November 6, 2014

NYC’s Changing Neighborhood Demographics

By David Reiss

The Citizens Housing Planning Council has released a cool interactive map of NYC, Making Neighborhoods.  It “follows change across the city by putting people at the center of analysis. Our work measures and visualizes the movements of groups of New Yorkers who share demographic characteristics.”

The press release continues,

The project uses cluster analysis methodology–common in economic or marketing studies–to form 14 distinct groups, or “population clusters,” and follow their locations in 2000 and 2010. By comparing the two years, we can see which population types grew in number or geographic size, or moved into new areas; if their numbers declined or they retreated from their neighborhoods and were replaced by others; or if groups remained relatively unchanged in a decade. By following groups of people with shared characteristics, we see a different portrait of a changing city. It is one that New Yorkers will recognize, as it reflects the neighborhoods they make for themselves.

Making Neighborhoods stands out among neighborhood-level research being done today in two ways. First, it ignores government-drawn boundary lines like community districts and sub-borough areas, which often obscure important patterns that cross these borders. Second, it captures intersectional change: rather than measuring individual changes in income, race, education type, and so on, this study shows changes in all of those dimensions.

Our work on this project includes three main outputs. First, a full academic paper details the research methods, the cluster traits, their changes over the study period, and policy implications. We also created a report that summarizes and draws out the highlights of the full-length paper. Finally, we created–with help from Van Dam, Inc.interactive maps that communicate this fairly complex study in a stunning visualization.

In addition to distilling five overarching trends from the population cluster changes, CHPC and lead researcher Raisa Bahchieva performed an analysis of housing distress citywide. By measuring and locating the filing of lis pendens notices and housing code violations, we are able to see which population clusters are experiencing mortgage foreclosure or poor housing, respectively.

This is another cool mapping tool that helps to make sense of NYC’s complex geographic, political and social environment.

November 6, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

November 5, 2014

GSE Nationalization and Necessity

By David Reiss

Nestor Davidson has posted Nationalization and Necessity: Takings and a Doctrine of Economic Emergency to SSRN. This essay will be of interest to those following the Fannie/Freddie shareholder litigation. The abstract reads,

Serious economic crises have recurred with regularity throughout our history. So too have government takeovers of failing private companies in response, and the downturn of the last decade was no exception. At the height of the crisis, the federal government nationalized several of the country’s largest private enterprises. Recently, shareholders in these firms have sued the federal government, arguing that the takeovers constituted a taking of their property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This Essay argues that for the owners of companies whose failure would raise acute economic spillovers, nationalization without the obligation to pay just compensation should be recognized as a natural extension of the doctrine of emergency in takings. Public officials must be able to respond quickly to serious economic threats, no less than when facing the kinds of imminent physical or public health crises — such as wildfires and contagion — that have been a staple of traditional takings jurisprudence. Far from an affront to the rule of law, this reflection of necessity through an extension of emergency doctrine would reaffirm the flexibility inherent in property law in times of crisis.

Davidson looks at the various companies that were nationalized during the financial crisis, including Fannie and Freddie, and concludes,

It does no violence to norms of ownership—or the rule of law—to acknowledge that overriding necessity in times of crisis can be as relevant to economic emergency as it has always been to more prosaic threats. The doctrine of economic emergency that this Essay has proposed accords with the deepest traditions of our system of property, and rightly should be so recognized. (215)

 

Davidson reaches a very different conclusion than does Richard Epstein, who argues that just compensation is warranted for shareholders in the two companies. I have no doubt that the judges deciding these cases will have to struggle with very same issues that Davidson sets forth in this article, so it is worth a read for those who are closely following these cases.

November 5, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

November 4, 2014

Regulation and Housing Supply

By David Reiss

Gyourko and Molloy have posted Regulation and Housing Supply to SSRN.  Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall (although it is also available at NBER if your library has access and an earlier draft can be found here). The abstract of this book chapter states that it reviews the scholarly literature on the causes and effects of local government regulation that “influences the amount, location, and shape of residential development.” The abstract continues,

We begin with a discussion of how researchers measure regulation empirically, which highlights the variety of methods that are used to constrain development. Many theories have been developed to explain why regulation arises, including the role of homeowners in the local political process, the influence of historical density, and the fiscal and exclusionary motives for zoning. As for the effects of regulation, most studies have found substantial effects on the housing market. In particular, regulation appears to raise house prices, reduce construction, reduce the elasticity of housing supply, and alter urban form. Other research has found that regulation influences local labor markets, and household sorting across communities. Finally, we discuss the welfare implications of regulation. Although the large positive externalities of some specific rules are clear, the benefits of more general forms of regulation are very difficult to quantify. On balance, a few recent studies suggest that the overall efficiency losses from binding constraints on residential development could be quite large.
Land use geeks are familiar with Gyourko’s analysis of land use regulation, but many non-economists are not.  Even if they are, they often give it short shrift. I found the extension of their analysis beyond the borders of the U.S. interesting:
In theory, the availability of buildable land might not constrain the supply of housing units if housing could be constructed as densely as necessary to meet demand. But in most places in the U.S.—and indeed around the world—local land use policy imposes limits on residential development that restrict the size and type of housing units that can be built on a given amount of land. These restrictions add extra costs to a construction project, creating a wedge between the sales price of a house and the cost of buying the land and building the structure. (3)
As communities struggle with housing affordability, the link between land use regulation and housing costs is one that should not be ignored.

November 4, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

November 3, 2014

Housing Opportunity for Kids

By David Reiss

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report, Creating Opportunity for Children: How Housing Location Can Make a Difference. There is some research on the positive effects that homeownership has on outcomes for children. But it is hard to determine whether it is homeownership per se which causes the positive effects as opposed to a stable housing situation more generally. Thus, further research on the role of stable housing options, like that found in this report, is quite welcome.  This report finds that the Housing Choice Voucher program

has performed much better than HUD’s project-based rental assistance programs in enabling more low-income families with children—and particularly more African American and Latino families—to live in lower-poverty neighborhoods. . . . Having a housing voucher also substantially reduces the likelihood of living in an extreme-poverty neighborhood, compared with similar families with children that either receive project-based rental assistance or don’t receive housing assistance at all. (6)
The report concludes that

Based on the evidence on how housing location affects low-income families, particularly children, and the performance of federal rental assistance programs on location-related measures, we recommend two closely related near-term goals for federal rental assistance policy: 1) federal rental assistance programs should provide greater opportunities for families to choose affordable housing outside of extreme-poverty neighborhoods; and 2) the programs should provide better access for families to low-poverty, safe communities with better-performing schools. (7)
The report also recommends four policy changes to achieve these goals:
  1. Create strong incentives for local and state housing agencies to achieve better location outcomes.
  2. Modify policies that discourage families from living in lower-poverty communities.
  3. Minimize jurisdictional barriers to families’ ability to choose to live in high-opportunity communities.
  4. Assist families in using vouchers to live in high-opportunity areas. (7-8)

This is a pretty hefty report and it is worth digging into more deeply.

November 3, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

October 31, 2014

Homeowners Lost in the Shuffle

By David Reiss

The Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) issued a report, Homeowners Can Get Lost in the Shuffle And Suffer Harm When Their Servicer Transfers Their Mortgage But Not the HAMP Application or Modification, that highlights some of the structural problems in the servicing industry. The report notes, for instance, that, “Homeowner calls to SIGTARP’s Hotline about difficulties experienced in HAMP as a result of mortgages being transferred from one servicer to another have persisted throughout the life of the program and have escalated in the last year.” (1) This is just the most recent reminder that servicing transfers continue to be a major source of trouble for homeowners.

SIGTARP concludes,

Given the scale of the reported problems related to transfers to new servicers, and the potentially serious harm to struggling homeowners who need relief from HAMP, Treasury must be aggressive and swift in sending the message to servicers that Treasury will not tolerate harm to homeowners in HAMP from servicing transfers. HAMP is five years old, and servicers have had ample time to understand the rules and to follow them. Treasury should no longer tolerate a failure to follow HAMP rules. Treasury should report on violations publicly, and permanently withhold incentive payments from servicers that do not comply with HAMP rules on transfers. (12)
The problems in the servicer industry are structural, but it is far from clear that there are sufficient structural changes in the works to deal with them. This sad state of affairs will last far into the future unless thoughtful solutions are designed and implemented in the present. So, while it is important that SIGTARP draws attention to this problem, it is more important for other regulators like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to take up the cause and start implementing far-reaching solutions.

October 31, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

October 30, 2014

Reiss on Refinancing

By David Reiss

MainStreet quoted me in Fed’s End to Quantitative Easing Will Affect How You Invest and Buy a House. It reads in part,

The Federal Reserve’s decision to end its bond buying program after six years to help boost the economy is a sign that more recovery and growth will occur. So what does the typical American on Main Street need to know?

While the Fed did not indicate a timeline for when interest rates will rise, consumers should be prepared and “see the writing on the wall” since variable rates such as credit cards, adjustable rate mortgages and home equity loans will start to rise slowly and gradually, said Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride, CFA.

“The low interest rates will come to an end,” he said. “Consumers should pay down debt while the rates are low rather than contend with it once rates move up.”

Mortgage rates will remain low but will fluctuate according to global risks, not because of any actions taken by the Fed, said Ernie Goss, a professor of economics at Creighton University in Omaha. Consumers should expect rates for short term rates such as auto loans to rise “ever so slightly” between now and July 2015, he said.

The good news about rising interest rates is that savers will begin earning more on their nest eggs, but the increase could be offset by a higher cost of borrowing and could discourage people from getting loans and spending, said Gail Cunningham, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization.

“If mortgage rates rise, consumers with variable rate mortgages will see their monthly payments go up, putting a dent in the amount they have available for disposable spending,” she said.

Even if mortgage rates do increase, consumers need to consider the costs of refinancing before they embark on the process, said David Reiss, a law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in New York. Homeowners need to determine how long they plan to live in their home and if the cost of refinancing outweighs the lower monthly payments.

“If you are not sure that you will be there for a few years at least, the cost of refinancing may be more than the amount you save in decreased interest payments,” he said. “How many years will it take you to recoup that cost in reduced interest rate payments?”

October 30, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

October 29, 2014

Reiss on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Proposed Rulemaking

By David Reiss

I have submitted a Comment on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Proposed Rulemaking to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Basically, I argue

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Home Mortgage Disclosure Act proposed rulemaking (proposed Aug. 29, 2014) is a reasonable one.  It increases the amount of information that is to be collected about important consumer products, such as reverse mortgages.  It also increases the amount of important information it collects about all mortgages.  At the same time, it releases lenders from having to determine borrowers’ intentions about how they will use their loan proceeds, something that can be hard to do and to document well.  Finally, while the proposed rule raises some privacy concerns, the CFPB can address them.

 

October 29, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments