Monday, December 12, 2011

Immigrants and Housing Proposal

I was surprised to find the following in the New York Times this morning:

"Two senators, Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, have proposed a bill that would offer three-year visas to foreigners who spent at least $500,000 to buy homes in the United States. But the idea has many opponents who fear expanding the nation’s oversupply of workers (a worry not shared by a fair number of economists)."

That was in a longer article, Goodbye House, Hello Pot Plantation by Catherine Rampell. There are over 1.2 million for sale and empty houses in the U.S. today, including hundreds of thousands repossessed by banks but being held off the market. On the other hand moving the unemployment number back to 5% would soak up all of this housing (partly in the form of rentals) and create more than enough demand for another construction boom.

We are in a massive housing and economic Catch 22. We probably can't get to 5% unemployment unless there is strong new construction. Housing construction requires local labor (can't be done overseas) and the materials used themselves are heavy enough that shipping is a large cost component, so they tend to be regional as well. In addition banks are reluctant to loan to home buyers. That would change if housing prices firmed.

I proposed moving house-buying immigrants to the front of the line back in A Cheap, Quick Housing and Economy Fix [November 18, 2008]. A number of people thought it was a good idea, but getting traction in anything related to immigration is difficult.

If you want to look at the Lee-Schumer bill or track it through Congress, it is S. 1746: Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act. Here is the key text:

(a) Nonimmigrant Status- Section 101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by section 5(a), is further amended by adding at the end the following:
‘(X) subject to section 214(t), an alien who, after the date of the enactment of the VISIT USA Act--
‘(i)(I) uses at least $500,000 in cash to purchase 1 or more residences in the United States, which each sold for more than 100 percent of the most recent appraised value of such residence, as determined by the property assessor in the city or county in which the residence is located;
‘(II) maintains ownership of residential property in the United States worth at least $500,000 during the entire period the alien remains in the United States as a nonimmigrant described in this subparagraph; and
‘(III) resides for more than 180 days per year in a residence in the United States that is worth at least $250,000; and
‘(ii) the alien spouse and children of the alien described in clause (i) if accompanying or following to join the alien.’.
One of my complaints about the New York Times and other traditional web sources is that they hate it when a link takes you off their site, unless it is a paid ad. Not only do they not link to one of the bill tracking sites (there are several), they do not even give the official name of the bill, or its number. So getting more detail is unnecessarily difficult in this hyperlinked age. That is poor reporting, in my view. Probably not because of the reporters themselves, but because of "policy."

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