Salary Needed for a House in 27 Cities

HSH.com has posted a study to answer the question — How much salary do you need to earn in order to afford the principal, interest, taxes and insurance payments on a median-priced home in your metro area? The study opens,

HSH.com took the National Association of Realtors’ fourth-quarter data for median-home prices and HSH.com’s fourth-quarter average interest rate for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages to determine how much of your salary it would take to afford the base cost of owning a home — the principal, interest, taxes and insurance — in 27 metro areas.

We used standard 28 percent “front-end” debt ratios and a 20 percent down payment subtracted from the NAR’s median-home-price data to arrive at our figures. We’ve incorporated available information on property taxes and homeowner’s insurance costs to more accurately reflect the income needed in a given market. Read more about the methodology and inputs on the final slide of this slideshow.

The theme during the fourth quarter was increased affordability.

Home prices declined from the third to the fourth quarter in all of the metro areas on our list but one. But on a year-over-year basis, home prices have continued to trend upward.

“Home prices in metro areas throughout the country continue to show solid price growth, up 25 percent over the past three years on average,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Along with affordable home prices, mortgage rates fell across the board which caused the required salaries for our metro areas to decline (again, except for one).

“Low interest rates helped preserve affordability last quarter, but it’ll take stronger income gains and more housing supply to help meet the pent-up demand for buying,” said Yun.

On a national scale, with 20 percent down, a buyer would need to earn a salary of $48,603.82 to afford the median-priced home. However, it’s possible to buy a home with less than a 20 percent down payment. Of course, the larger loan amount when financing 90 percent of the property price, plus the need for Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), raises the income needed considerably. In the national example above, a purchase of a median-priced home with only 10 percent down (and including the cost of PMI) increases the income needed to $56,140.44 – just over $7,500 more.

This sounds like a pretty reasonable methodology, but there are a lot of assumptions built into the ultimate conclusions. They are generally conservative assumptions — buyers will get a 30 year fixed rate mortgage instead of an ARM, buyers will have 28% debt ratios. I would have liked to see some accounting for location affordability, because transportation costs can vary quite a bit among metro areas, but you can’t have everything.

As always, I am particularly interested in NYC, the 24th most expensive of the 27 cities.  NYC requires an income of $87,535.60 to buy a median home for  $390,000. By way of of contrast, the cheapest metro is Pittsburgh, which requires an income of $31,716.32 to buy a median home for $135,000 and the most expensive was San Francisco, which requires an income of $142,448.33 to buy a median home for $742,900.

Airbnb and Profiteering

A NYC Housing Court judge issued a Decision/Order in 42nd and 10th Associates LLC v. Ikezi (No. 85736/2014 Feb. 17, 2015) that resulted in the eviction of a rent stabilized tenant who had rented his apartment through Airbnb at a rate much in excess of the rent approved by the NYC’s Rent Stabilization Board.

The Decision makes for a pretty good read in large part because of the incredible testimony of the tenant:

When questioned on Petitioner’s case whether Respondent charged anyone money to stay in the subject premises, Respondent first testified that he could not recall if he ever charged anyone money to stay in the subject premises for a tenancy, and then testified that he does not know if he ever charged anyone money to stay in the subject premises. Given that Respondent was being sued for eviction, that Respondent testified as such on January 21, 2015, and that Respondent’s tenancy commenced on October 10, 2014, three months and eleven days before his tenancy, Respondent’s inability to remember or know if he had charged anyone to sleep in the subject premises defies common sense. Such incredible testimony was of a piece with other testimony Respondent offered, such as his response to a question about how many nights he has slept in the subject premises with the answer that he does not keep a log of where he sleeps, Respondent’s inability to determine whether a photograph of a comforter on a bed in the ad was a comforter that he owned, Respondent’s lack of knowledge as to other addresses that might be his wife’s address, and Respondent’s testimony that he does not have an email address at the company that he is the president of. If Respondent was actually profiteering by renting out the subject premises as a hotel room, wanted to avoid testifying as such, and was trying to be clever about technically avoiding committing perjury, it is hard to imagine how Respondent would testify differently. (9-10)

The defendant’s testimony demonstrates what happens when the profit motive hits smack up against rent regulation’s policy goal of protecting tenants from large rent increases. Without defining it precisely, the Court refers to this as profiteering which it finds to be inconsistent with the goals of rent regulation and incurable to boot. Thus, the Court issued a warrant of eviction.

This seems like the right result on the law and as a matter of policy. Otherwise, more and more apartments would be informally removed from the regulated housing stock. Moreover, landlords and neighbors would be stuck with the costs of short-term stays while tenant scofflaws would get all the benefit.

Economic Segregation in NYC and the USA

Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander have released Segregated City: The Geography of Economic Segregation in America’s Metros. The executive summary reads,

Americans have become increasingly sorted over the past couple of decades by income, education, and class. A large body of research has focused on the dual migrations of more affluent and skilled people and the less advantaged across the United States. Increasingly, Americans are sorting not just between cities and metro areas, but within them as well.
This study examines the geography of economic segregation in America. While most previous studies of economic segregation have generally focused on income, this report examines three dimensions of economic segregation: by income, education, and occupation. It develops individual and combined measures of income, educational, and occupational segregation, as well as an Overall Economic Segregation Index, and maps them across the more than 70,000 Census tracts that make up America’s 350-plus metros. In addition, it examines the key economic, social, and demographic factors that are associated with them. (8)
Although it reads like a jeremiad at times, there is a lot of thought-provoking information in this report. For instance, it examines “the segregation of the three major occupational classes—the creative class of knowledge workers, the even faster growing but lower-paid service class, and the declining blue-collar working class.” (36) It shows that there is a lot of segregation of these classes. This is unsurprising given the correlation between occupational class and income.
As a New Yorker, I immediately focused on the findings relevant to NYC. The report finds that the New York Metro area exhibits a high degree of economic segregation. This is not surprising, but it is interesting to learn where it stands vis a vis other large metro areas — it is sixth highest in the country.
I am not sure what the policy implications are of this report, but it does tell a tale of two cities in one place, one rich and one poor.

Tenants in Foreclosure

Judge Demarest issued a Decision and Order in 650 Brooklyn LLC v. Hunte et al. (No. 504623/2013 Feb. 5, 2015). The defendants moved for dismissal because the foreclosing plaintiff failed to comply with a relatively new NY statute that requires that the “foreclosing party in a mortgage foreclosure action, involving residential real property shall provide notice to: (a) any mortgagor if the action relates to an owner-occupied one-to-four family dwelling; and (b) any tenant of a dwelling unit in accordance with the provisions of this section . . ..” (12, citing NY RPAPL section 1303(1))

The Court dismissed defendants’ motion, relying on the plain language of the statute. The Court also noted that the purpose of the RPAPL notice provision, according to the 2009 Sponsor’s Memorandum, was to “establish protections for tenants residing in foreclosed properties” and noting that

20% of all foreclosure filings across the country were in non-owner occupied properties . . . Often, renters have been unaware that their landlords are in default until utilities are shut off or an eviction notice appears on their door . . . This [notice] provision will allow tenants to be fully aware of the status of the property and allow them to make informed decisions about whether they should remain in such property. (15)

Given the straightforward language of the statute, this seems like the right result as a matter of law. It also seems like the right result as a matter of policy. Certain dense jurisdictions, like NYC, have a lot of of tenants living in 2-4 family buildings. Many of these buildings are in areas that have been hard hit by the foreclosure epidemic. Indeed, according to the State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods in 2013, “most of the foreclosure filings in 2013 and other recent years have been on 2–4 family properties.” (3) Many foreclosures have unnecessary collateral damage and improving notice to affected parties like tenants seems like a small and reasonable step for any jurisdiction to take.

Housing Policy and Justice

John Infranca has posted Housing Resource Bundles:Distributive Justice and Federal Low-Income Housing Policy to SSRN. The abstract reads,

Only one in four eligible households receives some form of rental assistance from the federal government. Nonetheless, there is no time limit for the receipt of this assistance; individuals can continue to receive benefits as long as they satisfy eligibility requirements. In addition, individuals who do obtain assistance frequently have higher incomes than those denied it. Beyond simply providing housing, federal rental assistance is enlisted to serve a myriad of additional policy goals — including furthering economic integration and providing access to better neighborhoods — that can exacerbate inequities between those who receive benefits and those denied assistance. These broader objectives often increase the cost of housing assistance and reduce the number of households served.

Given increasingly limited resources and the growing demand for rental assistance, difficult decisions must be made regarding how to satisfy a range of conflicting programmatic goals. Although for at least four decades legal scholars, economists, public policy experts, and politicians have denounced the inequities in existing housing policy, no one has provided a detailed analysis of the specific ways in which this policy departs from norms of distributive justice and of how it might be made more equitable. This Article moves the conversation beyond simply decrying existing inequities and instead carefully analyzes federal housing policy in light of specific theories of distributive justice. Drawing on the philosophical literature, it evaluates the specifics of existing policies, and their distributional impacts, in light of five theories of distributive justice. It then proposes a new structure for federal rental assistance, which would allow recipients to choose among a set of “housing resource bundles.” This approach will not only satisfy the most salient understandings of distributive justice, but will also advance the concerns that underpin other distributive justice theories and allow federal housing policy to more effectively embrace a plurality of programmatic goals.

I was particularly intrigued by one (modest?) proposal:

A commitment to distributing all federal housing assistance to provide for equality of resources would demand that the housing resource bundle approach be put in place for all citizens. Each individual would be limited in the total amount of housing assistance they could receive during their lifetime. All citizens would receive an equal sum of housing resources, either through direct rental assistance or a deduction of mortgage interest (or some combination). This would result in a substantial change in the allocation of resources, resulting in a more equitable distribution of all federal housing assistance. (62-63)

This proposal highlights the extent to which federal housing policy heavily favors upper-income households which benefit greatly from the mortgage interest deduction. The proposal also highlights a limitation of the article.  While it it makes clear that housing policy violates norms of distributive justice, it does not chart a practical course to achieve political change in an environment where the mortgage interest deduction is one of the most heavily protected federal tax expenditures. That being said, the article helps to clarify what is at stake in debates over federal housing policy and provides some intellectual clarity for those who study it.

Consumer Thoughts on Credit Reports

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued a report, Consumer Voices on Credit Reports and Scores. This report builds on other recent work from the CFPB about how much people really understand about consumer finance. The answer — they still have a lot to brush up on. The CFPB conducted a series of focus groups about credit reports and credit scores. The CFPB concluded that

that many consumers are interested in and concerned about credit reports and scores. We found that some of the consumers we talked to expressed confusion about the best way to access credit reports and scores, what makes up credit reports and scores, and how to improve their scores. Some of the consumers we spoke to often do not feel empowered to take action to improve their credit histories, to use their credit reports and scores to negotiate better credit terms, or, ultimately, to use credit reports and scores as a helpful tool in achieving their financial goals.
The diversity of consumer perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors we heard around credit reports and scores suggests that there is much work to do in helping consumers understand and manage this complicated financial topic. Because consumers have a wide range of knowledge about and perceptions of credit reports and scores, there is no single message or approach to encourage consumers to engage more fully with their credit histories.
However, consumer perspectives on credit reports do suggest that many consumers feel that the credit reports are “hard to get, and hard to read.” Efforts by credit reporting agencies to make it easier for consumers to access and interpret their reports could be a useful contribution tohelping consumers navigate their credit histories.
The growing number of financial services companies that provide their customers with regular access to their credit scores on monthly credit card statements or online provides an opportunity to engage consumers around their credit reports. Once consumers see their credit scores, they may be motivated to learn more about their credit histories, check their full credit reports, and take action to improve their credit reports and scores. (19)
I am happy to see that the CFPB is trying to understand where consumers are at in terms of their financial literacy. This should help them to target their financial education efforts realistically. The report notes that the subject of credit reports is a complicated one. The mortgage application process is far, far more complicated so this report gives us a sense of how much work is to be done for consumers to achieve financial well-being.

Mortgage Assignment Mayhem

Judge Drain issued a biting Memorandum of Decision on Debtor’s Objection to Claim of Wells Fargo Bank, NA in the case In re Carrsow-Franklin (No. 10-20010, Jan. 29, 2015). The Court granted the debtor’s claim objection “on the basis that Wells Fargo is not the holder or owner of the note and beneficiary of the deed of trust upon which the claim is based and therefore lacks standing to assert the claim.” (1)

This blog, and many other venues, have documented the Alice in Wonderland world of mortgage assignments in which something is true because the the foreclosing party, like the Red Queen herself, says it is.

Judge Drain adds to the evidence with ALLCAPS, a touch I can’t remember seeing in another judicial opinion that I have blogged about:

Because Wells Fargo does not rely on the Assignment of Mortgage to prove its claim, the foregoing evidence is helpful to the Debtor only indirectly, insofar as it goes to show that the blank indorsement, upon which Wells Fargo is relying, was forged. Nevertheless it does show a general willingness and practice on Wells Fargo’s part to create documentary evidence, after‐the‐fact, when enforcing its claims, WHICH IS EXTRAORDINARY. (17-18, emphasis in the original, footnote omitted)

In retrospect, legal historians will be shocked by the lending industry’s practices which seemed to ignore the law in favor of convenience. MERS, and the practices which arose from it, was an attempt to circumvent clunky laws in favor of efficiency. For many years, many judges went along with this regime. Since the foreclosure crisis began, however, more and more judges are engaging in a more rigorous analysis of the documents in a particular case and the applicable law governing mortgage notes and foreclosures. When these judges find that a transaction does not comply with the relevant law, it is incumbent upon them to deny the relief sought by the foreclosing party as Judge Drain did here.