The Real Mitt Romney

How many people has Mitt Romney helped? Not in the abstract–by, say, making someone else buy them contraceptives–but personally? No one knows, probably not even Mitt, but I suspect the instances of his generosity that have come to light are only the tip of the iceberg. The New York Times, to its credit, adds another to the list.

Back in the early 1980s, before Romney struck it rich with Bain Capital, he invested in a residential real estate deal in Houston and wound up owning five modest houses there. At the time, real estate deals of this sort were everywhere. I invested in one or two of them; they were supposed to be sure-fire winners. Happily, I didn’t wind up actually owning any houses. I’m going from memory here and others may correct me, but I think it was the 1986 tax reform act that caused hundreds or thousands of these sure-fire deals to go down the drain.

That’s what happened to Romney’s. The Times picks up the story:

Look closely and it is there, sandwiched between Goldman Sachs Hedge Fund Partners II and D3 Family Bulldog Fund: the mortgage on Timothy and Betty Stamps’s modest home on Gentle Bend Drive here. …

[F]or the Stampses, who have been writing $600 monthly checks to “Willard M. Romney” for 15 years, the money they borrowed from him to buy their home in 1997 was life-changing. …

The result was a rare Romney flop: The housing market soon collapsed, and he was stuck renting out the houses for years before unloading them, mostly at a loss, in the late 1990s, according to property records. The renters were offered the first chance to buy, but the Stampses could not qualify for a mortgage, recalled Mr. Stamps, who at the time had recently lost his job at an oil company.

“Then I got this phone call, personally, from Mr. Romney, asking if we really wanted to buy the house,” Mr. Stamps, 63, said in an interview the other day at the barbershop he now runs. “I said, yes we did. And he said he would loan us the money. He really helped us when we needed it.” …

Mr. Stamps said he and his wife had received calls in recent months from strangers who “seemed to be looking for negative stuff” about Mr. Romney, but that the couple had nothing to say to them. …

When Mr. Stamps took the call from Mr. Romney, he and his wife, a nurse, had all but given up hope of being able to buy the house they had been renting for five years. Mr. Romney told him it looked like the couple had been taking good care of the property and that “we would be good people to buy it,” said Mr. Stamps. Mr. Stamps said he never heard from Mr. Romney again, and only became aware of who he was when he started running for president four years ago.

I don’t know whether Mitt Romney will be a great president; I hope he will be, because we need one. But I am very sure that he is an extraordinarily good man.

UPDATE: A smart reader confirms that it was the 1986 tax reform act: “it WAS the ’86 tax act….passive loss limitations…wrecked leveraged real estate deals…any pass through of non-cash expenses.” I have a friend who was on the Senate Budget Committee at that time. He was actively involved in negotiating the 1986 act, and years ago he told me that the Democrats insisted that there be something in the act that “hurt rich people.” That was the genesis of the anti-real estate provisions. The result, my friend told me, was that “we bankrupted 300 S & Ls.”

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