Obama Returns to Arizona to Tout Broad Housing Recovery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

With images of vacant, half-built residential developments that gathered dust after the Great Recession, the U.S. Southwest once symbolized the 2008-2012 housing bust that wiped out $7 trillion in homeowner equity and wrecked the finances of many Americans.

But as housing stages a recovery around the United States, including the hard-hit Sun Belt, President Barack Obama goes back to the region on Tuesday to claim some of the credit while urging further action to keep the housing winning streak alive.

More than four years after Obama outlined his plan to halt the housing market free fall in February 2009, he returns to Phoenix, where he will again talk about housing. The speech is another stop in a summer tour in which he is highlighting aspects of the economy that have improved under his watch while chiding political foes for obstructing faster progress.

But in Phoenix, the bright housing picture of increased sales and firmer prices mask continued challenges for those seeking housing, particularly those at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, say homeowner advocates.

“My fear is that people think the problem is over,” said Patricia Garcia Duarte, president of Neighborhood Housing Services of Phoenix. “There are still families that are struggling.”

Even those who have steady work and decent credit find themselves turned down by lenders requiring big down payments and pristine credit, she said.

Arizona, Nevada, California and Florida were the states hit hardest by cratering house prices, over building and the wave of foreclosures that started during the 2008 financial crisis. In Phoenix, Obama can point to gains in house prices and declines in foreclosures to argue that his policies established a floor for housing markets and set the stage for a rebound. However, Garcia Duarte, whose organization is a chapter of a national nonprofit, says she still sees plenty of people who are trying to do everything they can to stay in their homes.

Obama’s return to Phoenix will have historic resonance because he spoke there the day after signing his $787 billion stimulus plan into law more than four years ago.

The president’s focus on housing reflects the sector’s outsize impact on the broader economy.