WASHINGTON — The job market is stirring, gas prices are plunging and stocks are near record levels, but a housing sector that dragged the nation into the worst recession since the Depression remains the black spot in an otherwise resurgent economy.
President Barack Obama, often criticized for inattention to the housing sector, will seek to address the problem today, lowering insurance rates on federally issued mortgages to first-time homebuyers, minorities and struggling Americans. The move is modest, producing savings of $900 a year per homebuyer.
However humble, the move illustrates just how difficult it has become to stimulate the housing sector since the 2008 financial crisis. Obama’s proposals could bring 250,000 new homebuyers into the market and lower refinancing costs for an estimated 800,000 homeowners, administration officials said.
That is a fraction of the 2 million to 2.5 million homes that go to first-time homebuyers a year in a healthy market. But there are no quick fixes. While housing usually leads the country out of recession, this time, it is an anchor.
The financial crisis chased private lenders out of the mortgage market, leaving the federal government with a virtual monopoly. Tighter lending rules imposed after the crisis have made loans more difficult to come by. And young workers who should be first-time homebuyers are saddled with student-loan debt in a job market just gaining steam.
“There are an awful lot of chickens and eggs and ducks and geese,” said Julia Gordon, director of housing finance and policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization.
Obama’s announcement will come during a three-day trip that is intended to steal the political spotlight from the newly empowered Republicans on Capitol Hill during their first week in control of Congress.
He began the trip Wednesday in Detroit, where in a speech at a Ford plant he claimed credit for the improving economy, in part by highlighting the auto industry’s robust recovery after the 2009 federal bailout.
“Saving the American auto industry was the right thing to do,” Obama told autoworkers. “Betting on you was the right thing to do.”