A 2009 Issue Guide for
Federal and State Policymakers
Presented by the
American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance
on behalf of more than 70 million American homeowners
Who are the
Homeowners' 2008 Priorities:
Budget and the Economy
Credit & Financial Services
Energy and the Environment
Housing and Real Estate
Technology and Communications
Who Are the Nation's
Home ownership contributes to our nation’s social stability,
and home equity is the biggest form of saving for most
homeowners. Among the most diverse U.S. population segments, the
over 70 million American homeowners are the largest single
identifiable group of consumers. They are also politically
active - 91% of homeowners said they are very likely to vote in
the next election in a national survey. Homeowners span the
spectrum of political philosophy, but most are politically
moderate: 23% are independents and the remainder is split evenly
between the two major political parties. The American Homeowners
Grassroots Alliance seeks to reflect that diversity and balance
in its policy positions.
AHGA focuses on policy issues that have a significant economic
impact on homeowners and home ownership. Housing is the single
greatest monthly expense for most homeowners and forces most
homeowners to spend their remaining income prudently. Therefore
any policy that substantially impacts the cost and quality of
living inevitably affects most homeowners. These policies
include federal and state budgets, consumer protection, credit
and financial services, education, energy and the environment,
health care, housing policy, international trade, taxation, and
technology and communications. AHGA is nonpartisan, and does not
take positions on social or ideological issues.
This Issue Guide contains a summary of AHGA's positions, divided
into ten issue areas. More information about AHGA’s positions on
specific issues is at
www.AmericanHomeowners.org . There you can find our
testimony, press releases, and stories in the current and past
issues of our newsletter, Home Base.
Also on the website is information about the consumer
education programs of the American Homeowners Foundation (AHF).
Established in 1984, AHF is a separately incorporated education
and research organization providing homeowners objective
guidance and tools to assist them in home buying, selling,
remodeling, financing, building, and other major home-related
1. Budget and
The current U.S. and worldwide
economic crisis justify every effort to prevent U.S. economic collapse.
We must make the necessary investments and tax cuts to prevent another
Great Depression. At the same we must recognize that deficits limit
growth and add pressure on interest rates, which is against the best
interests of homeowners and other consumers. For this reason we need to
return to the goal and practice of balancing federal, state, and local
budgets as soon as our economy is stabilized, and then begin to look for
ways to reduce government debt. This will require tough decisions, as
President Obama indicated in his inaugural address, and no program,
entitlement, or tax deduction (including those that benefit homeowners),
should be exempt from scrutiny.
2. Consumer Protection
All legislation should reflect
the Consumer Protection Principles of the Consumer Federation of
America (see below).
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3. Credit & Financial
● Government Sponsored
Enterprises (GSEs), such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be
converted to federal agencies so that they can continue their worthy
mission of assuring that affordable mortgage financing remains available
to low and middle income homeowners.
● RESPA should be expanded and enforcement actions and penalties should
be increased. Loan originators and mortgage brokers should be required
to provide written estimates in binding agreements with potential
clients on broker compensation and fees. Title 8 (anti-kickback rules)
should be more vigorously enforced and severe penalties should be
imposed for noncompliance with RESPA regulations.
● All professionals who arrange home financing should be subject to all
Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA) requirements and minimum national education
standards for lending executives should be established. Title insurance
companies should provide substantial title insurance discounts for
refinanced loans under 10 years old. Lender title insurance commissions
should be disclosed on HUD-1 statements and capped at 20%.
● The U.S. and global financial services sector is broken and in need of
major reform. We must end the era of mega banks, limiting their size and
prohibiting them from managing hedge funds. There should be increased
oversight of mortgage lenders, money market mutual funds and credit
rating agencies. The U.S. should work closely with the Group of 30 to
implement these and other financial services sector reforms on a
consistent international basis.
● Stronger identity theft and Internet fraud legislation should be
enacted. Sharing of sensitive financial and other personal information
should be subject to an explicit opt-out system.
● Predatory lending should be outlawed and consumer financial education
should be expanded.
● The “No Child Left Behind Act” must be fully funded. Strong systems of
accountability based upon student performance must be maintained. We
must also increase local control and flexibility, and preserve the
option for disadvantaged children to participate in public school choice
programs or obtain supplemental tutoring.
● Educational budgets must be increased. Teacher salaries must be
increased to draw better qualified teachers and more teachers must be
hired to reduce class sizes and allow more personal attention to
● Student college loan programs must be enhanced to cover increases in
tuition and room and board and expanded so they are available to all
qualified students in need.
5. Energy and the Environment
We must develop a balanced and
comprehensive national energy and environmental policy. The hydrocarbon
based energy sources whose emissions are most adversely affecting public
health and the global environment must be reduced as soon as possible
and replaced with renewable energy sources to the greatest extend
practicable The policy should include market-based conservation
incentives and enhanced consumer education.
● Tax credits to encourage higher standards of energy efficiency in new
home construction and remodeling, and the purchase of hybrid vehicles
and other energy efficient products should be made permanent.
● There should be an increase in funds earmarked for home weatherization
for low-income homeowners, and the program should be expanded to include
active and passive energy systems.
● Federal funding for research into energy conservation and renewable
energy technologies for home, consumer, automotive, and industrial uses
should be expanded.
● Tax credits to encourage teleworking, the creation of home based
businesses, the greater use of public transportation and the expansion
of car-pooling should be enacted.
With nearly 47 million uninsured
Americans and health care costs rising exponentially, access to
affordable quality care is one of most pressing issues facing the
country today. We need a comprehensive reform plan that insures that every
American has access to affordable, effective health care coverage,
particularly preventive medical services which can substantially reduce
health care costs. In order to assure that we both improve outcomes and
reduce healthcare costs, we should employ the
most cost effective mechanisms to fund that coverage while preserving
choice for medical consumers to the greatest degree possible consistent
with that objective. We must invest in
the efficiencies of health information technology to
create a system of electronic health records that protects privacy and
facilitates better medical outcomes. We must fund the development new
medical technologies, such as wearable medical monitoring devices which
will also reduce healthcare costs by enabling many of the several
million chronically ill to remain in their homes while their conditions
are monitored 24/7. We should expand federal financial assistance to
make coverage affordable for all, fix Medicare
Part D and ensure that retirees and others can afford prescription
drugs, and replace the current medical malpractice legal framework that
more fairly compensates for injury on a needs basis and also reduces
7. Housing and Real Estate
Home equity is the single largest
savings vehicle and source for retirement security for most homeowners.
Programs that help families achieve the dream of home ownership can be
the most cost effective policy tools to both strengthen the economy and
enhance savings in the U.S. Homeownership is presently threatened, and
the housing crisis is the major cause of the current recession which
must be addressed immediately.
● The foreclosure crisis should be addressed through a carrot and stick
approach featuring incentives against further lender losses beyond the
current market value for mortgages they own, combined with a new law
subjecting foreclosures to bankruptcy oversight in order to encourage
lenders to reduce mortgage balances and monthly payments so homeowners
can avoid foreclosure and keep their homes.
● Potential first time homebuyers are sitting on the sidelines. We must
bring them back into the marketplace to clear the growing inventory of
foreclosed and unsold new homes, and stabilize home values. A temporary
10% first time buyer’s tax credit capped at the price of moderate homes
in the market area (i.e. $7,500 - $22,000) should be enacted to overcome
their fear of further drops in home values.
● Many homeowners over the age of 40 have lost substantial amounts of
their home equity and retirement savings. They are staying away from
malls, restaurants and car dealers in order to rebuild their savings.
While it is critical for them to restore their savings, our economy
cannot recover until they increase their consumer spending. To help them
Congress should create a mortgage refinancing program which will also
generate a surplus to fund the first time buyer’s tax credit. The
mechanism should be 30 year federal bonds. Te proceeds of those bonds
should be used to refinance existing mortgages for qualified homeowners
at a rate 1% higher than the government pays in interest. The savings,
which could average about $4,000 annually for a typical homeowner,
should spur them to resume consumer spending. The annual surplus, about
$1,000 for each mortgage would provide the government money to fund the
first time buyer’s tax credit.
● The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) should be
strengthened to require the disclosure of the annual percentage rate
(APR) on Good Faith Estimate (GFE) forms, and the GFE should be provided
to home buyers within two days of the loan application. Loan application
fees should be limited to $20. Estimated settlement fees should be
binding for 30 business days after the GFE is provided. Any referral
fees or gifts received by mortgage brokers or lenders should be broken
out and identified as “additional compensation to mortgage lender or
broker” on all appropriate forms.
● Federal housing programs that help qualified low-income families
accumulate the down payment to purchase a home should be strengthened.
Congress should extend the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and
Welfare-To-Work tax incentives to help the unemployed and economically
disadvantaged on the road to home ownership.
● The national housing trust fund should be expanded to build more
rental housing for the lowest income families.
● The use of eminent domain procedures should be limited to property for
public use and not be allowed as a tool for commercial real estate
developers to seize homes.
● State real estate laws that would allow a real estate broker to
represent both a buyer and a seller simultaneously (i.e. dual agency)
should be repealed at the federal or state level.
● A federal law prohibiting restrictions on commission rebates to
consumers and restrictions on consumer access to discounted real estate
services should be enacted and should include the retroactive repeal of
noncompliant state laws or regulations.
● Required disclosures should be made in writing by real estate agents
at the first substantive meeting with consumers. They should identify
all services provided, and sanctions should be imposed for violations.
An agency relationship with a real estate broker or agent must be in
writing and signed by the consumer.
● Entry standards and continuing education requirements for real estate
brokers and agents, mortgage brokers and mortgage lenders should be
● Multiple Listing Services are essential marketing facilities. They
should be required to distribute all homeowner’s listings to all of the
MLS members’ consumer-facing websites unless the homeowner gives written
permission not to. MLS members should be required to post all MLS
listings on their consumer-facing websites, and real estate brokers
should erect no barriers to the redistribution of those listings by
● At least half of the members of all real estate boards or commissions
should be consumer representatives who have no business ties to any
segment of the real estate services community.
8. International Trade
Homeowners and other consumers
worldwide benefit from reduced tariffs and non-tariff barriers to
international trade. We should pursue unfair trade practices by other
countries vigorously to defend American workers and American businesses.
While U.S. trade policy can also be an appropriate diplomatic tool to
discourage human rights violations by trading partners, care should be
taken to assure that it is not used to protect U.S. industries that have
not responded to the demands of U.S. consumers and who are not victims
of unfair trade practices. Workers displaced by foreign trade should be
provided expanded re-education benefits, including extending
unemployment benefits during the re-education period.
The current social security system should
not be modified by other than minor rate adjustments to improve long
term solvency. IRA, 401K, and other retirement savings plan contribution
limits should be increased. Additional tax incentives for home ownership
and retirement saving should be created. Annuity payments should be
taxed at the same rate as dividends. The alternative minimum tax (AMT)
should be adjusted and indexed to exempt middle class homeowners.
● First time home buyers should be allowed a tax credit of 10% of the
home’s price, tied to the price of entry level homes in their area and
capped at $22,000 in higher priced home markets. An affordable housing
tax credit should be enacted to create more homes for low income
● A $2,000 teleworking tax credit for
the purchase of computer hardware and software and broadband connections
should be created. Similar in objectives to the $2,000 hybrid vehicle
tax credit, it would reduce automobile pollution, traffic jams, and gas
prices, as well as lessen maintenance and investment pressures on our
transportation infrastructure. The increase in broadband demand would
benefit the accessibility of telemedicine.
● The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) should be
amended to permit investments by retirement plans in principal
residences of children and grandchildren who are buying their first
● Tax credits and other incentives that promote business use of the
home, affordable health care insurance, energy efficiency, and
protection of the environment should be enacted or extended.
10. Technology and
Homeowners use technology to pay
bills, buy products and services, plan vacations and business trips, and
increasingly to telecommute, and/or facilitate home-based businesses.
Students use technology tools to do school work and research.
Telemedicine is allowing the chronically ill to remain in their homes
longer and reducing the net cost of healthcare. Promotion of
telecommunications and computing technologies should be a national
priority and barriers to their use should be eliminated.
● Collection of sales taxes on out of state Internet purchases, which
are opposed by 85% of consumers, should be prohibited.
● Web sites should provide clear and
conspicuous home page disclosure of company privacy policies and include
procedures that give consumers the ability to control the disclosure of
any information they provide.
● Federal and state telecom regulatory bodies must protect the interests
of consumers and recognize property rights. Consumer representation on
state regulatory bodies should be increased.
● Spam enforcement procedures should be included in international
treaties. Congress should enact new laws to punish unauthorized use of
spyware and phishing. Anti-spam laws should be strengthened if
● Federal funding for programs and tax incentives that provide
affordable broadband services to rural and underserved homeowners and
other consumers, or which promote telemedicine solutions should be
● Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology should not be mandated.
Consumer’s “fair use” rights to make digital backup copies of music,
movies, and books for personal use should not be abridged.
● It should be illegal to put any software code on computers without the
owner’s expressed advance permission.
● Internet service providers or backbones should be allowed to offer
consumers different pricing based on access speeds but should not be
allowed to arbitrarily slow or restrict consumers’ access to websites.
● To increase competition and consumer choice and lower prices,
additional competitors should be allowed to enter the TV services
market. Internet-based (VOIP) telephone service providers must provide
direct access to 911services. Congress should examine cost-effective
alternatives to improve first responder interoperability.
Protection Principles of the Consumer Federation of America:
The marketplace must enable consumers to make informed choices among
services, goods, and sellers:
● Unsafe goods and services should carry appropriate warnings if they
put the user at risk.
● Contracts, advertisements, telemarketing, warranties, mailing
envelopes, sweepstakes, and other written materials should not be
designed to confuse, mislead, or frighten the public. Cooling-off
periods should be available to consumers in transactions that have high
financial risks or involve extended periodic payments.
● The marketplace must make available to consumers complete and accurate
information regarding the goods and services they purchase. Information
should be communicated in plain language, with written information
printed in type that is legible and readable or, if broadcast, is
audible and understandable, to a reasonable consumer. Consumers should
have reasonable time to review disclosures before consummation of the
● When consumers are wronged in a marketplace transaction, appropriate
and adequate redress must be available. Clear disclosures identifying
how and where aggrieved consumers can complain must be provided. Redress
must be provided in a timely manner and with a right of appeal.