merica's housing market implosion was the epicenter of the Great Recession. It's hardly surprising that the federal government directed enormous resources at the market. Besides bailing out vulnerable banks, the federal government nationalized mortgage behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, opened the lending spigot at the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), passed a first-time home buyers' tax credit, and established a mortgage modification program for troubled homeowners. The Federal Reserve embarked on a $1.25 trillion purchase of mortgage-backed securities in an effort to engineer lower mortgage rates.
The Herculean efforts may be understandable. But they were a mistake in the early months of the downturn—and now stand as a public policy blunder in the early months of a recovery. That's a harsh judgment, but it's way past the time for ending taxpayer support of the housing market.
These policies are geared toward propping up home prices, the definition of a perverse public policy. Artificially holding prices at above-market levels harms new potential buyers, from young adults starting their own households to immigrants putting down stakes in the American Dream. The subsidies wrongly delay the inevitable home market price adjustment to excess supply in many markets across the country.
"I don't see anything being gained by holding housing prices higher than the market rate," says Dean Baker, economist and co-director of the liberal Center for Economic & Policy Research in Washington. "It is difficult to see why the government would want to pursue policies that would encourage people to pay too much for homes."