In the wake of a full week full of bad economic news, especially housing indicators, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan appeared on CNNs Sunday morning news and interview program State of the Union.  Host Ed Henry prefaced the interview with July housing numbers - a 27 percent decline in existing home sales and new home sales at their lowest levels since 1963.  "Many analysts," Henry said, "believe that housing started this whole financial crisis. We saw some pretty grim headlines this week sparking some fears about a double dip recession."  He asked Donovan, what he could say to reassure Americans that this will not happen.

Donovan said that the dip in house sales in July was not unexpected because it would mark the end of the homebuyers' tax credit that had been successful in spurring those sales.  But, he said, the numbers were clearly worse than expected.  The Secretary said, in response the Administration would be launching two additional critical tools in the next few weeks.   The first will be an FHA refinancing effort to help borrowers who are underwater in their homes, the second is an emergency homeowners' loan program to help unemployed borrowers to in their homes.  

Asked point-blank by Henry whether a nother housing tax credit was dead, the Secretary said that it was too early, based on just one month of post-credit housing numbers, to say whether it would be revived, but that the Administration would be watching where the market is moving going forward and would do everything possible to make sure it stabilizes and recovers.

The Secretary also sent another signal that the nation's ownership-centric housing policy may be undergoing review.  Henry referenced the current cover story in Time magazine about rethinking home ownership which quoted Deputy Housing Secretary Raphael Bostic as saying, "There is this notion that being housed well is synonymous with being a home owner. That narrative has got to change."  Henry said, "This is kind of a radical new idea that is being talked about, a debate throughout the country that maybe homeownership is not for everybody. Where does the administration come down on that?"

Donovan said he and the president have both been consistent about promoting the need for a more balanced housing policy.  "For too long, our focus at the federal level was only on homeownership to the exclusion of rental. Homeownership is important, and we are going to continue to make sure folks have access to homeownership, but we need to make sure that we have decent, affordable rental housing in this country as well." 

The Secretary was speaking from New Orleans where he was attending observances marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  He pointed to the 40,000 families who were in FEMA trailers at the beginning of his administration and now are mostly in permanent housing.  This, he said, is a perfect example of the Administration's approach.  "We have been focused on making sure the public housing residents can get back in their homes. That's why today there are more federally assisted rental units in New Orleans than there were before the storm. And so we're going to continue to focus on having a truly balanced housing policy in the country.

He said that a house may no longer be a homeowner's piggy bank it was in the past but it is too early to say whether home prices will now rise only in step with inflation.  The key is "we've got to get back to basics on homeownership.  We've got to have decent, safe, smart loans that help families not just get into a home but stay in a home. And look, the issue here is families can choose homeownership. They ought to be able to choose homeownership, but if they do that, they ought to get it with a safe mortgage loan that will keep them in that home long term."