The head of the U.S. central bank, in his second public statement on housing policy in as many weeks, told an audience of house builders Friday that creditors who own vacant homes should consider renting the properties as a way to stanch urban blight.
The speech by Ben Bernanke to the National Association of Homebuilders meeting in Orlando, Fla., was the second time in two week the Fed chairman issued public advice on national housing policy. He also used the occasion to underscore the central bank's duty to protect consumers of financial services.
Last week Bernanke gave Congress a white paper on housing that drew criticism from some Republicans and a mild dissent from a regional Fed president.
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., criticized the paper and Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker called the paper "something of a break" from the Federal Reserve's historical pattern of avoiding fiscal policy suggestions, according to Bloomberg.
In his Orlando speech, Bernanke singled out Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, Riverside, Calif., and Las Vegas as cities where creditor- or real estate-owned, or REO, properties could most benefit from residential properties being rented.
He said a Fed study "suggests that some REO holders might come out ahead by renting, rather than by selling, some of their properties. Moreover, keeping paying tenants in homes -- including leasing to the former owners at market rents -- may, in some cases, be the best way to maintain property values and the quality of neighborhoods."
"Foreclosures, particularly when they are geographically concentrated, can diminish the values of nearby properties," he said.
"Many foreclosed homes are neglected or abandoned, as legal proceedings or other factors delay their resale. Deteriorating or vacant properties can, in turn, directly affect the quality of life in a neighborhood, for example, by leading to increases in vandalism or crime. Moreover, the continuing price declines typical in neighborhoods with many foreclosures depress the tax base of the community."
Bernanke prefaced his remarks by saying the Federal Reserve's mandate includes not only maintaining the integrity of the currency and pursuing policies that promote full employment, its statutory duties, but also "protecting consumers of financial services."