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Poll: Most think government should help homeowners in trouble

Pie Chart - Government Help for Housing Market

CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Most Americans think home ownership is an important part of the American dream, a new CBS News/ New York Times poll shows - so much so, that most also say the government should help homeowners in trouble with mortgage payments as a means of improving the market.

The housing market is at a low point, CBS News economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis reported on "The Early Show" last week, after sales of existing homes dropped in May. And even though mortgage rates are at record lows, access to credit remains hard to come by.

Americans are divided on some aspects of the government's role in improving the housing market, according to the poll, conducted June 24 - 28. Overall, 45 percent would like to see government do more, but three in 10 say it's doing enough right now. Another 16 percent said the government should be doing less.

Pluralities of all partisans would prefer the government do more, though Republicans (at 31 percent) are the most likely to say government should do less.

More than half of Americans, 53 percent, say the federal government should provide help to people who are having trouble paying their mortgages, but 40 percent of Americans disagree. Most Democrats agree, while Republicans and independents are mixed.

Americans have been affected by the housing downturn - almost half say they have felt its impact, including one in 10 homeowners who say it has caused them a hardship and major life changes.

Many homeowners with mortgages say meeting that monthly financial obligation has become more burdensome; 40 percent of homeowners say that it has been more difficult to afford their mortgage payment in the last three years. Fifteen percent say they have missed making a mortgage payment in the last three years.

The American dream

Despite the recent problems in the housing market, owning a home remains a desirable goal. Nearly nine in 10 Americans say owning a home remains an important part of the American dream. As many as 55 percent call it "very" important.

By about three to one, Americans say that if they could afford either they would prefer to buy rather than rent a home. And among renters, 85 percent say they would like to own their own home one day.

Still, uncertainty looms over Americans' views on housing. Americans today are mixed on whether buying a home now is a risky or safe investment - 49 percent say it's a safe investment, while 45 percent say it is not. Homeowners feel a little safer, with 57 percent calling it safe.

Still, compared directly to renting, most Americans (62 percent) - and most homeowners (68 percent) - think it is better financially to own than rent.

The desire to own a home flies in the face of some homeowners' recent experiences in the real estate market. One in four homeowners say their home is worth less now than what they paid for it. Nearly as many, 22 percent, now have "underwater" mortgages - they owe more than their home is worth.

While half say their home is worth more than they paid for it, 60 percent of those homeowners bought their home at least 10 years ago. Another 24 percent say their home's value has not changed.

For some, the housing market's woes have directly affected their life choices.

Half of Americans - and 44 percent of homeowners - say the downturn in the housing market has affected their plans for the future a lot or some, including 23 percent who say it has affected their plans a lot.

Eighteen percent of Americans, and 13 percent of homeowners, say the weak market has prevented them from moving to another city or taking another job. And one in 10 homeowners says they have postponed selling their home over the past three years because they are waiting for the housing market to improve.

As many as 29 percent are relying on their home's value to provide at least some of their retirement funds.

However bad things may be now, Americans are optimistic about the future value of their home. Sixty percent expect the value of their home to increase over the next 10 years, although perhaps not by a lot. Six percent expect their home to decrease in value, and 30 percent expect no change.

What should be done?

Americans favor requiring prospective home buyers to put at least 20 percent down on a new mortgage - 58 percent say so.

Nine in 10 say it is important to keep the mortgage interest deduction for taxpayers, including six in 10 who call that "very" important.

Looking back, just 12 percent of Americans blame the borrowers for the nation's mortgage crisis. More than four in 10 Americans blame the lenders, while about three in 10 blame the regulators overseeing the lenders. Democrats and Republicans agree.

There is no agreement on whom - if anyone - should be eligible for subsidized home loans. About one quarter thinks no one should receive them; one quarter think everyone should; and another quarter thinks only low-income people should qualify.

More from the poll:

Four in 5 approve of Obama's plan for Afghanistan drawdown
Poll: GOP voters still not happy with choices
Obama approval ratings still below 50 percent
Poll: Many say economy is in permanent decline

See Full Poll Data
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 979 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone June 24-28, 2011. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.