that upending housing finance, carelessly abandoning shareholder rights, and turning Fannie and Freddie over to the whims of big banks without evidence it will help average Americans is not the kind of reform people want.