As I’ve been saying for a long time (see “The Diversity Recession“) the easy way to get rich quick is to debauch credit standards, take the money and run, then let somebody else pay to clean up the mess. It’s an inevitable temptation. That’s why the government, which usually winds up on the hook for bailing out the crash to keep it from turning into a depression (e.g., with federal deposit insurance), is supposed to regulate lending, to take the punchbowl away just when the party gets interesting.
Unfortunately, the sacred word “diversity” provided an excuse for everybody who is anybody — developers, lenders, politicians, activists — to keep all four trotters in the trough. Its by no means the only excuse that was offered for the degradation of traditional lending standards, but whatever its absolute share of the blame, it’s relative share of the blame in public discourse has been disproportionately small so far.
Here’s George W. Bush’s speech from six years ago to the White House Conference on Increasing Minority Homeownership. The precise programs he was advocating aren’t terribly important, they’re fairly minor, but the tone of his speech is important. It puts the Presidential Seal of Approval on the orgy of dubious mortgage lending (Down payments? We don’t need no steenking down payments!) in the name of increasing minority homeownership.
This is the bipartisan consensus epitomized.
By the way, this isn’t some eloquent oration Michael Gerson wrote and Bush just read it stolidly off the teleprompter. As you can see from the garbled syntax, this is Bush winging it, straight from his heart. He really believes all this stuff.
THE PRESIDENT: …. I appreciate your attendance to this very important conference. You see, we want everybody in America to own their own home. That’s what we want. This is — an ownership society is a compassionate society.
More and more people own their homes in America today. Two-thirds of all Americans own their homes, yet we have a problem here in America because few than half of the Hispanics and half the African Americans own the home. That’s a homeownership gap. It’s a — it’s a gap that we’ve got to work together to close for the good of our country, for the sake of a more hopeful future.
We’ve got to work to knock down the barriers that have created a homeownership gap.
I set an ambitious goal. It’s one that I believe we can achieve. It’s a clear goal, that by the end of this decade we’ll increase the number of minority homeowners by at least 5.5 million families. (Applause.) … And it’s going to require a strong commitment from those of you involved in the housing industry. …
I appreciate so very much the home owners who are with us today, the Arias family, newly arrived from Peru. They live in Baltimore. Thanks to the Association of Real Estate Brokers, the help of some good folks in Baltimore, they figured out how to purchase their own home. Imagine to be coming to our country without a home, with a simple dream. And now they’re on stage here at this conference being one of the new home owners in the greatest land on the face of the Earth. I appreciate the Arias family coming. (Applause.)
We’ve got the Horton family from Little Rock, Arkansas, here today. … They were helped by HUD, they were helped by Freddie Mac. …
Finally, Kim Berry from New York is here. She’s a single mom. You’re not going to believe this, but her son is 18 years old. (Laughter.) She barely looked like she was 18 to me. And being a single mom is the hardest job in America. And the idea of this fine American working hard to provide for her child, at the same time working hard to realize her dream, which is owning a home on Long Island, is really a special tribute to the character of this particular person and to the character of a lot of Americans. So we’re honored to have you here, Kim, and thanks for being such a good mom and a fine American. (Applause.)
I told Mel Martinez I was serious about this initiative… And the good news is, Mel Martinez believes it and means it, as well. He’s doing a fine job of running HUD, and I’m glad he has joined my Cabinet. (Applause.)
And I picked a pretty spunky deputy, as well, Alphonso Jackson — my fellow Texan. (Applause.) I call him A.J. …
I see Rosario Marin, who’s the Treasurer of the United States. Rosario used to be a mayor. Thank you for coming, Madam Mayor. (Applause.) She understands how important housing is. …
All of us here in America should believe, and I think we do, that we should be, as I mentioned, a nation of owners. Owning something is freedom, as far as I’m concerned. It’s part of a free society. And ownership of a home helps bring stability to neighborhoods. You own your home in a neighborhood, you have more interest in how your neighborhood feels, looks, whether it’s safe or not. It brings pride to people, it’s a part of an asset-based to society. It helps people build up their own individual portfolio, provides an opportunity, if need be, for a mom or a dad to leave something to their child. It’s a part of — it’s of being a — it’s a part of — an important part of America.
Homeownership is also an important part of our economic vitality. If — when we meet this project, this goal, according to our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, we will have added an additional $256 billion to the economy by encouraging 5.5 million new home owners in America; …
Low interest rates, low inflation are very important foundations for economic growth. The idea of encouraging new homeownership and the money that will be circulated as a result of people purchasing homes will mean people are more likely to find a job in America. This project not only is good for the soul of the country, it’s good for the pocketbook of the country, as well.
To open up the doors of homeownership there are some barriers, and I want to talk about four that need to be overcome. First, down payments. A lot of folks can’t make a down payment. They may be qualified. They may desire to buy a home, but they don’t have the money to make a down payment. I think if you were to talk to a lot of families that are desirous to have a home, they would tell you that the down payment is the hurdle that they can’t cross. And one way to address that is to have the federal government participate.
And so we’ve called upon Congress to set up what’s called the American Dream Down Payment Fund, which will provide financial grants to local governments to help first-time home buyers who qualify to make the down payment on their home. If a down payment is a problem, there’s a way we can address that. And when Congress funds the program, this should help 200,000 new families over the next five years become first-time home buyers.
Secondly, affordable housing is a problem in many neighborhoods, particularly inner-city neighborhoods. … I’m doing is proposing a single-family affordable housing credit to encourage the construction of single-family homes in neighborhoods where affordable housing is scarce. (Applause.)
Over the next five years the initiative will provide home builders and therefore home buyers with — home builders with $2 billion in tax credits to bring affordable homes and therefore provide an additional supply for home buyers. …
And we’ve got to set priorities. And one of the key priorities is going to be inner-city America. …
Another obstacle to minority homeownership is the lack of information. You know, getting into your own home can be complicated. It can be a difficult process. I had that very same problem. (Laughter and applause.)
Every home buyer has responsibilities and rights that need to be understood clearly. And yet, when you look at some of the contracts, there’s a lot of small print. And you can imagine somebody newly arrived from Peru looking at all that print, and saying, I’m not sure I can possibly understand that. Why do I want to buy a home? There’s an educational process that needs to go on, not only to explain the contract, explain obligation, but also to explain financing options, to help people understand the complexities of a homeownership market, and also at the same time to protect people from unscrupulous lenders, people who would take advantage of a good-hearted soul who is trying to realize their dream.
Homeownership education is critical. And so today, I’m pleased to announce that through Mel’s office, we’re going to distribute $35 million in 2003 to more than 100 national, state and local organizations that promote homeownership through buyer education. (Applause.)
And, of course, one of the larger obstacles to minority homeownership is financing, is the ability to have their dream financed. Right now, we have a program that all of you are familiar with, maybe our fellow Americans are, and that’s what they call a Section 8 housing program, that provides billions of dollars in vouchers to help low-income Americans with their rent. It encourages leasing. We think it’s important that we use those vouchers, that federal money to help low-income Americans go from being somebody who leases to somebody who owns; that we use the Section 8 program to not only help with down payment, but to help with continuing monthly mortgage payments after they’re into their new home. It is a — it is a way to help us meet this dream of 5.5 million additional families owning their home.
I’m also going to encourage the lending industry to develop a mortgage market so that this script, these vouchers, can regularly be used as a source of payment to provide more capital to lenders, who can then help more families move from rental housing into houses of their own. …
Last June, I issued a challenge to everyone involved in the housing industry to help increase the number of minority families to be home owners. And what I’m talking about, I’m talking about your bankers and your brokers and developers, as well as members of faith-based community and community programs. And the response to the home owners challenge has been very strong and very gratifying. Twenty-two public and private partners have signed up to help meet our national goal. Partners in the mortgage finance industry are encouraging homeownership by purchasing more loans made by banks to African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.
Representatives of the real estate and homebuilding industries, through their nationwide networks or affiliates, are committed to broadening homeownership. They made the commitment to help meet the national goal we set.
Freddie Mae — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — I see the heads who are here; I want to thank you all for coming — (laughter) — have committed to provide more money for lenders. They’ve committed to help meet the shortage of capital available for minority home buyers.
Fannie Mae recently announced a $50 million program to develop 600 homes for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Franklin [Raines], I appreciate that commitment. They also announced $12.7 million investment in a condominium project in Harlem. It’s the beginnings of a series of initiatives to help meet the goal of 5.5 million families. Franklin told me at the meeting where we kicked this office, he said, I promise you we will help, and he has, like many others in this room have done.
Freddie Mac recently began 25 initiatives around the country to dismantle barriers and create greater opportunities for homeownership. One of the programs is designed to help deserving families who have bad credit histories to qualify for homeownership loans. …
There’s all kinds of ways that we can work together to meet the goal. Corporate America has a responsibility to work to make America a compassionate place. Corporate America has responded. As an example — only one of many examples — the good folks at Sears and Roebuck have responded by making a five-year, $100 million commitment to making homeownership and home maintenance possible for millions of Americans. …
The non-profit groups are bringing homeownership to some of our most troubled communities. …
The other thing Kirbyjon told me, which I really appreciate, is you don’t have to have a lousy home for first-time home buyers. If you put your mind to it, the first-time home buyer, the low-income home buyer can have just as nice a house as anybody else. And I know Kirbyjon. He is what I call a social entrepreneur who is using his platform as a Methodist preacher to improve the neighborhood and the community in which he lives.
And so is Luis Cortes, who represents Nueva Esperanza in Philadelphia. I went to see Luis in the inner-city Philadelphia. … But he also understood that a homeownership program is incredibly important to revitalize this neighborhood that a lot of folks had already quit on. …
Again, I want to tell you, this is an initiative — as Mel will tell you, it’s an initiative that we take very seriously. … Thank you for coming. May God bless your vision. May God bless America. (Applause.)
What would 5.5 million marginal mortgages cost? I dunno … at, say, $127,000 each, that would be, what, $700 billion?
This might be another case where we would have been better off with a straightforward affirmative action program for Non-Asian Minorities (NAMs) rather than lower standards for everybody. At least, with quotas, you get the best from each race, whereas when you lower standards enough for NAMs to get higher representation, you wind up with lower quality from within each group.
For example, when NAMs complained to the Nixon Administration that the they weren’t passing the federal civil service exam at the same rate as whites, the government spent a fortune creating the perfect new civil service exam, the PACE, with five subsections, validated for over 100 different jobs. Of course, a higher quality test didn’t solve the problem of lower NAM competence, so the Carter Administration junked the PACE and left it up to each department to cobble together its own hiring process, with deleterious long-term results.