April 6, 2015

Housing and Transportation Affordability Index

By David Reiss

The Center for Neighborhood Technology has a Housing and Transportation Affordability Index which

provides a more comprehensive way of thinking about the true affordability of place. It presents housing and transportation data as maps, charts and statistics for 917 metropolitan and micropolitan areas—covering 94% of the US population. Costs can be seen from the regional down to the neighborhood level.

The recent focus on combined housing and transportation costs is very useful when planning affordable housing policies as total housing and transportation costs provide a better guide to housing cost burden than housing costs alone.

The Housing and Transportation Affordability Index

shows that transportation costs vary between and within regions depending on neighborhood characteristics:

  • People who live in location-efficient neighborhoods—compact, mixed-use, and with convenient access to jobs, services, transit and amenities—tend to have lower transportation costs.
  • People who live in location-inefficient places—less dense areas that require automobiles for most trips—are more likely to have higher transportation costs.

The traditional measure of affordability recommends that housing cost no more than 30% of household income. Under this view, a little over half (55%) of US neighborhoods are considered “affordable” for the typical household. However, that benchmark fails to take into account transportation costs, which are typically a household’s second-largest expenditure. The H+T Index offers an expanded view of affordability, one that combines housing and transportation costs and sets the benchmark at no more than 45% of household income.

When transportation costs are factored into the equation, the number of affordable neighborhoods drops to 26%, resulting in a net loss of 59,768 neighborhoods that Americans can truly afford. The key finding from the H+T Index is that household transportation costs are highly correlated with urban environment characteristics, when controlling for household characteristics.

A lot of housing policy rests on the definition of affordability, whether it is that housing cost should be no more than 30% of household income or that housing and transportation costs should be no more than 45% of household income. It would be useful for researchers to take a fresh look at those benchmarks to ensure that they make sense in today’s economy.

April 6, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

  • HSBC facing suit for breaching its duties as trustee for 271 residential mortgage-backed securities trusts.
  • The US Supreme Court considered whether debtors should have an absolute right to appeal denial of proposed bankruptcy plan after three circuit courts have found that debtors can automatically can appeal, while in other jurisdictions, the bankruptcy judge must permit the appeal.
  • BNP Paribas Mortgage Corp. suit from 2009 regarding Bank of America’s mishandling of hundreds of millions of dollars of mortgage-backed notes issued by Taylor Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp. finally settles.

April 6, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

April 3, 2015

Seismic Shift in Lending?

By David Reiss

Researchers at the American Enterprise Institute’s International Center on Housing Risk have posted a study that shows a “seismic shift in lending away from large banks to nonbanks.” (1) The key takeaways are

  • The dramatic decline in agency market share for large banks continued unabated in February, offset by an equally dramatic increase in the nonbank share.
  • Since November 2012, the large bank share has dropped from 61% to 33%, a move of 28 points, including a 1.2 point drop in February, a dramatic decline that has been met point-for-point by a 27 point increase in the nonbank share from 24% to 51%. Large nonbanks and other nonbanks have participated equally in the increase, accounting for 14 points and 13 points respectively.
  • Large banks have reduced the riskiness of their agency mortgage originations over the past few years. Nonbanks, in contrast, have shifted toward riskier loans as they have increased their market share.
  • Loans originated through the retail channel are less risky than loans originated through the broker and correspondent channels. This is true both for large banks and for nonbanks. But retail channel loans from nonbanks are substantially riskier than such loans from large banks.
  • The bottom line is that large banks attempting to regain market share would have to move well out the risk curve. (1)

While these findings are presented as negative developments, it is unclear to me that they are. Market share among big players in the mortgage market does vary dramatically over time. Given the new regulatory environment imposed by Dodd Frank, it is not surprising that the industry would readjust in some ways and that specialized nonbanks might increase market share once the financial crisis subsided. It is also unclear that moving out the risk curve is bad in today’s environment. Today’s lenders are quite conservative compared to the pre-crisis ones and there is good reason to think that lenders could safely loosen their underwriting somewhat. This is not to say, of course, that they should return to the bad old days. Just that there are more creditworthy borrowers out there.

April 3, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports

By Serenna McCloud

April 3, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

April 2, 2015

Housing Affordability for Moderate-Income Households

By David Reiss

The Center for Housing Policy’s most recent issue of Housing Landscape gives its Annual Look at The Housing Affordability Challenges of America’s Working Households. The Center finds that

Overall, 15.2 percent of all U.S. households (17.6 million households) were severely housing cost burdened in 2013. Renters face the biggest affordability challenges. In 2013, 24.3 percent of all renter households were severely burdened compared to 10.0 percent of all owner households. (1, footnote omitted)

The Center summarizes “the severe housing cost burdens of low- and moderate-income working households.” (1) Unsurprisingly. these households face

significantly greater affordability challenges than the overall population. In 2013,21.2 percent of working households were severely cost burdened (9.6 million households).Twenty-five percent of working renters and 17.1 percent of working homeowners paid more than half of their incomes for housing that year. (1)

The report notes some modest good news:

Since 2010,the overall share of working households with a severe housing cost burden has  fallen.This modest decline is the result of a complex combination of factors, including the shift of  some higher-income households from homeownership into rental housing. An insufficient supply of rental housing and sustained increases in rents have led to millions of working households having to pay too much for housing or live far from their jobs, in substandard housing,or in poor-quality neighborhoods. (1)

Federal and local housing policy has not yet come to grips with the fact low- and moderate-income households have been paying a significant portion of their income in housing costs year after year. Household have to make difficult trade-offs among cost, distance from employment, housing quality and neighborhood quality.

The Center notes that more can be done to support affordable housing at the federal and state levels, but it is not clear to me that there are any politically feasible policy responses that can make a serious dent in the affordability of housing for working households.

April 2, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Round-Up

By Serenna McCloud

April 2, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

April 1, 2015

Mortgaging the Future

By David Reiss

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s most recent Economic Letter is titled Mortgaging the Future? In it, Òscar Jordà, Moritz Schularick, and Alan M. Taylor evaluate the “Great Mortgaging” of the American economy:

In the six decades following World War II, bank lending measured as a ratio to GDP has quadrupled in advanced economies. To a great extent, this unprecedented expansion of credit was driven by a dramatic growth in mortgage loans. Lending backed by real estate has allowed households to leverage up and has changed the traditional business of banking in fundamental ways. This “Great Mortgaging” has had a profound influence on the dynamics of business cycles. (1)

I was particularly interested by the Letter’s Figure 2, which charted the ratio of mortgage debt to value of the U.S. housing stock over the last hundred years or so. The authors write,

The rise of mortgage lending exceeds what would be expected considering the increase in real estate values over the same time. Rather, it appears to also reflect an increase in household leverage. Although we cannot measure historical loan-to-value ratios directly, household mortgage debt appears to have risen faster than total real estate asset values in many countries including the United States. The resulting record-high leverage ratios can damage household balance sheets and therefore endanger the overall financial system. Figure 2 displays the ratio of household mortgage lending to the value of the total U.S. housing stock over the past 100 years. As the figure shows, that ratio has nearly quadrupled from about 0.15 in 1910 to about 0.5 today. (2)

An increase in leverage for households is not necessarily a bad thing. it allows households to make investments and to smooth their consumption over longer periods. But it can, of course, get to be too high. High leverage makes households less able to handle shocks such as unemployment, divorce and death. it would be helpful for economists to better model a socially optimal level of household leverage in order to guide regulators. The CFPB has taken a stab at this with its relatively new Ability-to-Repay regulation but we do not yet know if they got it right.

April 1, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments