Homebuilders leave trough hungry, despite lobby blitz

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All fingers point at the housing mess as a primary trigger for the current recession, but so far the homebuilding industry has been left in the cold as the economic stimulus bill moves through Congress, despite a blitz by its lobbyists.

“We are disappointed,” said Kenneth Gear, chief lobbyist and executive director of Fix Housing First, a months-old coalition of 600 associations, homebuilders, and suppliers. “We had a baseline of what we were asking for and I guess we are still not where we want to be.”

The House passed its version of the stimulus package — $819 billion worth — on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to begin debate on the stimulus early next week.

Fix Housing First’s baseline includes federally-subsidized cut-rate mortgages paired with a homebuyer tax credit ranging from $10,000 to $22,000. In the run-up to the stimulus legislation, the group carpet bombed Washington with newspaper ads and a member fly-in to jawbone legislators.

Unless it has better friends in the Senate, however, Fix Housing First seems to have missed its mark, winning only a slight concession: the House bill would abolish a requirement for first-time homebuyers to repay a $7,500 “tax credit” passed in 2008.

The industry argues that its plan would spur on-the-fence buyers to jump into the housing market. Some economists, however, suggest that the Fix Housing First plan would stimulate homebuilding in a market already swamped with foreclosures and short sales. And it would be expensive — deep in the $140 billion range, by Gear’s projections.

“We feel like the cost of doing nothing far exceeds it,” he said.

Numbers aren’t in for what the coalition spent on its failed push, but the National Association of Homebuilders — a coalition leader — spent $4.6 million on lobbying in 2008, a 41 percent increase from 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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