While the nation is transfixed by pictures of Louisiana Sweet Crude gushing into the Gulf, forces are beginning to coalesce around a very different topic that could ultimately have a greater national impact: the nation's housing crisis.

That statement is not as obtuse as it seems in a country which has been obsessed with real estate for the last 20 years. Housing goes beyond a fascination with the rapid increase in the value of the neighbor's house or how many people are defaulting on their mortgages; these are factors, symptoms, causes of something much larger. We see indications that players in Washington and elsewhere know that the nation need to pay attention to where and under what conditions Americans take shelter.

The topic is daunting.  How a society provides housing for its citizens has implications far beyond bricks and mortar.  The impact of a misguided housing policy and the rules, regulations, greed, fraud, and profiteering that arose from it have been playing out across the entire economy for the last three years and that is only part of the picture.  Housing impacts individuals and communities in other ways - social and educational; its health, employment, and environment - to name just a few.

We know that stable housing has a strong positive impact on a single individual or family and that, in its absence, the problems can be profound.  An adult without a permanent address has difficulty finding employment, maintaining a healthful lifestyle, or a medical regime. A family without stable and affordable housing cannot access many social and health related services, or provide adequate clothing and nutrition; its children become transient students, frequently with social and psychological problems.  Imagine how those individual small human problems impact the schools which must educate the transient and troubled students, a health system that must cope with crisis rather than prevention, an increase the burden on law enforcement and the social network.    

Add to this list the effect on whole cities of the vacant and deteriorating properties that have been or soon will be foreclosed and the problem of housing their dispossessed former homeowners and renters, not to mention the lost property tax revenues. Banks are closing at rates not seen since the depression, largely because they took unholy risks - on housing.

It is beyond time to take a holistic look at the entire housing universe, and we see hope that is beginning to happen.  In the last few weeks MND has featured articles a possible shift in public policy from one that favors home ownership to an acceptance that rental housing should be encouraged and accommodated.  Recently the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development stepped up their involvement in housing the nation's veterans. 

The nation's first "comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness" will be released by the U.S. Interagency Counsel on Homelessness (USICH).  The council is an independent agency composed of 19 cabinet secretaries and agency heads dealing with aspects of homelessness.  The report is designed to serve as a roadmap for joint action by the agencies represented on the council in the formation of programs and budget proposals toward the council's goals.

The report, titled "Opening Doors:  The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness," is the result The HEARTH Act, signed into law in May, 2009 and subsequent meetings USICH has held with stakeholders, input from organized federal working groups, public comment, and experts throughout the country, all focused on developing an action plan to solve homelessness for veterans, adults, and families.

After the plan is released in a formal White House presentation which will be broadcast live on the White House website, USICH and the member agencies plan to work with Congress, mayors, legislatures, advocates, community organizations, and other stakeholders to implement the proposed programs.

Housing agencies and lenders are still fighting an endgame on the foreclosure front, but it is clear that some policymakers are moving on. We believe that the complicated situation we have just outlined contains both a lot of problems and some of the solutions.  Over the next months MND is going to examine the scope and significant of many issues under the broad heading of housing, including homelessness, affordable housing, and housing policy, and some possible approaches and solutions. 

As always, we welcome and value your input.

Interagency Government Council Unveils Strategic Plan to End Homelessness. READ MORE

HUD & DOT Partner To Support Community Development. READ MORE

HUD Homeless Report: More Families In Shelters. Fewer People On Street. READ MORE

Who Is Homeless? How Many Are Homeless? Why Are They Homeless? READ MORE

Gimme Shelter: Homelessness Rate Climbing. Low Income Rental Units Needed. READ MORE

The Dearth of Affordable Housing. READ MORE

HUD Allocates $58 Million To Help Homeless Veterans. READ MORE

HUD Chief Looks To Simplify Home Rental Assistance Program. READ MORE

Special Servicers More Motivated to Mitigate Housing Losses. READ MORE

HAMP Running Out of Qualified Borrowers to Rescue. READ MORE

Home Repossessions Rising As Banks Convert Shadow Inventory to Real Inventory. READ MORE

FDIC: More Attention Must Be Given To Affordable Housing and Borrower Education. READ MORE

FHFA Publishes Framework To Establish FHLBank Housing Goals. READ MORE

HUD Secretary Outlines Strategic Approach Toward Sustainable Housing Recovery. READ MORE

Homeownership Rate Hits 10 Year Low. Youngest Demographic is Biggest Drag. READ MORE