FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Right to Rent

by DEAN BAKER

Winston Churchill supposedly once said: “you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.” This may prove to be an accurate description of the response to the foreclosure crisis that has followed the collapse of the housing bubble.

The folks in Washington have developed a series of complex mortgage modification schemes designed to keep people in their homes. President Bush put forward the first plan in the summer of 2007. It was entirely voluntary for lenders and came with no government money.

Last summer, Congress developed a package that committed up to $300 billion in loan guarantees to support modification efforts. Eight months after the plan went into effect, there had been less than 1,000 applications and only 52 completed modifications.

The most recent set of proposals came from President Obama in February. This plan focused more on giving incentives to servicers, offering them $1,000 to carry out a modification and an additional $1,000 for each year that the homeowner stayed in their home. This program also appears to be having a limited effect, as foreclosure rates hit a new high in the second quarter of this year.

There is an easier route. In recognition of the extraordinary situation created by the housing bubble and its collapse, Congress could approve a temporary change of the rules governing the foreclosure process. This change would give homeowners facing foreclosure the right to stay in their home paying the market rent for a substantial period of time (e.g. 7-10 years).

This change would have two effects. First, it would immediately give housing security to the millions of families facing foreclosure. If they like the house, the neighborhood, the schools for their kids, they would have the option to remain there for a substantial period of time.

Also by keeping homes occupied, this rule change can help to prevent the blight of foreclosures that has depressed property values in many areas. Vacant homes are often not maintained and can become havens for drug use and crime.

The other effect of a right to rent rule would be that it would give lenders substantially more incentive to modify a mortgage. Under the rule, the lender could still carry through with the foreclosure process and take possession of the house. The lender would also be free to resell the property, but the former homeowner would still have the option to remain as a tenant paying the market rent for the period specified in the law.

Since a house that comes with a renter attached is much less valuable to the bank, foreclosure would be a much less attractive option. Therefore lenders would have more incentive to try to work out a modification plan that allowed the homeowner to remain in their house as an owner.

The main argument that has been raised against a right to rent law is that it would interfere with the sanctity of contract by changing the terms of enforcement after the fact. While it is important to have clear law on such issues, there is precedent for such changes. During the Depression the government imposed a complete moratorium on foreclosures – a move that was upheld by the courts.

Perhaps an even better precedent was the bankruptcy reform act that Congress passed in 2005. This act made it far more difficult for creditors to have their debts relieved in bankruptcy. The reason that this provides a precedent for right to rent laws is that it was applied retroactively to debts already incurred. A person could have run up $30,000 in credit card debt under one set of bankruptcy rules only to find that they were now bound by a much stricter, new set of rules. When the topic was changing the rules to benefit creditors, the sanctity of contract was never even raised as an issue.

The foreclosure crisis is a disaster for millions of homeowners who are seeing dreams ruined and their families’ lives disrupted. The efforts to develop creative mortgage modification schemes have thus far not been successful in providing much relief. Such plans are inevitably costly and time consuming.

By contrast, a right to rent law can instantly provide security to millions of homeowners facing foreclosure. It requires no bureaucracy and no taxpayer dollars. Perhaps the Obama administration and Congress will take such a proposal seriously now that they have tried everything else.

DEAN BAKER is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

More articles by:
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
Andrew Levine
Why Not Hillary?
Paul Street
Hillary Clinton’s Neocon Resumé
Chris Floyd
Twilight of the Grifter: Bill Clinton’s Fading Powers
Eric Mann
How We Got the Tanks and M-16s Out of LA Schools
Jason Hirthler
The West’s Needless Aggression
Dan Arel
Why Hillary Clinton’s Camp Should Be Scared
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Flunks Decontamination
David Rosen
The Privatization of the Public Sphere
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Civil Rights Hypocrisy
Chris Gilbert
Corruption in Latin American Governments
Pete Dolack
We Can Dream, or We Can Organize
Dan Kovalik
Colombia: the Displaced & Invisible Nation
Jeffrey St. Clair
Fat Man Earrings: a Nuclear Parable
Medea Benjamin
Israel and Saudi Arabia: Strange Bedfellows in the New Middle East
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail