WASHINGTON — The biggest elephant in the room this election season may be the roof over your head.
Observers have repeatedly mentioned that neither of the first two presidential debates — which mostly focused on domestic issues — included a word about the housing crisis.
"Since the third debate is focused on foreign policy, it is now safe to say that we have traversed the 2012 presidential campaign without a significant discussion of housing issues," Isaac Boltansky, an analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading, said in a note Wednesday morning.
The only housing-related content from the second debate Tuesday, Boltansky pointed out, dealt with whether mortgage interest deductions would be preserved in a tax reform plan.
Of course, getting a clear picture anywhere else on the campaign trail about what Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would do about foreclosures, underwater borrowers and sagging mortgage growth isn't any easier.
So even using their past statements to simulate what the candidates would have said if they had been asked about the housing crisis during the debates is a challenge. Yet here's our best attempt to succeed where the debates failed in parsing their views on the issue.
The Obama administration was somewhat active on housing in the first part of 2012, with the president unveiling a plan in his State of the Union to expand refinancings for struggling borrowers.
But any details about a plan for moving forward on housing reform have been limited. The administration released a white paper in February on reforming the government sponsored enterprises, but did not endorse any of the three options it laid out for doing so. And critics have generally found the administration's solutions for fixing the foreclosure crisis wanting.
The issue gained some traction last spring, when the president pressured Congress in multiple public statements to pass numerous Democratic-sponsored bills designed to help the mortgage market. The bills included legislation sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer to expand access to the Home Affordable Refinancing Program.
Obama also visited the home of a couple underwater on their mortgage in Reno, Nevada, one of the areas hit hardest by the housing crisis, to reiterate calls for improved refinancing options.
But Obama's campaign website lacks an "issues" page about housing, and any comprehensive ideas — or even broad outlines — about what one could expect on housing in a second Obama term are missing. The only real reference on the website is in the general section on the economy, where the campaign merely criticizes Romney's statements about the housing market needing to hit "rock bottom" before it can recover.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney:
Although his housing plan is sparse, Romney has at least put mortgages on the table this campaign season. His campaign has a housing section among other issues on its website summarizing a white paper he released in September on reforming the GSEs.
But the white paper was vague at best. It says a Romney-Ryan administration would reform government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, "responsibly" sell the more than 200,000 vacant homes owned by the government, make foreclosure alternatives easier, replace Dodd-Frank with "sensible" regulation and improve the job market.
Romney is also still contending with criticism over his comments from a year ago when he said the housing market cannot recover until it hits "rock bottom."
The campaign's website says the Obama administration's policies have hurt lending. "Since the housing crisis, the government has produced more than 8,000 pages of new rules and regulations. The problem is that they are poorly designed, and have made it harder for people with good credit to get loans," the site says. "Mitt Romney will put in place smarter regulations to restore a functioning marketplace that holds banks accountable and restart lending to creditworthy borrowers."
"Any serious plan for ending the housing crisis must address its root cause. Two government-sponsored companies known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were at the center of the housing crisis," the website adds. "Mitt Romney will reform these government-sponsored companies to protect taxpayers from additional risk in the future by ensuring taxpayer dollars in the housing market are replaced with private dollars."