REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • A report by the Brookings Institute, titled Time for Justice: Tackling Race Inequalities in Health and Housing, discusses some of inequities and issues in race relations within housing and healthcare.
  • The Partnerships for Raising Opportunity in Neighborhoods, known as PRO Neighborhoods, is a program of JPMorgan Chase & Co. to provide funds to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that collaborate to help revitalize low- and moderate-income communities and aid their residents and small-business owners. Here is its 2016 report.
  • In an article by the Joint Center for Housing Studies, titled Housing Recovery by Income in Two Metros: San Francisco and St. Louis, the author illustrates the difference in housing prices and income for those two regions.
  • An paper by the Division of International Finance, titled Can Learning Explain Boom-Bust Cycles in Asset Prices? An Application to the US Housing Boom, argues that boom-bust behavior in asset prices can be explained by a model in which boundedly rational agents learn the process for prices. The key feature of the model is that learning operates in both the demand for assets and the supply of credit.
  • This paper by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, titled Do Mortgage Subsidies Help or Hurt Borrowers, shows how mortgage subsidies affect homeownership costs by reducing effective mortgage rates and increasing house prices. The author shows analytically the role of mortgage subsidies in determining house price changes, economic incidence, and efficiency costs using a theoretical framework for applied welfare analysis.

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October 20, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

October 19, 2016

The Long Wait for Home

By David Reiss

house-keys

The most recent issue of Housing Spotlight from the National Low Income Housing Coalition is titled The Long Wait for a Home. The Executive Summary reads,

The Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) programs provide essential affordable housing to some of the nation’s most financially vulnerable households. Forty percent of new public housing admissions and 75% of new voucher holders each year are required to be extremely low income (ELI) households, who earn no more than 30% of their area’s median income (AMI) or the federal poverty guideline, whichever is higher. Seventy-one percent of the nearly 1.1 million public housing households and 74% of the 2.2 million HCV recipient households are ELI (HUD, 2015).

The housing resources available to ELI renters however are insufficient. The private and subsidized rental markets make available only 3.2 million affordable homes for the nation’s 10.4 million ELI renter households, resulting in a national shortage of 7.2 million rental homes (NLIHC, 2016). ELI households face a long wait for housing assistance. Unable to find affordable housing, 75% of ELI renter households are severely cost burdened, spending more than 50% of their income on housing costs and leaving little money for other necessities (NLIHC, 2016).

The last nationwide survey of Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) regarding their public housing and voucher waiting lists was conducted in 2012. Since then, rental affordability has worsened, squeezing ELI renters even further out of the private market. To document the current state of waiting lists, NLIHC surveyed PHAs in the Fall of 2015 and Winter of 2016. Three hundred twenty PHAs responded with complete surveys, representing a diversity of size, location, and metropolitan status.

Survey data paint a bleak picture of waiting lists closed to new applicants and long waits for housing assistance. Key findings include: „

  • Fifty-three percent of HCV waiting lists were closed to new applicants for housing assistance. Sixty-five percent of HCV waiting lists closed to the general public had been closed for at least one year. „
  • Eleven percent of public housing waiting lists were closed to new applicants. Thirty-seven percent of public housing waiting lists closed to the general public had been closed for at least one year. „
  • The median HCV waiting list had a wait time of 1.5 years. Twenty-five percent of HCV waiting lists had a wait time of 3 years or longer. „
  • The median public housing waiting list had a wait time of 9 months. Twenty-five percent of public housing waiting lists had a wait time of 1.5 years or longer. „
  • ELI households accounted for nearly 74% of households on the average HCV waiting list and more than 67% of households on the typical public housing waiting list.
  • Families with children accounted for 60% of households on the average HCV waiting list and 46% of households on the typical public housing waiting list. „
  • Seniors comprised the most common type of household on 15% of the public housing waiting lists for which these data were provided.

Closed waiting lists and long waits for housing assistance make clear that we must expand housing resources for our nation’s lowest income renters. Legislation introduced in the 114th Congress would increase investments in vouchers, public housing, and other housing programs.

*     *      *

These policy changes, and others like them, could end housing poverty and homelessness once and for all by providing the resources necessary for every low income family to afford a home.

This report rightly brings attention to the big problems facing extremely low income households and federal affordable housing programs. Whether anything is done for them depends completely on the outcome of the election.

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October 19, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • An article titled, The First Amendment and Fair Housing in the Sharing Economy, explains how the sharing economy—a marketplace made up of businesses that profit by connecting providers of goods and services with users of those goods and services—challenges us to reevaluate our anti-discrimination laws. This Essay considers one such challenge: how should public accommodation laws such as Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act apply to the housing sector of the sharing economy?
  • This paper, titled Pockets of Poverty: The Long-Term Effects of Redlining, studies the long-term effects of redlining policies that restricted access to credit in urban communities.
  • An article titled, Home Equity Extraction and the Boom-Bust Cycle in Consumption and Residential Investment, explains how conventional wisdom holds that the consumption boom-bust cycle of the 2000s was caused by homeowners financing their consumption through home equity extraction. However, this view is inconsistent with micro evidence that home equity extraction is associated with large housing investment expenditures rather than consumer spending. This association is strongest among young households. I rationalize these findings using a life-cycle model with home equity-based borrowing subject to borrowing frictions.
  • This article, Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide, Asset Diversification in a Flat World, presents new international diversification indexes across equity, sovereign debt, and real estate. The indexes reveal a marked and near ubiquitous decline in diversification potential across asset classes and markets for the post-2000 period. Analysis of panel data suggests that the decline is related to higher levels of market credit risk and volatility as well asto technology and communications innovation as proxied by internet diffusion. The decline in diversification opportunity is associated with sharply higher levels of investment risk.
  • A paper titled, Maintaining Condominiums and Homeowner’s Associations: Ending the Free Ride, discusses how the last five years have brought a spate of litigation over the relative rights of associations and mortgagees. The litigation appears to have settled one contentious but critical issue: the super priority lien confers on associations the right to foreclose. Other issues, however, remain unsettled, and often depend on state-specific statutory provisions.
  • This paper titled, Local Media and the Local Housing Market, provides evidence for media affecting households’ home-buying decisions, which in turn leads to an impact on short-term housing return. Individuals and households have been known to be affected by the media. Together with specific assumptions about the housing market, this implies a positive correlation between lagged media content and subsequent housing return.
  • In this paper, titled Producing Affordable Housing in Rising Markets: What Works?, we describe the problem of affordability in rising markets and review existing evidence on how well local policy approaches work. The most widely used policies, local inclusionary zoning and statewide “fair share” laws, have produced relatively small numbers of affordable units, and are therefore unlikely to substantially mitigate the effects of rising housing costs. More effective policies to develop and preserve affordable housing, particularly in high opportunity neighborhoods, will require increased public and private funding and political support.

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October 19, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

October 18, 2016

Just a Dude Fixin’ Cars

By David Reiss

car-lift

Realtor.com quoted me in Neighbors Sue Man for Tinkering With Cars in His Own Garage. It opens,

Charles Williams loves working on cars, a hobby he’s continued even after losing his legs in 1993 in a freak construction accident. So in 2007, he poured $65,000 into building a nearly 2,000-square-foot four-car garage next to his house in Harbeson, DE. The place—which has vintage license plates covering the walls and lifts so he and his buddies can tinker to their heart’s content without lying on the concrete floor—is a car nut’s fantasy. At least, it was, until some of Williams’ neighbors—apparently offended by the sight, smell, and sounds of guys doing guy stuff—decided to sue Williams for repairing cars in his own garage.

In 2014, three of Williams’s neighbors—Margaret Foulke next door and John and Carol Kane, who live 800 feet down the road—filed a lawsuit against Williams saying that the garage was a noisy, stinky nuisance and must be torn down, according to The Cape Gazette. In June, a judge ruled in favor of Williams, explaining simply, “Mr. Williams has a not-uncommon hobby—working on cars—that he pursues with an uncommon vigor.”

Nonetheless, the neighbors plan to take their case up the chain to the Delaware Supreme Court.

Williams says he’s spent $30,000 defending himself from his accusers, who also claim he built the garage without permits and runs it as an illegal business. But Williams denies these allegations as well, saying he received the proper permission to build and has never accepted money in exchange for repairs. In fact, he has even fixed vehicles owned by the very people are demanding that he tear down his garage!

“I’ve fixed their lawnmowers, I’ve fixed their tractor, I’ve fixed their golf carts… I did everything for them, anything they asked, since that’s what neighbors do,” says Williams.

At first glance, the plaintiffs seem like candidates for a “worst neighbors” award. But we had to wonder: Is there anything to this case? Is it ever illegal for to tinker with  cars in your own garage?

While local laws vary by area, as a general rule, David Reiss, a professor of Law at Brooklyn University and editor of REFinBlog.com, thinks the neighbors are spinning their wheels.

“The facts sure don’t seem to be on their side, at least as this article portrays them,” says Reiss. Here’s a rundown of the neighbor’s complaints about the garage, and why Williams appears to be in the clear.

Noise complaints

“There are a lot of loud things in and near homes,” points out Reis. Compare a vacuum cleaner at 10 feet (70 decibels) to a lawnmower (as high as 90 decibels) to a train (100 decibels).

“Many localities have restrictions on the decibel level of noise that can come from a property, but those levels can be pretty darn high,” Reiss explains. “New York City, for instance, limits garbage trucks to 80 decibels from a distance of 35 feet when they’re not compacting. It limits music from commercial establishments to 42 decibels when measured from inside a neighbor’s home.”

In other words, the sound of a few motors running or rock music probably aren’t loud enough to write home about—or to sue over.

Noxious fumes and other nuisances

Sure, these neighbors could claim that the eau de motor oil emanating from William’s garage is a “nuisance.” It’s just that they would have to be deemed “unreasonable in the context of their residential neighborhood,” says Reiss.

“The neighbors could also argue that the increased traffic that resulted from this use was a nuisance too, but that also seems like a major stretch,” says Reiss.

Illegal activity

“The neighbors could claim that Williams is running a commercial establishment in a residential neighborhood, but it sounds from the article like the facts don’t support this claim,” says Reiss. So unless the neighbors catch a huge wad of cash passing hands, Williams is just a regular dude who digs cars.

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October 18, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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October 18, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

October 17, 2016

Leverage in a Tight Market

By David Reiss

photo by Rex Pe

TheStreet.com quoted me in Home Shoppers Seeking Leverage in a Tight Market. It opens,

Homebuyers have faced tight supply issues this year, and obtaining leverage in this market has been challenging.

The lower inventories pushed sales in July down by 3%, according to the National Association of Realtors, a Chicago-based trade organization. The decline has resulted in sales falling back to levels in March and April with an annualized pace of 5.39 million, bringing the sales pace down by 2% from July 2015. The level of inventory of homes for sale has declined by 6%.
As the faster summer buying pace has moved into the fall phase when there are fewer buyers, consumers have a greater advantage as homes are on the market longer. For both May and June, the listings stayed on Realtor.com a median of 65 days. By July, that figure rose to 68 days and August brings even more options and should end at 72 days. The reduction of inventory has occurred for 47 consecutive months, helping sellers, but restricting options for buyers.

For homebuyers who want to nab their dream house in the neighborhood they have been eyeing, they still have leverage, but here are some tips to improve the process.

Home Buying Tips

Before consumers start shopping, they should work on improving their finances and avoid making any large purchases such as a car. After finding out your FICO score, the goal is to find ways for it to rise above 700, which means you will qualify with more lenders and obtain a lower interest rate, saving you thousands of dollars, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company.

Determine how much you can carve out of your savings for a down payment, but still maintain six months of emergency funds, especially if you are buying an older home which may have unexpected repairs.

The average down payment in 2016 is 11% across the U.S., but it depends vastly on the market and loan you are seeking.

“If you are struggling to come up with a down payment necessary for your market or type of mortgage, research down payment assistance programs,” he said. “Get all of your financial records organized, including recent bank and financial statements, the last two years of income tax filings and pay statements.”

There are many opportunities available since mortgage rates remain near historic lows and are unlikely to see substantial moves soon.

“The buying opportunity is still substantial and now the annual cycle means you will face less competition on homes that are on the market,” Smoke said.

Sellers want to see serious buyers, so getting pre-approved from a lender is important.

“A pre-approval letter as part of an offer will communicate to the seller that you have the ability to close,” he said.

Sellers still have an advantage and even though there are fewer potential buyers with fall right around the corner, the existing inventory remains low, so getting a house under contract can still be problematic, Smoke said.

“Don’t expect sellers to feel desperate,” he said. “Sellers may still act like it is the spring. Listen to the advice of your realtor on the composition of the initial offer so that you are more likely to keep the conversation going rather than face complete rejection.”

While you continue to search for another home, maintain your savings and increase the amount of your down payment and keep paying down your credit cards and student loans. Consumers who will be receiving a bonus in December should include these funds it into their down payment. If the interest rates for your credit card rates are fairly low, consider bulking up your down payment since mortgage rates are very low, said Colby Sambrotto, president of USRealty.com, a New York-based online real estate broker. said. These measures will help increase your odds as you house hunt.

“Ask your lender to recalculate your loan preapproval to reflect your updated debt-to-income ratio and the greater amount you can put down,” he said. “That can reframe your search parameters.”

Down payment assistance is available through employer and community group programs. Some companies will offer loans if you remain employed there for a certain number of years, said Sambrotto. A good source for more information about various programs is Down Payment Resource.

“The loans are usually geared to encourage employees to buy around a certain area, usually within walking distance of the employer,” he said.

Location is Key

Transportation can emerge as a “hidden cost” if your commute includes costly tolls or you want quicker access to cultural and sporting events, schools for children, shopping districts and professional education opportunities.

“Narrow your search to neighborhoods that offer economical options for commuting and routine errands,” Sambrotto said. “Look for neighborhood groups on Facebook and ask to join the conversation so you can quiz current residents about the true cost of living in that area.”

While homeowners might prefer a standard standalone house, a two-family duplex might be a better option, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York. These homes have a clear advantage because they generate investment income along with various financing, tax and capital gains advantages which the traditional single-family house does not have.

“Think through your preferences and then take a fresh look at the market,” he said. “You might have that idealized picket-fenced house in mind, but a duplex will expand the number of houses you can look at. They also bring along all sorts of additional maintenance responsibilities with them, so they are not right for everyone.”

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October 17, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments