Retiring with a Mortgage

senior-golfing

MassMutual quoted me in Is it OK to Retire with a Mortgage? It opens,

The conventional wisdom is that you should pay off your mortgage before you retire. Yet, about 4.4 million retired homeowners still had a mortgage in 2011, according to an analysis of American Community Survey data by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). More than half of them spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing and related expenses, a percentage that may be uncomfortably high even for working homeowners.

Not having to put such a large percentage — or any percentage — of your retirement income toward a monthly mortgage payment in retirement will certainly make it easier to meet your other expenses. But is it really so bad to have a mortgage payment during retirement?

“The logic behind the rule of thumb is that your income will go down in retirement, so it would be helpful if your monthly expenses went down significantly as well,” said David Reiss, a law professor who specializes in real estate and consumer financial services at Brooklyn Law School in New York. But if your income from Social Security and a pension (if you have one), and to some extent your assets (the nest egg you plan to draw on for additional retirement income), will be sufficient to make your monthly mortgage payment and meet your other expenses in retirement, there is no real reason that you have to get rid of the mortgage, he said. The key is that keeping your mortgage during retirement should be part of a plan and not a response to a crisis.

More Homeowners are Retiring with a Mortgage

More homeowners retired with a mortgage in 2011 than a decade earlier, according to the CFPB’s analysis of U.S. census data.1 They’re less likely to have their homes paid off because they’re purchasing later in life, making smaller down payments and tapping equity for other purchases.1 In fact, 36.6 percent of homeowners ages 65 to 74 and 21.2 percent homeowners age 75 and older (some of whom may not be retired yet) had mortgages or home equity loans in 2010, according to the Federal Reserve. The median balance was $79,000 for the 65 to 74 age group, and $58,000 for the 75 and up age group.

The CFPB points out two problems with carrying a mortgage during retirement: less accumulated net wealth and the possibility of foreclosure if retirees can’t make their mortgage payments. Foreclosure is harder to recover from when you’re older because you may not be able to return to the workforce to compensate for the loss and because you’re more likely to have health problems or cognitive impairments, the CFPB said.1

Having less accumulated net wealth is a problem, especially if most of your wealth consists of your home equity, which is less liquid than stocks, bonds and cash. Foreclosure is a serious problem if it happens to you, but the odds are slim: even in the aftermath of the housing crisis, in 2011, foreclosure rates were only 2.55 percent for homeowners 65 to 74 and 3.19 percent for homeowners 75 and older.

Some retirement-age homeowners who haven’t paid off their mortgages undoubtedly would rather be debt free but couldn’t afford to retire their home loan sooner. But others might be putting the money that could have gone toward extra mortgage payments to a better use. (footnotes omitted)

Creating Safe and Healthy Living Environments

photo by Will Keightley

The Center for American Progress has released Creating Safe and Healthy Living Environments for Low-Income Families. It opens,

A strong home is central to all of our daily lives. People in the United States spend about 70 percent of their time inside a residence. As the Federal Healthy Homes Work Group explained, “A home has a unique place in our everyday lives. Homes are where we start and end our day, where our children live and play, where friends and family gather to celebrate, and where we seek refuge and safety.” Understanding how fundamental homes are to everything we do, it is troubling that more than 30 million housing units in the United States have significant physical or health hazards, such as dilapidated structures, poor heating, damaged plumbing, gas leaks, or lead. Some estimates suggest that the direct and indirect health care costs associated with housing-related illness or injuries are in the billions of dollars. The condition of housing is even more important for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities who need housing structures that support their particular needs.

The condition and quality of a home is often influenced by the neighborhood in which it is located, underscoring how one’s health and life expectancy is determined more by ZIP code than genetic code. According to a recent report by Barbara Sard, vice president for housing policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, living in neighborhoods of “concentrated disadvantage”—which are characterized by high rates of racial segregation, unemployment, single-parent families, and exposure to neighborhood violence—can impair children’s cognitive development and school performance. Residents of poor neighborhoods also tend to experience health problems—including depression, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease—at higher-than-average rates. This is particularly troubling given that African American, American Indian and Alaskan Native, and Latino children are six to nine times more likely than white children to live in high-poverty communities.

The country’s affordable housing crisis is partially to blame for families and individuals tolerating substandard housing conditions and unhealthy neighborhoods. Half of all renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing—the threshold commonly deemed affordable—while 26 percent spend more than half their income on housing. While housing assistance programs such as public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly referred to as Section 8, provide critical support to families struggling to meet housing costs, only one in four households eligible for rental assistance actually receives it due to limited federal funding. Furthermore, millions of Americans face evictions each year. As work by Harvard University sociologist Matthew Desmond has highlighted, eviction is not just a condition of poverty but a cause of it, trapping families in poverty, preventing them from accessing and maintaining safe housing or communities, and corresponding with higher rates of depression and suicide.

This report provides an overview of the conditions of the nation’s housing stock, barriers to accessing housing for people with disabilities, the effects that neighborhood safety has on families, and recommendations for improving these conditions. Given how central homes and communities are to people’s lives, federal and local leaders must work to ensure low-income families have access to living environments that are conducive to their success. (1-2, footnotes omitted)

There were rapid improvements in housing healthy and safety over the 20th century. Since the time of Jacob Riis’ How The Other Half Lives, we went from outhouses being common to the public subsidy of modern apartment buildings in cities and the suburbanization of the rest country.

As a result, many people do not realize the extent to which many households continue to live in substandard housing. Lead paint exposure is perhaps the most known of the  risks, but it is not the only one.

This CAP report also highlights the risks that neighborhoods can present to their residents. Being safe in your home does not mean that you are safe on your street, on your walk to school or on your daily commute.

The report provides provides a useful overview of the challenges that low-income households face, inside and out of their homes.

Wall Street’s New Toxic Transactions

Toxic Real Estate

The National Consumer Law Center released a report, Toxic Transactions: How Land Installment Contracts Once Again Threaten Communities of Color. It describes land installment contracts as follows:

Land contracts are marketed as an alternative path to homeownership in credit-starved communities. The homebuyers entering into these transactions are disproportionately . . . people of color and living on limited income. Many are from immigrant communities.

These land contracts are built to fail, as sellers make more money by finding a way to cancel the contract so as to churn many successive would-be homeowners through the property. Since sellers have an incentive to churn the properties, their interests are exactly opposite to those of the buyers. This is a significant difference from the mainstream home purchase market, where generally the buyer and the seller both have the incentive to see the transaction succeed.

Reliable data about the prevalence of land contract sales is not readily available. According to the U.S. Census, 3.5 million people were buying a home through a land contract in 2009, the last year for which such data is available. But this number likely understates the prevalence of land contracts, as many contract buyers do not understand the nature of their transaction sufficiently to report it.

Evidence suggests that land contracts are making a resurgence in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. An investigative report by the Star Tribune found that land contract sales in the Twin Cities had increased 50% from 2007 to 2013. Recent reports from The New York Times and Bloomberg reveal growing interest from private equity-backed investors in using land contracts to turn a profit on the glut of foreclosed homes in blighted cities around the country.

Few states have laws addressing the problems with land installment contracts, and the state laws on the books are generally insufficient to protect consumers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has the mandate to regulate and prevent unfair and deceptive practices in the consumer mortgage marketplace, but has not yet used this authority to address the problems with land installment contracts. (1-2, footnotes omitted)

This report shines light on this disturbing development in the housing market and describes the history of predatory land contracts in communities of color since the 1930s. It also shows how their use was abetted by credit discrimination: communities of color were redlined by mainstream lenders who were following policies set by the Federal Housing Administration and other government agencies.

The report describes how these contracts give the illusion of home ownership:

  • They are structured to fail so that the seller can resell the property to another unsuspecting buyer.
  • They shift the burden of major repairs to the buyer, without exposing the seller to claims that the homes breach the warranty of habitability that a landlord could face from a tenant.
  • They often have purchase prices that are far in excess of comparable properties on the regular home purchase market, a fact that is often masked by the way that land contract payments are structured.
  • The properties often have title problems, like unsatisfied mortgages, that would not have passed muster in a traditional sale of a house.
  • They often are structured to avoid consumer protection statutes that had been enacted in response to previous problems with land contracts.

The report identifies Wall Street firms, like Apollo Global Management, that are funding these businesses. It also proposes a variety of regulatory fixes, not least of which is to have the CFPB take an active role in this shadowy corner of the housing market.

This is all to the good, but I really have to wonder if we are stuck just treating the symptoms of income and wealth inequality. Just as it is hard to imagine how we could regulate ourselves out of the problems faced by tenants that were described in Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, it is hard to imagine that we can easily rid low-income communities of bottom feeders who prey on dreams of homeownership with one scheme or another. It is good, of course, that the National Consumer Law Center is working on this issue, but perhaps we all need to reach for bigger solutions at the same time that we try to stamp out this type of abusive behavior.

Dual Agency Explained

photo by Richard P J Lambert

Trulia quoted me in What Is Dual Agency? (And Why You Should Beware). It opens,

Home sellers and homebuyers are two sides of a complementary transaction. Should they each have their own agent, or is one agent enough? The answer: It depends.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” But if you’ve ever puzzled over it’s meaning, here’s a hint: If you eat your cake now, you won’t have any left over to look forward to eating later. In other words, sometimes a person is forced to make a choice between two good options. In the real estate world, dual agency breaks the cake rule: If your real estate agent also represents the sellers of the home you want to buy, you don’t necessarily need to ditch them. In many cases, you can keep your agent and get the house too — if you want to, that is.

Whether you’re buying a home in Providence, RI, or Tampa, FL, it’s typical for one agent to represent the seller and another agent to represent the buyer. With dual agency, one agent works for both the buyer and seller — and keeps the full commission. Dual agency also occurs when agents from the same brokerage represent each party. But like enjoying a huge slice of cake and in return getting a bellyache, there are definitely pros and cons to agreeing to dual agency.

Pro: Streamlined communication

Because one real estate agent or brokerage represents the buyer and the seller, the agent doesn’t need to wait every time communication needs to happen between the parties. Streamlined communication often creates a smoother transaction. “You are in charge of both sides, including paperwork, scheduling, and deadlines,” says Mindy Jensen, a Colorado agent and community manager of BiggerPockets.com. “We’ve all been involved in a sale with an agent who didn’t respond in a timely manner, missed deadlines, and in general did not perform their duties as they should have. For us control freaks, dual agency can seem like a great thing.”

Con: No advice

Because a dual agent is working in a potential conflict-of-interest situation — one client (the seller) wants to get as high a price as possible, while the other client (the buyer) wants to pay as little as possible — the agent can’t take sides or give advice. Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta, GA, real estate agent and attorney, compares dual agency to having one attorney representing both husband and wife in a divorce. “The parties’ interests are adverse and are best represented by independent professionals,” he says.

The agent in a dual agency situation becomes, instead of a coach, more of a referee. “The agent cannot disclose confidential information to either party and has to act in a neutral position during the transaction,” says Emily Matles, a New York, NY, agent with Douglas Elliman. Matthew Berger, another New York, NY, agent with Douglas Elliman, says: “When the listing agent steps into the role of dual agent, they cannot give advice to the seller nor the buyer.” On the other hand, when you have an independent agent, “You are more likely to get the benefits of being a principal getting fiduciary benefits,” Ailion says.

Pro: There must be full disclosure

Whether you’re a seller or a buyer, there’s nothing to fear about dual agency: If you don’t consent to the practice, it won’t happen. “The dual-agent broker must ensure that both parties know of the arrangement and consent to it,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. His advice: “Home sellers should review the terms of the listing agreement before they sign it to see if dual agency is being contemplated.”

The Republican Housing Platform

photo by DonkeyHotey

The Republican Party adopted its platform earlier this week.  The short housing platform is worth reading in its entirety:

Responsible Homeownership and Rental Opportunities

Homeownership expands personal liberty, builds communities, and helps Americans create wealth. “The American Dream” is not a stale slogan. It is the lived reality that expresses the aspirations of all our people. It means a decent place to live, a safe place to raise kids, a welcoming place to retire. It bespeaks the quiet pride of those who work hard to shelter their family and, in the process, create caring neighborhoods.

The Great Recession devastated the housing market. U.S. taxpayers paid billions to rescue Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the latter managed and controlled by senior officials from the Carter and Clinton Administrations, and to cover the losses of the poorly-managed Federal Housing Administration. Millions lost their homes, millions more lost value in their homes.

More than six million households had to move from homeownership to renting. Rental costs escalated so that today nearly 12 million families spend more than 50 percent of their incomes just on rent. The national homeownership rate has sharply fallen and the rate for minority households and young adults has plummeted. So many remain unemployed or underemployed, and for the lucky ones with jobs, rising rents make it harder to save for a mortgage.

There is a growing sense that our national standard of living will never be as high as it was in the past. We understand that pessimism but do not share it, for we believe that sound public policies can restore growth to our economy, vigor to the housing market, and hope to those who are now on the margins of prosperity.

Our goal is to advance responsible homeownership while guarding against the abuses that led to the housing collapse. We must scale back the federal role in the housing market, promote responsibility on the part of borrowers and lenders, and avoid future taxpayer bailouts. Reforms should provide clear and prudent underwriting standards and guidelines on predatory lending and acceptable lending practices. Compliance with regulatory standards should constitute a legal safe harbor to guard against opportunistic litigation by trial lawyers.

We call for a comprehensive review of federal regulations, especially those dealing with the environment, that make it harder and more costly for Americans to rent, buy, or sell homes.

For nine years, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in conservatorship and the current Administration and Democrats have prevented any effort to reform them. Their corrupt business model lets shareholders and executives reap huge profits while the taxpayers cover all loses. The utility of both agencies should be reconsidered as a Republican administration clears away the jumble of subsidies and controls that complicate and distort home-buying.

The Federal Housing Administration, which provides taxpayer-backed guarantees in the mortgage market, should no longer support high-income individuals, and the public should not be financially exposed by risks taken by FHA officials. We will end the government mandates that required Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and federally-insured banks to satisfy lending quotas to specific groups. Discrimination should have no place in the mortgage industry.

Zoning decisions have always been, and must remain, under local control. The current Administration is trying to seize control of the zoning process through its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation. It threatens to undermine zoning laws in order to socially engineer every community in the country. While the federal government has a legitimate role in enforcing non-discrimination laws, this regulation has nothing to do with proven or alleged discrimination and everything to do with hostility to the self-government of citizens. (4)

Here are some of the policy proposals that I think it gets right: abolishing Fannie and Freddie in their current form as hybrid public/private corporations; implementing regulation that promotes responsible underwriting and protects against predatory lending; and banning discrimination in the credit markets.

There is a lot of coded language in the platform, however. And that coded language may be inconsistent with some of those goals. For instance, the opposition to the Obama Administration’s attempts to reduce de facto segregation in the housing markets through such initiatives as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation undercuts the claim that the party opposes discrimination in the housing market.

It will be a long, strange trip to the November election. The direction of federal housing policy must be counted as one of important issues at stake.

Investing in Mortgage-Backed Securities

photo by http://401kcalculator.org

US News & World Report quoted me in Why Investors Own Private Mortgage-Backed Securities. It opens,

Private-label, or non-agency backed mortgage securities, got a black eye a few years ago when they were blamed for bringing on the financial crisis. But they still exist and can be found in many fixed-income mutual funds and real estate investment trusts.

So who should own them – and who should stay away?

Many experts say they’re safer now and are worthy of a small part of the ordinary investor’s portfolio. Some funds holding non-agency securities yield upward of 10 percent.

“The current landscape is favorable for non-agency securities,” says Jason Callan, head of structured products at Columbia Threadneedle Investments in Minneapolis, pointing to factors that have reduced risks.

“The amount of delinquent borrowers is now at a post-crisis low, U.S. consumers continue to perform quite well from a credit perspective, and risk premiums are very attractive relative to the fundamental outlook for housing and the economy,” he says. “Home prices have appreciated nationwide by 5 to 6 percent over the last three years.”

Mortgage-backed securities are like bonds that give their owners rights to share in interest and principal received from homeowners’ mortgage payments.

The most common are agency-backed securities like Ginnie Maes guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, or securities from government-authorized companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The agency securities carry an implicit or explicit guarantee that the promised principal and interest income will be paid even if homeowners default on their loans. Ginnie Mae obligations, for instance, can be made up with federal tax revenues if necessary. Agency securities are considered safe holdings with better yields than alternatives like U.S. Treasurys.

The non-agency securities are issued by financial firms and carry no such guarantee. Trillions of dollars worth were issued in the build up to the financial crisis. Many contained mortgages granted to high-risk homeowners who had no income, poor credit or no home equity. Because risky borrowers are charged higher mortgage rates, private-label mortgage securities appealed to investors seeking higher yields than they could get from other holdings. When housing prices collapsed, a tidal wave of borrower defaults torpedoed the private-label securities, triggering the financial crisis.

Not many private-label securities have been issued in the years since, and they accounted for just 4 percent of mortgage securities issued in 2015, according to Freddie Mac. But those that are created are considered safer than the old ones because today’s borrowers must meet stiffer standards. Also, many of the non-agency securities created a decade or more ago continue to be traded and are viewed as safer because market conditions like home prices have improved.

Investors can buy these securities through bond brokers, but the most common way to participate in this market is with mutual funds or with REITs that own mortgages rather than actual real estate.

Though safer than before, non-agency securities are still risky because, unlike agency-backed securities, they can incur losses if homeowners stop making their payments. This credit risk comes atop the “prepayment” and “interest rate” risks found in agency-backed mortgage securities. Prepayment risk is when interest earnings stop because homeowners have refinanced. Interest rate risk means a security loses value because newer ones offer higher yields, making the older, stingier ones less attractive to investors.

“With non-agencies, you own the credit risk of the underlying mortgages,” Callan says, “whereas with agencies the (payments) are government guaranteed.”

Another risk of non-agency securities: different ones created from the same pool of loans are not necessarily equal. Typically, the pool is sliced into “tranches” like a loaf of bread, with each slice carrying different features. The safest have first dibs on interest and principal earnings, or are the last in the pool to default if payments dry up. In exchange for safety, these pay the least. At the other extreme are tranches that pay the most but are the first to lose out when income stops flowing.

Still, despite the risks, many experts say non-agency securities are safer than they used to be.

“Since the financial crisis, issuers have been much more careful in choosing the collateral that goes into a non-agency MBS, sticking to plain vanilla mortgage products and borrowers with good credit profiles,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who studies the mortgage market.

“It seems like the Wild West days of the mortgage market in the early 2000s won’t be returning for quite some time because issuers and investors are gun shy after the Subprime Crisis,” Reiss says. “The regulations implemented by Dodd-Frank, such as the qualified residential mortgage rule, also tamp down on excesses in the mortgage markets.”

Supply and Demand in a Hot Market

photo by Subman758

The Asheville Citizen-Times quoted me in Apartment Occupancy Dropping, but Rents Not Budging Yet. It reads, in part,

Tell Marie Kerwin the city’s apartment vacancy rate has dropped a few notches – meaning a lot more units should be available – and she may beg to differ.

“There’s not a lot of options,” said Kerwin, “It took me months to find an apartment. I actually was calling every complex, every day.”

Kerwin and her husband, Christian, relocated to Asheville a year ago from Jacksonville, Florida, both taking jobs with the Earth Fare supermarket. Kerwin said they “got lucky” in finding a place at The Palisades, a 224-unit complex off Mills Gap Road in Arden that opened last summer.

For renters like the Kerwins, it might not seem like it, but the city’s apartment vacancy rate — famously pegged at 1 percent in a consultant’s report published a year-and-a-half ago that looked at Buncombe and three other counties — is dropping, meaning more units are available. That also should mean, theoretically, rents will decline, but that hasn’t happened.

A tight apartment market has dominated local discussions about affordable housing and livability in the Asheville area for nearly two years. But while that vacancy rate is dropping to a more livable range of around 6 percent, rents likely won’t fall over the next couple of years, experts say.

‘A very tight market’

“Typically, Asheville is a very tight market,” said Marc Robinson, vice chairman of Cushman & Wakefield, a global company that tracks apartment trends, including occupancy and rents.

Whether rents will drop with new apartments being built is “a hard call,” he added, “because on the one hand there is a supply entering the system, and that market has really seen lot of supply at one time — more supply than it would have historically seen. But in many markets, including Raleigh, Charlotte and Atlanta, absorption (of new units) has been better than expected.”

Robinson’s company, Multi Housing Advisors, now part of Cushman & Wakefield, issues quarterly reports on the apartment market. Its “MHA Market Insight” first quarter report for Asheville noted:

• “Properties built from the 1980s to the 2000s are maintaining an average vacancy rate in the 6 percent range, compared to 3 percent for properties built in 1970s or earlier.”

• “The average vacancy for properties built after 2009 is approximately 19 percent, which is skewing the vacancy rate upward,” in part because in a smaller market “additions to supply have an amplified effect.”

Robinson said his company’s figures from about two months ago show the Asheville area has “about a 3 percent vacancy, and in real time it may be a little higher.” In North Carolina, the rental vacancy in the first quarter stood at 8.2 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

By some estimates, the Asheville area, including surrounding Buncombe County and Fletcher, has had or will have in coming months about 2,200 new units coming online, well short of the 5,600 units the consultant recommended be built to meet demand.

“The pipeline of new construction (of rental properties) over the next three to five years will still not meet the forecasted demand so for the short-term we can expect to see the rental rates remain high, vacancy rates to remain at record lows,” said Greg Stephens, chief appraiser and senior vice president of compliance for Detroit-based Metro-West Appraisal Company.

Several firms track such information, including Real Data, a Charlotte-based real estate research firm. Using market surveys rather than sample data to compile its statistics, Real Data found the vacancy rate among apartment complexes with at least 30 units in Asheville, Buncombe County and Hendersonville was 6.9 percent in December.

Theoretically, all this should mean rents will come down, as people move from older apartments to newer ones, and apartment companies have to make concessions, such as lowering rents.

Apartments under construction has been a common sight in the Asheville area in the last two years, and that has eased vacancy rates some, experts say. This complex, the Avalon, went up in 2014 off Sweeten Creek Road and is now open.

But this is Asheville, where millennials keep moving in and retirees are drawn to great weather, arts and restaurants. From March 2015 to March 2016, Asheville saw the highest spike statewide in the average cost of renting an apartment, a 7.6 percent jump.

For the first quarter of 2016, MHA Market Insight found the average rent for one-bedroom apartments in Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood and Madison counties was $821, representing a 6.2 percent one-year growth in rent. A two-bedroom went for $964, 4.3 percent growth.

Kerwin said she and her husband are paying $1,095 a month for their two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,125-square-foot apartment. In Florida they paid $1,100 a month for an 1,800-square-foot three-bedroom.

“It’s definitely more expensive to live here,” she said.

Rising vacancy rates combined with rising rents is a national phenomenon, said Jonathan Miller, the New York-based co-founder of Miller Samuel, a residential real estate appraisal company, and the commercial valuation firm Miller Cicero.

“New development that skews to high-end rentals has been overplayed,” Miller said. But moderate rental development stock “has remained largely static.”

*     *     *

Solutions far off

That is not what some members of Asheville City Council want to hear right now. Councilman Gordon Smith, who’s on the city’s Housing and Community Development Committee, said the city has formulated a comprehensive affordable housing strategy and has talked about an “all of the above approach.”

That includes increasing zoning density to allow more units per acre and encouraging developers to use city-backed incentives to build apartments.

The city is also in the midst of calling for a voter referendum on a $74 million bond issue, with $25 million of that potentially earmarked for affordable housing. If passed, it could include a $5 million addition to the existing revolving loan fund for private developers to build affordable rental housing, and $10 million for land banking or repurposing city-owned land, which would involve offering that land to developers for construction of affordable housing.

Rusty Pulliam heads Pulliam Properties, a commercial real estate firm that has become active in the apartment industry in recent years, building the 280-unit Weirbridge Village in Skyland and the 180-unit Retreat at Hunt Hill. This year the company also received approval to build a 272-unit complex on Mills Gap Road in Arden, which will include 41 units designated as “affordable,” a number Pulliam agreed to bump up at council’s urging.

Pulliam said he can still make money at the Mills Gap site because demand is so high that he can build a “premium complex” and charge high enough rents to make it work. But in the long run, he said, solving the apartment crunch does not require a Ph.D.

“If we were building middle-of-the-road apartments, we couldn’t do it. But until we put out there, as the Bowen report stated, 5,600 units in the marketplace, I don’t see that rents are going to come down, especially when see we’ve got a (3.5) percent unemployment rate and rents went up 7.6 percent, even when a lot of units did come on line.”

Unemployment in Buncombe County dropped to 3.5 percent in May, the lowest in the state.

People have always loved moving to Asheville, a trend that essentially never abates. Our region continues to grow not because of the birth rate but because of in-migration.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects Buncombe County’s population to grow to 300,000 by 2030, up from 253,178 in 2015. While the mountains are known as a retirement haven, millennials are coming here, too, with growth in that segment over the past five years outpacing that of baby boomers, people of ages 50 to 69, and Generation X, which includes ages 35 to 49.

In short, that’s a lot of apartment demand.

Other cities the challenge facing Asheville, said David Reiss, a professor of law and the research director at the Center for Urban Business  Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

“During the Great Recession nothing got built,” Reiss said. “The same thing happened in New York.”

Some economists believe that “when vacancy rates are below 5 percent, you have the ability to raise rents significantly,” he said.

The MHA Market Insight first quarter report noted that “fewer than 700 units are currently under construction at five properties” in Asheville, so we’re still a long way from that 5,600 units figure.

Reiss said a full-court approach such as the one Asheville is taking can be useful, but he also urged caution.

“Whatever they decide the solution is, it takes years to implement those ideas,” Reiss said. “Whether it’s a developer or the city government, it takes a long time to get a solution in place.”