FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Right to Rent

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail