Obama administration should make housing market a top priority

    I have been in the business as a custom homebuilder for 15 years. I’ve built my business with great employees, and I’ve had up to 12 full-time carpenters on staff. All are long-time employees with at least five years or more working with me.

    Since the housing slowdown, I’ve had to take the difficult step of laying off four of them, and may have to lay off four more in the spring.

    I haven’t sold any lots in 12 months.

    Of course, the housing crisis goes well beyond my own situation. In Wisconsin and around the United States, all builders and those in related industries are all suffering.

    With our nation in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Congress must be willing to take bold and decisive action to spur a housing and economic recovery.

    Unless we are able to halt the slide in home prices, the nation’s housing and economic woes will continue to grow even worse. This is why a robust housing component must be an integral part of the new economic stimulus package under consideration by the incoming Obama administration and new Congress.

    A failure to stem the decline in home values and jumpstart home sales will result in more foreclosures, more problems with troubled mortgage assets and an increasing inventory (already at record levels), which in turn will drag down property values even more.

    In order to break out of this downward spiral, we need to get skittish homebuyers back into the market. We need to stimulate demand. Congress should enact a meaningful tax credit between $10,000 and $22,000 available to all qualified homebuyers, coupled with an aggressive interest rate buy-down program to as low as 2.99 percent for those who purchase a home in 2009.

    These measures will stabilize home prices, prevent future foreclosures, restore consumer confidence and start creating jobs. Congress enacted similar policies during an economic downturn in the mid-1970s. It worked then. And it can work again.

    Jason Steen is the owner of Steen Construction in Osseo and is president of the Wisconsin Home Builders Association.

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