Understanding Homeownership

 

The Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute released its House Finance at a Glance Chartbook for December. It states that financial education “can help reduce barriers to homeownership.” As I argue below, I do not think that financial education is the right thing to emphasize when trying to get people to enter the housing market.

The Introduction makes the case for financial education:

While mortgage debt has been stable to marginally increasing, other types of debt, particularly auto and student loan debt have increased far more rapidly. Our calculations, based on The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, show that over the past 5 years (Q3 2012 to Q3 2017), mortgage debt outstanding has grown at an annualized rate of 1.3 percent, while non-mortgage debt (which includes credit card debt, student loan debt, auto debt, and other debt) has grown by 6.8 percent annualized rate. Student loan debt has grown by 7.3 percent per year while auto debt has been growing by 9.6 percent per year. In Q3 2012, the number of accounts for mortgage loans and auto loans are very close (84 million vs 82 million). By Q3 2017, the number of accounts for mortgages had fallen to 80 million consistent with declining homeownership rate, while the number of accounts for auto loans had increased to 110 million.

Another metric where auto loans have diverged from mortgages is delinquency rates. Over the past 5 years, mortgage delinquencies have plummeted (pages 22 and 29) while the percent of auto loans that is more than 90 days late is roughly flat despite an improving economy. However, the percent of auto loans transitioning into serious delinquency has risen from 1.52 percent in Q3 2012 to 2.36 percent in Q3 2017. While these numbers remain small, the growth bears monitoring.

When we looked at the distribution of credit scores for new auto origination and new mortgage origination, we found no major change in either loan category; while mortgage credit scores are skewed higher, the distribution of mortgage credit scores (page 17) and the distribution of auto credit scores have been roughly consistent over the period. Our calculations based off NY Fed data shows the percent of auto loan origination balances with FICOs under 660 was 35.9% in Q3, 2012, it is now 31.7%; similarly the percent of auto origination with balances under 620 has contracted from 22.7 percent to 19.6 percent. There have been absolutely more auto loans with low FICOs originated, but this is because of the increased overall volume.

So what might explain the differences in trends in the delinquency rate and loan growth between these two asset classes? A good part of the story (in addition to tight mortgage credit) is that many potential low- and moderate-income borrowers do not believe they can get a mortgage. As a result, many don’t even bother to apply. We showed in our recently released report on Barriers to Accessing Homeownership that survey after survey shows that borrowers think they need far bigger down payments than they actually do. And there are many down payment assistance programs available. Moreover, it is still less expensive at the national level to own than to rent. This suggests that many LMI borrowers who are shying away from applying for a mortgage could benefit from financial education; with a better grasp of down payment facts and assistance opportunities, many of these families could be motivated to apply for mortgages and have the opportunity to build wealth. (5)

I am not sure if financial education is the whole answer here. Employment instability as well as generalized financial insecurity may be playing a bigger role in home purchases than in car purchases. The longer time horizon as well as the more serious consequences of a default with homeownership may be keeping people from stepping into the housing market. This is particularly true if renters have visions in their heads of family members or friends suffering during the long and lingering foreclosure crisis.

The CFPB Makes Its Case

CFPB Director Cordray

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released its Semi-Annual Report. Given that the Bureau is under attack by Republicans in Congress and in the Trump Administration, one can read this as a defense (a strong defense, I might editorialize) for the work that the Bureau has done on behalf of consumers. The core of the Bureau’s argument is that it levels the playing field for consumers when they deal with financial services companies:

The Bureau has continued to expand its efforts to serve and protect consumers in the financial marketplace. The Bureau seeks to serve as a resource on the macro level, by writing clear rules of the road and enforcing consumer financial protection laws in ways that improve the consumer financial marketplace, and on the micro level, by helping individual consumers get responses to their complaints about issues with financial products and services. While the various divisions of the Bureau play different roles in carrying out the Bureau’s mission, they all work together to protect and educate consumers, help level the playing field for participants, and fulfill the Bureau’s statutory obligations and mission under the Dodd-Frank Act. In all of its work, the Bureau strives to act in ways that are fair, reasonable, and transparent.

*     *     *

When Federal consumer financial protection law is violated, the Bureau’s Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending Division are committed to holding the responsible parties accountable. In the six months covered by this report, our supervisory actions resulted in financial institutions providing approximately $6.2 million in redress to over 16,549 consumers. During that timeframe, we also have announced enforcement actions that resulted in orders for approximately $200 million in total relief for consumers who fell victim to various violations of consumer financial protection laws, along with over $43 million in civil money penalties. We brought numerous enforcement actions for various violations of the Dodd-Frank Act and other laws, including actions against Mastercard and UniRush for breakdowns that left tens of thousands of economically vulnerable RushCard users unable to access their own money to pay for basic necessities; two separate actions against CitiFinancial and CitiMortgage for keeping consumers in the dark about options to avoid foreclosure; and against three reverse mortgage companies for deceptive advertisements, including claiming that consumers who obtained reverse mortgages could not lose their homes. We also brought two separate actions against credit reporting agencies Equifax and TransUnion for deceiving consumers about the usefulness and actual cost of credit scores they sold to consumers, and for luring consumers into costly recurring payments for credit products; and an action against creditor reporting agency Experian for deceiving consumers about the usefulness of credit scores it sold to consumers. The Bureau also continued to develop and refine its nationwide supervisory program for depository and nondepository financial institutions, through which those institutions are examined for compliance with Federal consumer financial protection law. (10-11, footnotes omitted)

Anyone who was around during the late 1990s and early 2000s would know that consumers are much better off with the Bureau than without it. This report provides some of the reasons why that is the case.

Gentrification & Socioeconomic Diversity

Lisa Brewster

Lei Ding et al. have posted a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Working Paper, Gentrification and Residential Mobility in Philadelphia, to SSRN. The abstract reads,

Gentrification has provoked considerable debate and controversy about its effects on neighborhoods and the people residing in them. This paper draws on a unique large-scale consumer credit database to examine the mobility patterns of residents in gentrifying neighborhoods in the city of Philadelphia from 2002 to 2014. We find significant heterogeneity in the effects of gentrification across neighborhoods and subpopulations. Residents in gentrifying neighborhoods have slightly higher mobility rates than those in nongentrifying neighborhoods, but they do not have a higher risk of moving to a lower-income neighborhood. Moreover, gentrification is associated with some positive changes in residents’ financial health as measured by individuals’ credit scores. However, when more vulnerable residents (low-score, longer-term residents, or residents without mortgages) move from gentrifying neighborhoods, they are more likely to move to lower-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with lower values on quality-of-life indicators. The results reveal the nuances of mobility in gentrifying neighborhoods and demonstrate how the positive and negative consequences of gentrification are unevenly distributed.
I am not in a position to fully evaluate the methodology of this paper in this post. At first glance, however, it appears to be a well-constructed and large study, tracking “the residential location and financial health of a random sample of more than 50,000 adults.” (1) At the same time, useful household characteristics like income and race were not available to the authors, so the study has some significant limitations.

Given the intensive debates that gentrification engenders in NYC and elsewhere, it is still helpful that the authors offer up some facts and grounded interpretation of those facts. The authors specifically find that “gentrification is associated with positive changes in residents’ financial health: Residents in gentrifying neighborhoods experience an average increase of 11 points in their credit scores, compared with those who are not residents.” (1) At the same time, their results “suggest that less advantaged residents generally gained less from gentrification than others, and those who were unable to remain in a gentrifying neighborhood had negative residential and financial outcomes in the gentrification process.” (2)

Those who decry gentrification as well as those who promote it (quietly, more often than not) will find support for their positions in this paper. But those who are trying to understand just what we are talking about when we talk about gentrification and its effects will be left with a more textured understanding of how the demographics of gentrifying neighborhoods change. If cities are serious about promoting socioeconomic diversity, they must understand what is happening when neighborhoods are in flux.

Friday’s Government Reports

  • The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released a Discussion paper Gentrification and Residential Mobility in Philadelphia the study uses consumer credit data to study the economic effects of gentrification on existing lower income residents.   The study finds the following:  “[R]esidents in gentrifying neighborhoods have slightly higher mobility rates than those in nongentrifying neighborhoods, but they do not have a higher risk of moving to a lower-income neighborhood. Moreover, gentrification is associated with some positive changes in the financial health of residents as measured by individuals’ credit scores. However, when more vulnerable residents (low-score, longer-term residents, or residents without mortgages) move from gentrifying neighborhoods, they are more likely to move to lower-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with lower values on quality-of-life indicators. The results reveal the nuances of mobility in gentrifying neighborhoods and demonstrate how the positive and negative consequences of gentrification are unevenly distributed.”