Post Tax Credit, Housing Prices Slide Further

New data comes out this week which will indicate how well the nation's housing market is faring. In recent months, after the federal homebuyer tax credit expired, prices in many areas began sliding lower again.

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The housing market, however, remains weak. This morning the commerce department said builders broke ground on fewer houses in December. Housing starts fell more than four percent from the previous month.

As NPR's Chris Arnold reports, some economists would like to see more action from Washington.

CHRIS ARNOLD: After crashing down around 30 percent in many areas, home prices appeared to be leveling off a few months ago. That was with the help of a federal homebuyer tax credit. But in recent months, after that tax credit expired, prices in many areas have been sliding lower again.

Professor CHRIS MAYER (Economics, Columbia University): And those foreclosures are starting to push prices down again.

ARNOLD: Chris Mayer is an economist with Columbia University. He says he'd like to see Congress and the Obama administration do more to shore up housing.

Prof. MAYER: I think the government has just looked and said, you know what, we've done a bunch of stuff with housing, nothing's really worked, maybe we'll just sort of hope for the best.

ARNOLD: Mayer says that's a mistake because the market is still very fragile. And he thinks it's become too hard for average people to qualify to buy a home or even just to refinance. As the new Congress gets underway, Mayer hopes that legislation will move forward that could make it easier for millions of Americans to qualify to refinance.

Prof. MAYER: I think the government can still help those people. You know, you're talking about savings in many cases of hundreds of dollars a month - a big amount for households that are struggling to get by.

ARNOLD: The legislation would target what critics say are unnecessary requirements that make it harder for homeowners to refinance at today's lower interest rates.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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