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NEW YORK (
) --I sympathize with the people demonstrating in the Occupy Wall Street movement, but I think that they are demonstrating in the wrong place and against the wrong people.
They should change the name to Occupy Congress and get 2 million people to go down to the D.C. area, where unemployment is low and deficits high and where Congress hardly does any real work and lets the lobbyists decide. Real estate values in and around the Beltway have held up pretty well. So have wages. I wonder why all the states and cities should be cutting wages and the federal government and Congress are not cutting their own pay.
I sympathize with Occupy Wall Street, but it's targeting the wrong place and the wrong people. It's time to Occupy Congress.
Wall Street is just a first or second derivative of Congress. Even after the mortgage debacle the federal bank regulators didn't catch the robo-signing problem. The states' attorneys general and private attorneys were the first to find the problem.
It will take time for the housing market to heal because Congress is not going to do anything about it. Eventually the states will settle with the banks and by 2013, we may be done with foreclosures. But it is possible that the foreclosures will not clear until the end of 2013.
We have a big election coming up and the tax issue and debt ceiling will roll around again. We have an out-of-control deficit with a super committee of Lilliputians trying to eke out $1.2 trillion of savings over 10 years, while last year's deficit was $1.3 trillion. In D.C., it is all a game to Congress and the president and ideology is what they practice. A priori knowledge is a big thing too. Pragmatism and listening to the 88% does not feature. The 99% who are protesting must include many people who like the way Congress does its job, because the public opinion polls consistently show that only 12% approve of Congress.
Maybe Congress and the rest of the D.C. crowd sent the Occupy Wall Street people to Wall Street to divert attention from what they're doing.
Digging deeper into real estate, let's look at why housing in many areas double dipped.
1. Congress allowed new homes instead of just existing homes to qualify for the Home Buyers Tax Credit in 2008 and for all the extensions Congress made to the original program that just added more supply to a bloated market.
The much-maligned cash for clunkers program for cars required that the car dealer had to destroy the clunker, which reduced the inventory of existing cars and cleaned out inventories.
2. Congress allowed home builders to carry back losses from 2008 and 2009 five years that generated almost a billion dollars of tax refunds for the builders, even though they had cash on hand at the time in 2009 when the law was changed. How could it be that after the biggest housing bubble in the history of the country, no big national builder went bankrupt? Very few people complain about how the Congress bailed out the home builders with no strings attached.
3. Many home builders flush with cash have been selling homes below cost this year and generating losses or very tiny profits.
4. Real wages have been falling so people have less money to make payments.
5. Real estate taxes have not fallen in line with the decrease in value of a home in many places.
6. Insurance costs for a home have not fallen in line with the fall in the value of a home.
7. Employment has not picked up.
8. The robo-signing scandal, for which no one has been indicted or even fired from what I can see, set back the clearing out of homes that were to be foreclosed and has left a huge overhang of homes.
In states like California where people do not have personal liability on a mortgage, the foreclosures took place quickly and the quick foreclosure process stabilized the market much sooner as opposed to Florida, Arizona, and Nevada.
9. The failure of Congress, the Fed, the GSEs and the FHA to come up with a workable program to let everyone refinance at super-low interest rates early on in the crisis before home values plummeted.
10. The debacle over the debt ceiling in July and August that lowered business and consumer confidence severely, set back employment gains and caused a spurt in new unemployment claims.
11. Mortgage delinquencies are starting to go back up.
12. New federal regulations or GSE regulations have made it very hard for people to qualify for a mortgage or to refinance a mortgage. The inability to refinance at the all-time low rates available has hurt overall demand and business activity.
What can we do to help the situation?
1. The government could change the mortgage refinance regulations so people with good payment histories can refinance even if they are underwater.
2. Offer green cards to people who will buy homes in the USA for cash.
3. Have a Federal funding program for cities that will condemn vacant homes that are derelict and have them torn down. I prefer tearing them down to burning them as Alan Greenspan suggested because it puts more people to work to tear the house down than burn it.
4. Government needs to settle the robo-signing issue with the banks so that the final big wave of foreclosures can take place and clear the market.
5. Congress and the president could settle the Bush tax cut issue to reduce the tax uncertainty. The uncertainty over taxes will reduce the number of jobs the economy might otherwise create.
6. Make the home builders pay back the tax refunds they received for the amount they lose on any new home they sell. It is atrocious that builders keep building new homes and selling them at a loss in a home market like the one we have.
The home builders are hurting all the people who own an existing home, the banks and our government that owns so many homes through GSEs. This is the least Congress could do after giving the home builders so many tax dollars in tax refunds and the Home Buyers Tax Credit.
7. Change our energy policy so that the USA uses natural gas as a bridge fuel for all surface transportation and for heating buildings in place of heating oil.
The build out would create millions of new jobs and make our country cleaner than it is now. We would also slash our trade deficit and make our national security much stronger by having self-sufficiency in energy. We could then reduce defense spending.
8. Leverage the savings from defense spending into building a set amount of renewable energy every year so we build towards the day when we can reduce carbon fuels substantially.
Matt Horween is a certified public accountant and served as a commissioned U.S. foreign service officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development from March 1981 to March 1998. He served in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Egypt, Honduras and Barbados, spending about 15 years overseas. He ended his career stationed in Washington, D.C. as the financial controller for the bureau that controlled the foreign aid program for Europe, including all of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and its former satellite countries. Horween also worked as an auditor for Price Waterhouse & Company in New York City and held various financial management positions for several publically listed corporations. Early in his career, he served as a radio intercept analyst for the U.S. Air Force Security Service and was stationed in Greece.