Republicans and the Mortgage Interest Deduction

photo by Nick Youngson

There is a lot to hate in the Republican tax reform plan contained in the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. (click here for a summary and here for the text of the bill itself). Overall, the bill is extraordinarily regressive, heavily favoring the wealthy. There will, of course, be all sorts of compromises to this proposal as Republicans work to get it passed. But it is worth highlighting what is good about the bill as it would be a shame to lose sight of it while the sausage is being made in Congress.

The best real-estate related provision from a policy perspective is the reduction of the mortgage interest deduction. In a section of the summary with the Orwellian title, Preserving the Mortgage Interest Deduction, the Republicans outline how they will slice the deduction in half:

For so many Americans, buying a home is often the largest investment – and perhaps most important – investment they will make in their lifetime.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will continue to support the American dream of homeownership by preserving the Mortgage Interest Deduction.

This ensures that hardworking families can continue to access this important tax relief as they buy, own, and maintain their home.

Policy Specifics

• Increasing the standard deduction means a simpler, fairer, and flatter tax code in which fewer taxpayers need to go through the trouble of determining whether they should itemize.

• Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers will still be able to deduct mortgage interest in excess of the standard deduction, in combination with other remaining itemized deductions, including charitable contributions and property taxes.

• The mortgage interest deduction would be available for interest paid on new mortgages for up to $500,000 in home acquisition indebtedness on principal residences.

• For existing mortgages, the plan allows for current law deduction on indebtedness of up to $1,000,000 and up to $100,000 in home equity to help taxpayers who may have relied on the current mortgage-interest deduction.

How This Policy Helps the American People

Preserving the home mortgage – and the deduction for state and local property taxes – will help more Americans of all income levels achieve the American dream of homeownership. (15-16)

This plan would cut the principal amount of a mortgage that would be eligible for the mortgage interest deduction from the current maximum of $1,000,000 to $500,000. Given that wealthy households generally take the mortgage interest deduction more often and get more bang for their buck from it, it is a regressive aspect of the tax code.

It is striking that a provision with such broad support such as the mortgage interest deduction is actually on the table. It will be interesting to see how special interests in the real estate industry will respond. My bet is that at the end of day the deduction will remain mostly untouched, even though this particular Republican proposal makes good policy sense.

Is Trump a Negative for the Housing Market?

TheStreet.com quoted me in Is Trump a Negative for the Housing Market? It opens,

At first blush, real estate industry professionals saw a lot to like with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Trump was and is pro-business, and he made his billions in the commercial real estate sector. This, real estate pro’s thought, is a guy who has the industry’s back.

But not every real estate specialist views the Trump presidency as a net positive.

Take Tommy Sowers, from GoldenKey, a real estate technology platform with locations in San Francisco and Durham, N.C.

Sowers holds a “strong belief” that President Donald Trump will actually be detrimental for the real estate industry, making it less affordable for Americans to buy homes.

“During the campaign, Donald Trump spoke about home ownership numbers being the lowest they have ever been since 1965 at 62.9%,” says Sowers. In a nation where homeownership is seen as synonymous with the American dream, it’s no surprise that he wanted to highlight this low rate and suggest ways to increase it, he says. “The reality is that his policies and actions indicate the opposite,” he says.

Sowers lists several reasons why Trump may not be the industry savior some real estate professionals might have counted on:

Rising interest rates – “While this responsibility sits with the Federal Reserve, which has kept interest rates low in recent years, Trump has blasted them for doing this stating that they are ‘creating a false economy,'” Sowers explains. “Most economists predict that interest rates will now rise in 2017.”

Dismantling Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) – “During the 2008 financial crisis, the taxpayer bought out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and now under government control they play a greater role than before the crisis in sustaining real estate sales and providing liquidity to the housing market,” Sowers says. “Trump wants to privatize them – a shake up to this arrangement could mean that banks stop offering the lower cost 30-year fixed rate mortgages.”

Cutting FHA home insurance – This was one of Trump’s first acts in office, making it more expensive for borrowers to insure their homes, Sowers notes. “His pick for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, wants to limit the mortgage interest deduction,” he adds. “This may not impact the average US homebuyer but in many areas across the country the average home is above the threshold of $500,000.”

Immigrant confidence – “We are a nation of immigrants and many are here legally with green cards,” Sowers states. “His latest immigration policy has sent shock waves to foreign investors and will likely stunt confidence in immigrants that are here legally from buying a home.” President Trump has said he hopes to encourage further building with the National Association of Home Builders, he adds. “However, with so many immigrants working in the construction industry, his policies are likely decrease the speed of development,” Sowers says. “With less new homes being built, people are likely to wait and not move or buy a new house.”

There are other areas of concern, experts say. For example, reducing government regulations may thrill real estate professionals, along with buyers and sellers, but industry experts say that will actually hurt the U.S. housing market.

“Trump’s commitment to weakening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the consumer protection provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act will have a harmful impact on the housing market in the long run,” predicts David Reiss, a law professor at the Brooklyn Law School, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Reiss says Trump and his allies argue that Dodd-Frank has cut off credit, but the numbers don’t bear that out. “Mortgage rates are near their all-time lows,” he says. “Dodd-Frank, which created the CFPB and mandated the Qualified Mortgage and Ability-to-Repay rules, put a brake on most of the predatory behavior that characterized the mortgage market before the financial crisis. Getting rid of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB may loosen mortgage lending a bit in the short term, but in the long term it will allow predatory lenders to return to the mortgage market, big-time.”

“We will the see bigger booms followed by bigger busts,” he adds. “That kind of volatility is not good for the housing market in the long term.”

HUD, Exit Stage Left

photo by Gage Skidmore

Obama HUD Secretary Julián Castro

President Obama had members of his Cabinet write Exit Memos that set forth their vision for their agencies. Julián Castro, his Secretary of HUD, titled his Housing as a Platform for Opportunity. It is worth a read as a roadmap of a progressive housing agenda. While it clearly will carry little weight over the next few years, it will become relevant once the political winds shift back, as they always do. Castro writes,

Every year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) creates opportunity for more than 30 million Americans, including more than 11.6 million children. That support ranges from assisting someone in critical need with emergency shelter for a night to helping more than 7.8 million homeowners build intergenerational wealth. Simply put, HUD provides a passport to the middle class.

HUD is many things but, most of all, it is the Department of Opportunity. Everything we did in the last eight years was oriented to bring greater opportunity to the people we serve every day. That includes the thousands of public housing residents who now have access to high-speed Internet through ConnectHome. It includes the more than 1.2 million borrowers in 2016 – more than 720,000 of them first-time homebuyers – who reached their own American Dream because of the access to credit the Federal Housing Administration provides. And it includes the hundreds of thousands of veterans since 2010 who are no longer experiencing homelessness and are now better positioned to achieve their full potential in the coming years.

Our nation’s economy benefits from HUD’s work. As our nation recovered from the Great Recession, HUD was a driving force in stabilizing the housing market. When natural disasters struck, as with Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast, the historic flooding in Louisiana, and many other major disasters – HUD helped the hardest-hit communities to rebuild, cumulatively investing more than $18 billion in those areas, and making it possible for folks to get back in their homes and back to work. And when we invested those dollars, we encouraged communities not just to rebuild, but to rebuild in more resilient ways. The $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition demonstrated our commitment to encourage communities to build infrastructure that can better withstand the next storm and reduce the costs to the American taxpayer.

Housing is a platform for greater opportunity because it is so interconnected with health, safety, education, jobs and equality. We responded to the threat posed by lead-contaminated homes by launching a forthcoming expansion of critical protections for children and families in federally assisted housing. And we finally fulfilled the full obligation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act by putting into practice the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to ensure that one day a child’s zip code won’t determine his or her future.

Much has been accomplished during the Obama Administration, but new challenges are on the horizon, including a severely aging public housing stock and an affordable housing crisis in many areas of the country. Just as HUD provided necessary reinforcement to the housing market during the latest economic crisis, this vital Department will be crucial to the continued improvement of the American economy and the security of millions of Americans in the years to come. (2)

There is a fair amount of puffery in this Exit Memo, but that is to be expected in a document of this sort. it does, however, set forth a comprehensive of policies that the next Democratic administration is sure to consider. If you want an overview of HUD’s reach, give it a read.

Millennial Homeowners Following ‘Rents

ducklings-and-ducks-1407039437Rwg

TheStreet.com quoted me in Potential Homeowners Follow in Footsteps of Parents. It opens,

Consumers tend to follow the strategies of their parents when they are faced with whether they should stick with renting or buying their first home.

Potential homeowners, including both Gen X-ers and Millennials, are influenced by the decisions made by their parents. As homeownership rates in the U.S. have fallen to a 51-year low, one reason Gen Y-ers tend to skip homeownership is due to the choice made by their parents while others are faced with mounting student loans and higher costs to purchase a house.

Consumers are nearly three times as likely to purchase a house if their parents were homeowners compared to parents who rented, said Felipe Chacon, a housing data analyst at Trulia, a San Francisco-based real estate website, which analyzed over four decades of data from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

 “What the analysis in the report suggests is that people who grew up in rented homes are less likely to own their own home, even after you exclude those who have gotten financial help from their folks or their spouse’s folks,” he said.
As Millennials are heading toward their 30s, the impact of their childhood is taking effect as ones which grew up in homes the parents owned were 2.8 times more likely to seek the same goal, the researchers found. The trend of home ownership has declined among Millennials and part of the reason could be that people who are 19 to 34 years are less likely to have been raised in homes where their parents owned the homes compared to Gen X-ers or those who are 35 to 45 years old.
“It could simply be an issue of values, where those from owned homes make homeownership a more urgent priority and strive to reach it sooner simply because it is familiar and comfortable to them,” Chacon said.
Consumers are probably more likely to buy a house if their extended family can explain how the process works and what criteria should be prioritized from improving their credit score to saving for a down payment.
“It probably helps to have parents and relatives around who can help you navigate the system as a first time homebuyer,” he said. “Since Millennials, especially younger ones seem to be slightly less likely to be raised in owned homes, there could be a long term cooling effect on the ownership rate among this group.”
The attitude of Americans owning their homes and pursuing the traditional “American Dream” has remained pretty steady over the past five years. In fact, more Millennials are eager to purchase a home and 80% expressed this sentiment in 2015 compared to 71% in 2010, according to a Trulia survey. The overall population mirrors this belief with 75 % who agree in 2015 from 72% in 2010.
One of the hurdles to homeownership is accruing enough money for the down payment. Millennials who grew up with parents who owned a home received more help financially with 11.4% who were given money compared with 2.6% of those who grew up in mostly rented homes.
“The American homeownership rate carries a lot of political and social significance with it and for many, it is seen as a marker of the health of American society,” said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York. “The significant dip in the homeownership rate that has occurred since the financial crisis has shaken the confidence of many that the nation’s households are on solid footing.”

 

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.

Millennials and Homeownership

photo by flickr@tonywebster.com

TheStreet.com quoted me in Millennials Are Accruing Less Debt, Bypassing Homeownership. It reads, in part,

Millennials are accruing less debt than their counterparts did back in 2003 — despite being saddled with large amounts of student loans — because they are putting off buying homes.

The research conducted by Torsten Sløk, a Deutsche Bank international economist, shows that Millennials, ages 25 to 35, attained less debt in 2015 than their counterparts did in 2003. The data demonstrates a 29-year old in 2003 had an average debt amount of $41,761 compared to $36,810 in 2015 or a 33-year old owed $56,859 in 2003 and $52,640 in 2015.

“It is an urban myth that the young generation today is more indebted, it is the older generations that have higher debt levels,” said Sløk in a research note. “The reason is that since 2009, it has been difficult for Millennials to get a loan. As a result, 25 to 35 year olds today have less debt than in 2003.”

Debt has been “harder to obtain” for Gen Y-ers whether they are credit cards or mortgages, said Jim Triggs, a senior vice president of counseling and support of Money Management International, a Sugar Land, Texas-based non-profit debt counseling organization.

“Millennials have not been inundated with easy to obtain credit cards like in past years,” he said. “Creditors are not on college campuses offering credit cards to college students any longer.”

While Millennials are saddled with record levels of student loans because of the skyrocketing costs of college tuition and the ease of obtaining these loans, Millennials “continue to have less credit card and mortgage debt than their parents and grandparents,” Triggs said.

The level of student loan debt is hindering borrowers ages 18 to 35 from paying for necessities such as rent, utilities and even food as 43% expressed this sentiment, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s 2016 consumer financial literacy survey, said Bruce McClary, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based national non-profit organization.

“There is a staggering amount of student loan debt and it is a burden for many,” he said.

Homeownership Delays

Although Millennials have expressed the desire the own a home in the future, they are keen to keep renting in part because many of them switch jobs frequently, have not amassed a down payment or do not want the financial commitment. The zeal to pursue the “American dream” of owning a home has waned.

*     *     *

The assumption that home values would rise faster than other investments has been challenged since the Great Recession, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School.

“One big issue is the role that home ownership plays in wealth creation,” he said. “The bottom line is that homeownership can help build a nest egg for retirement, but long-term trends and individual decisions about homeownership will have a big impact as well.”

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup