How To Buy A Foreclosed Home

photo by Taber Andrew Bain

US News & World Report quoted me in  How to Buy a Foreclosed Home. It opens,

As home prices soar in many cities, buyers might look to foreclosures as an affordable option for landing their dream home. Typically, a foreclosure occurs when a homeowner no longer can make the mortgage payments and the lender seizes the property. The lender then requires the former owner to vacate the property before offering it for sale, usually at a discounted price. In some cases, the home is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Foreclosures offer home shoppers the potential to score a great deal, says Elizabeth Mendenhall, a Realtor in Columbia, Missouri, who is president of the National Association of Realtors.

“Sometimes people think a foreclosure only happens to the lower end of the market, but you can definitely find foreclosures at any price range,” she says.

But while buying a foreclosure can save you a lot of cash, it does come with risks. If you pursue a foreclosure, it helps to have a “stomach of steel,” says David Reiss, law professor and academic programs director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.
“There’s going to be a lot more ups and downs” than in a typical homebuying process, says Reiss, whose work focuses on real estate finance and community development.

Why Buy a Foreclosure?

In recent years, foreclosure sales have been trending downward, according to national property data curating company Attom Data Solutions. That is largely because a strengthening U.S. economy has reduced the number of borrowers who lose their homes as a result of failing to pay the mortgage. In 2017, distressed home sales – including foreclosures and short sales – made up 14 percent of all U.S. single family home and condo sales, according to Attom Data Solutions. That number was down from 15.5 percent in 2016 and a recent high of 38.6 percent in 2011.

Still, some buyers look to foreclosures to get the best possible deal. Homes may be for sale in various states of foreclosure. For example, pre-foreclosure is a period when the owner has fallen behind on payments, but the lender has not actually taken the home from the owner. Homes sold at this point often go through the short sale process, where the lender agrees to accept an amount of money from the buyer that is less than what the current owner owes on the mortgage.

Properties that are already in foreclosure are sold at an online or offline auction, or by a real estate agent. The biggest lure of buying a foreclosure is the potential savings you get compared with buying a similar nondistressed property.

“It can be like a 15 percent discount on your neighboring houses,” Reiss says. “So, it can be significant.”

But Mendenhall says how much you will save depends on the local real estate market and the stage of foreclosure of the property.

The Risks of Buying a Foreclosure

Purchasing a foreclosure involves several substantial risks, so buyers must enter the process with their eyes wide open. In many cases, if you buy a foreclosure at auction, you must purchase the property sight unseen. Reiss says this is the biggest potential danger of buying a foreclosure.

“The big, scary thing is that with a number of foreclosures, you can’t actually inspect the property before you actually bid,” he says. “That’s in part why the prices are below the market.”

Even if you can get a professional inspection on a foreclosure, you typically have to buy the house “as is.” Once you purchase the home, any problems that pop up are yours – as is the responsibility for finding and paying for a remedy. Such problems are more likely in a foreclosure than in a nondistressed property. For example, in some cases, a frustrated family might strip the home of valuable elements before vacating the house.

“Or they kind of just beat it up because they were angry about having to go through the foreclosure,” Reiss says.

The mere fact that the home is vacant also can lead to problems. Reiss says a home is like a plant – if you don’t tend to it regularly, it can wither and die. “If you happen to leave it alone on its own for too long, water leaks in, pipes can burst, rodents can get in, just the elements can do damage,” he says.

Mendenhall adds that people who lose their homes to foreclosure typically have major financial troubles. That can trigger other troubles for the new owner. “If the previous owner was in financial distress, there’s a chance that there’s more maintenance and work maybe that they haven’t completed,” she says.

Reducing the Dangers of Buying a Foreclosure

There are a few things you can do to mitigate the risks associated with buying a foreclosure. For starters, see if you can get a professional inspection of the property. Although buyers often cannot inspect a foreclosure property, that is not always the case. So, be sure to ask a real estate agent or the seller about hiring a home inspector.

“Even though it may extend the process, if you can have a qualified inspector come in, you can know a little bit more about what you’re getting into,” Mendenhall says.

If you can’t inspect the property, Reiss recommends researching its history. Look at publicly available records to find out when the property was last sold and how long the current owner had possession. Also, check whether building permits were drawn and what type of work was done. “Maybe you’ll see some good news, like a boiler was replaced two years ago,” Reiss says. “Or maybe you’ll see some scary news, like there’s all these permits and you don’t know if the work was completed.”

Also, visit the house and perform a “curbside inspection” of your own, Reiss says. “Even if you can’t go inside the house, you want to look at the property,” he says. “If you can peek in the windows, you probably want to peek in the windows.”

Knock on the doors of nearby neighbors. Tell them you want to bid on the property but need to learn all that you can about the previous owners, including how long they lived in the home and whether they took care of it. And ask if there have been any signs of squatters or recent break-ins.

“Try to get all that information,” Reiss says. “Neighbors are probably going to have a good sense of a lot of that, and I think that kind of informal due diligence can be helpful.”

Working with a real estate agent experienced in selling distressed property may help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of buying foreclosures, Mendenhall says. Some agents have earned the National Association of Realtors’ Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource Certification, or SFR. Such Realtors can help guide you through processes unique to purchasing distressed properties, Mendenhall says.

How to Find a Foreclosure

You can find foreclosures by searching the listings at bank websites, including those of giants such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America. The government-sponsored companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also have listings on their websites.

The federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development owns and sells foreclosed homes. You can find listings on the website.

Private companies such as RealtyTrac offer foreclosure listings online, typically for a fee. Finally, you can contact a real estate agent who will find foreclosures for you. These agents may help you find foreclosures before others snatch them up.

Is a Foreclosure Right for You?

Before you pursue a foreclosure, Reiss encourages you to ask yourself whether you are in a good position to take on the risk – and, hopefully, to reap the reward – of buying a foreclosure. It is possible to use conventional financing, or even a loan from the Federal Housing Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs, to buy a foreclosure. However, people with deeper pockets are often better candidates for buying a foreclosure.

Because the process can be highly competitive, buyers with access to large amounts of cash can swoop in and land the best deals. “You can get financing, but you need to get it quickly,” Reiss says. “I think a lot of people who go into purchasing foreclosure(s) want to have the cash to just kind of act.”

Sellers of distressed properties love cash-only buyers, because the home can be sold without a lender requiring either a home appraisal or a home inspection. “So, the more cash you have on hand, the more likely you’re playing in those sandboxes,” Reiss says.

In addition, buyers of foreclosures often need to spend money to bring a property up to code or to make it competitive with other homes in the neighborhood. “Have a big cushion in case the building is in much worse condition than you expected,” Reiss says.

He cites the example of someone who buys a foreclosure, only to discover that the piping has been stripped out of the basement and will cost $10,000 to repair and replace. “You need to know that you can handle that one way or the other,” Reiss says.

People with solid home maintenance and repair skills also are good candidates for buying a foreclosure. “I think if you’re a handy person, you might be able to address a lot of the issues yourself,” Reiss says. He describes such buyers as anyone who has “a can-do attitude and is looking to trade sweat equity for home equity.”

Reiss and Mendenhall agree that flexibility is crucial to successfully shopping for and purchasing a foreclosure. Mendenhall notes that a foreclosure sale can take a long time to complete. “It can be a long process, or a frustrating one,” she says. “It can depend upon where they are in the foreclosure process. It can take a much longer time to go from contract to close.”

For that reason, a foreclosure might not make sense for buyers who need to move into a property quickly, she says. Also, think hard about how you really feel about buying a house that needs extensive renovation work that might take a long time to complete.

“It can be hard for some people to live in a property and do repairs at the same time,” Mendenhall says.

FHA Annual Check-up

The Department of Housing and Urban Development released its Annual Report to Congress Regarding the Financial Status of the FHA Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. The MMIF fund is the FHA’s main vehicle for insuring mortgages. As we saw last week, FHA reverse mortgage (formally known as “Home Equity Conversion Mortgage” or “HECM”) portfolio is not doing so well. FHA standard (sometimes referred to as “forward”) mortgages are doing better, although their performance is also slipping.

The MMIF declined from its 2.35 percent FY 2016 Capital Ratio to 2.09 percent. This still exceeds its statutorily-required level of 2.00 percent.  The Economic Net Worth of the MMIF was $25.6 billion while the MMIF Insurance-in-Force was approximately $1.23 trillion at the end of FY 2017. The decline was driven by the negative Economic Net Worth of the reverse mortgage portfolio, as the capital ratio for the forward mortgage portfolio on its own was 3.33%.

The report contains a multitude of useful tables and charts about the FHA’s mortgage portfolio. The FHA has an 18 percent share of the mortgage market, which is pretty high. (Table A-2) Indeed, it is in the same range of its market share during the financial crisis years (2008-2010). The FHA remains a strong force in the first-time homebuyer market, with an 82.2 percent share. (Table B-2)

The FHA’s objectives for FY 2018 are worth reviewing:

Play a Significant Role in Disaster Recovery. In the wake of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, and wildfires in California, in FY 2017 and the first part of FY 2018, FHA has played a significant role in relief and recovery efforts in affected areas, while taking immediate actions to protect its Single Family assets and financial exposure. (78)

Make Necessary Changes to the Home Equity Conversion Program (HECM). During FY 2017, FHA revised the HECM initial and annual Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIPs), and Principal Limit Factors (PLFs). These revisions were necessary to enable FHA to continue to endorse HECM loans in FY 2018, protect the program for seniors, and balance serving FHA’s mission with taxpayer protection. (79)

No less important than these objectives is the FHA’s second-to-last one, Technology Modernization:

FHA is working to update its systems over the coming years to allow the Agency to work more effectively with lenders participating in the program, while operating FHA with greater efficiency and control. The technology systems that support FHA’s Single Family business have an average age of more than 18 years, with the Computerized Homes Underwriting Management System (CHUMS) exceeding 40 years. Similarly, the systems supporting the servicing, default, claims and REO areas have an average age of 14 years. FHA’s systems have been maintained, modified and enhanced over the years, but it has become fundamentally difficult and exceedingly expensive to maintain systems beyond their usable life. FHA’s outdated systems make it more difficult to work with lenders and to collect and manage important data. FHA remains a largely paper-processing entity while the rest of the industry has increasingly migrated to digital processes. FHA needs systems that can capture and effectively process the extensive volumes of data now in use, with enhanced storage and processing capabilities to handle the migration from paper forms to digital ones. Additionally, FHA requires the ability to analyze and manage insured loans comprehensively over the many phases of the mortgage life cycle. (80)

When you stop and think about how bad the state of the FHA’s technology is, you think that maybe this should be their top priority.

How Are First-Time Homebuyers Doing?

photo by designmilk

Genworth Mortgage Insurance Corporation released a a First-Time Home Market Report.  The big news from the report is that first-time homebuyers purchased fifteen percent more single-family homes in 2016 than in 2015.  The 2 million homes purchased in 2016 was the most since 2006, before the financial crisis. This is a positive sign for the housing market and for the homeownership rate which has fallen to long-time lows since the financial crisis. The Executive Summary reads,

First-time homebuyers represent an important segment of the housing market, generating significant revenue to real estate agents, homebuilders, and the mortgage finance industry. In this report, we adopt the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of first-time homebuyers as homebuyers who did not own a home in any of the prior three years  . . . Compared to repeat homebuyers, first-time homebuyers play a more pivotal role in influencing housing inventory and home prices because they represent the shift of housing demand from rental to owner occupancy. Despite this well-recognized dynamic, there has been limited data available on the first-time homebuyer market, starting with market size. In this report, we estimate the size of the first-time homebuyer market going back to 1994 using a combination of government and mortgage industry data—20.1 million actual first-time homebuyers were identified. This data provides a historical perspective on the first-time homebuyer market as well as important recent trends. (2)

The report’s key findings include,

1. Between 1994 and 2016, first-time homebuyers purchased on average 1.8 million single-family homes each year, accounting for over one in three of all single-family homes sold, and 45 percent of the purchase mortgages originated.

2. First-time homebuyers have led the housing recovery, contributing over 60 percent of the sales growth in the housing market over the past five years and 85 percent of the growth in the past two years. The resurgence of the first-time homebuyer market has contributed to very tight housing supplies and accelerating home prices, especially at the “low” end of the housing market.

3. During the Housing Crisis, the number of single-family homes sold to first-time homebuyers saw a peak to trough decline of 900,000 units (43 percent) – reaching a trough of just 1.2 million units in 2011. Over the last 10 years, the housing market has seen 3 million fewer first-time homebuyers in aggregate compared to the historical average.

4. The first-time homebuyer market stagnated during the historic housing expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s, leading to a decline in first-time homebuyer mix. Instead, it was repeat homebuyers, including second-home buyers and investors, who led the surge in housing activity.

5. The expansion of government lending programs and the implementation of the first-time homebuyer tax credit provided temporary support to first-time homebuyers. Between 2008 and 2010, first-time homebuyers represented 35 percent of all single-family home sales, which is close to its historical average. However, the percentage of single-family home sales to first-time homebuyers declined once the tax credit expired, and stayed below 30 percent for these three years.

6. First-time homebuyers have always demonstrated a greater need for low down payment mortgage products. Between 1994 and 2016, 73 percent of first-time homebuyers chose such products compared to 30-50 percent for repeat homebuyers. Mortgage products with a lower down payment will likely have a higher first-time homebuyer mix.

7. Private mortgage insurance and FHA (government-backed mortgage insurance) are the two leading products for first-time homebuyers and have together accounted for close to 1 million first-time homebuyers a year since 1994. They have played a key role in reviving the first-time homebuyer market in the current recovery, accounting for approximately 80 percent of its growth in the past two years.

8. First-time homebuyers purchased 2 million single-family homes in 2016, 15 percent more than 2015 – and the most since 2006. During the first quarter of 2017, there were more first-time homebuyers than any other year since 2005. A total of 424,000 single-family homes were sold to first-time homebuyers, up 11 percent from a year ago, and accounting for 38 percent of all single-family home sales. (3)

Dr. Carson’s Slim Housing Credentials

photo by Gage Skidmore

Law360 quoted me in Carson’s Slim Housing Credentials To Be Confirmation Focus (behind paywall). It opens,

Dr. Ben Carson will face a barrage of questions Thursday on topics ranging from his views on anti-discrimination enforcement to the basics of running a government agency with a multibillion-dollar budget at his confirmation hearing to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Carson, a famed neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate, was President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise choice for HUD secretary, given the nominee’s lack of experience or statements on housing issues. That lack of a track record means that senators and housing policy advocates will have no shortage of areas to probe when Carson appears before the Senate Banking Committee.

“I want to know whether he has any firm ideas at all about housing and urban policy. Is he a quick study?” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.

Trump tapped Carson in early December to lead HUD, saying that his former rival for the Republican presidential nomination shared in his vision of “revitalizing” inner cities and the families that live in them.

“Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up,” Trump said in a statement released through his transition team.

Carson said he was honored to get the nod from the president-elect.

“I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities that are most in need. We have much work to do in enhancing every aspect of our nation and ensuring that our nation’s housing needs are met,” he said in the transition team’s statement.

The nomination came as a bit of a surprise given that Carson, who has decades of experience in medicine, has none in housing policy. It also came soon after a spokesman for Carson said that he had no interest in a Cabinet position because of a lack of qualifications.

Now lawmakers, particularly Democrats, will likely spend much of Thursday’s confirmation hearing attempting to suss out just what the HUD nominee thinks about the management of the Federal Housing Administration, which provides insurance on mortgages to low-income and first-time home buyers; the management and funding for public housing in the U.S.; and even the basics of how he will manage an agency that had an approximately $49 billion budget and employs some 8,300 people.

“You will have to overcome your lack of experience managing an organization this large to ensure that you do not waste taxpayer dollars and reduce assistance for families who desperately need it,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a letter to Carson earlier in the week.

To that end, Carson could help allay fears about management and experience by revealing who will be working under him, said Rick Lazio, a partner at Jones Walker LLP and a former four-term Republican congressman from New York.

“The question is will the senior staff have a diverse experience that includes management and housing policy,” Lazio said.

One area where Carson is likely to face tough questioning from Democrats is anti-discrimination and fair housing.

Carson’s only major public pronouncement on housing policy was a 2015 denunciation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule that the Obama administration finalized after it languished for years.

The rule, which was part of the 1968 Fair Housing Act but had been languishing for decades, requires each municipality that receives federal funding to assess their housing policies to determine whether they sufficiently encourage diversity in their communities.

In a Washington Times, op-ed, Carson compared the rule to failed efforts to integrate schools through busing and at other times called the rule akin to communism.

“These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse. There are reasonable ways to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens, but based on the history of failed socialist experiments in this country, entrusting the government to get it right can prove downright dangerous,” Carson wrote.

Warren has already indicated that she wants more answers about Carson’s view of the rule and has asked whether Carson plans to pursue disparate impact claims against lenders and other housing market participants, as is the current policy at HUD and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Warren’s concerns are echoed by current HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who said in an interview with National Public Radio Monday that he feared Carson could pull back on the efforts the Obama administration has undertaken to enforce fair housing laws.

“I’d be lying if I said that I’m not concerned about the possibility of going backward, over the next four years,” Castro said in the interview.

HUD, as the agency overseeing the Federal Housing Administration, has also been involved in significant litigation against the likes of Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co., among others, seeking to recover money the FHA lost on bad loans they sold to the agency.

“Will you commit to continuing to strictly enforce these underwriting standards in order to protect taxpayers from fraud?” Warren asked.

Carson has also drawn criticism from fair housing advocates for his views on the assistance the government provides to the poor, saying in his memoir that such programs can breed dependency when they do not have time limits.

To that end, housing policy experts will want to hear what Carson wants to do to ease the affordability crisis, boost multifamily building and improve conditions inside public housing units. HUD also plays a major role in disaster relief operations, another area where people will be curious about Carson’s thinking.

“I’d be looking at hints of his positive agenda, not just critiques of past programs,” Reiss said.

No Mortgages for New Moms

photo by tipstimes.com/pregnancy

Realtor.com quoted me in Mom on Maternity Leave Denied a Mortgage: Could It Happen to You? It opens,

Hopeful home buyers can be denied loans for all kinds of reasons, from a poor credit score to low income. It sucks, but it makes sense: Lenders prefer giving cash to people who can pay them back. (Can you blame them?) Yet, sometimes people are turned away for dumb reasons. Take, for instance, the recent case of a Philadelphia mom who was denied a mortgage because she was on maternity leave. It was even paid maternity leave, with a firm date to return to her job. What’s up with that?

According to the Washington Post, the mom in question (who remains anonymous) had applied for financing with her husband to fund renovations on a house in Philadelphia. But due to her maternity leave, her pay stubs showed she was on “short-term disability,” which prompted the loan’s underwriter to surmise she might not resume working full time—even though her employer was happy to submit a letter indicating the day she’d return to the office.

And this mom is hardly alone: Over the past six years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has documented over 200 cases alleging maternity-related discrimination against women seeking mortgages. In one case, a lender in Arkansas allegedly told the applicant that she’d have to be back at work before her loan could close!

And this is a shame, because housing discrimination—based on gender, familial status, disability, race, and other factors—has been illegal since the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Yet apparently it still exists even at prominent mortgage companies, as evidenced by the cases against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC Mortgage, and others.

As for why this happens, experts surmise it’s because some lenders have outdated notions of women in the workplace, presuming most will bail or scale back on their jobs once kids enter the picture, permanently reducing the family’s income and eligibility for a loan. But it’s hardly the norm: Census data suggest that more than half of first-time mothers return to work within three months. Another study by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Child Health Bureau found that the average maternity leave lasted a mere 10 weeks.

Bottom line: These days, many moms return to the office—yet some mortgage companies have missed that memo. But luckily, some moms are fighting back—like the Philadelphia woman above, who has recently reached a “conciliation agreement” with the lender, Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania. Although the company denied discriminating against her, it also agreed to conduct fair lending training sessions with staff.

And more should follow, Shanna Smith, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance, told the Post: “There needs to be much better training for [lenders] about how to deal with interrupted income for loan closings when a woman is pregnant and [on] paid maternity leave.

All of which may have women everywhere wondering: If they hope to buy a home, might maternity leave get in their way? And if so, what should they do? Probably the first step is just knowing that it’s wrong: Maternity leave—paid or unpaid—is not a legitimate reason to refuse a loan.

“It always helps when you know your rights,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “If your lender appears to be violating fair lending laws, you may want to raise the issue directly with your banker and ask to speak to the supervisor to ask the bank to clarify its policy. If your lender continues to enforce a discriminatory policy, you can reach out to the relevant regulators, including HUD and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

Homeownership in NYC

photo by Nathan Hart

Brooklyn’s Charles Millard Pratt House

NYU’s Furman Center and Citi have released their joint Report on Homeownership & Opportunity in New York City. It opens,

In New York City, the notoriously high costs of rental housing are well documented. But becoming a homeowner in the New York City real estate market is also a considerable challenge for low- to middle-income households. Households earning less than $114,000 face a severely constrained supply of homeownership opportunities in New York City.

This report seeks to shed light on the extreme variation in homeownership rates among New Yorkers and quantify the homeownership options that exist at different income levels. We do this by analyzing 2014 home sales prices and examining the potential purchasing power of households at various income levels in New York City, as well as in the nearby counties of Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester.

We use five income categories for this analysis—Low-Income, Moderate-Income, Middle-Income, NYC-Middle-Income, and High-Income. These income bands are based on percentages of Area Median Family Income (AMFI) for the New York City metropolitan statistical area established by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) and are based on data from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey. This report includes an additional middle-income band (NYC-Middle-Income), given that affordable housing programs in New York City serve households up to 165 percent of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) area median income (AMI). (3)

You’re all wondering, of course, what NYC-Middle Income is, so the report provides the following explanation of the income categories:

“Low-Income” households have an annual income of $34,000 or less, or 50 percent of AMFI;

“Moderate-Income” households have an annual income between $34,001-$55,000, or 50 percent to less than 80 percent of AMFI;

“Middle-Income” households have an annual income of $55,001-$83,000, or 80 percent to less than 120 percent of AMFI;

NYC-Middle-Income” households have an annual income of $83,001-$114,000, or 120 percent to less than 165 of AMFI; and

“High-Income” households have an annual income above $114,001, or 165 percent of AMFI or greater. (3, emphasis added)

The report finds that

the purchasing power of most New York City households is limited, largely due to growing housing prices and stagnating incomes since 1990. In addition, while New York City had a relatively low share of homeowners compared to the U.S. in 2014, it was disproportionately low for Low-Income and Moderate-Income households relative to their U.S. counterparts.

The vast majority of home sales in New York City in 2014 were at prices unaffordable to Low-Income and Moderate-Income households, which comprised 51 percent of New York City households. Of the nine percent of sales in the city affordable to these households, three percent were affordable to Low-Income households and an additional six percent were affordable to Moderate-Income households. Home sales with prices that were affordable to Low-Income and Moderate-Income households in 2014 were, for the most part, concentrated outside of Manhattan.

Prospects for homeownership were not much better for Middle-Income households. In 2014, Middle-Income households, which comprise 15 percent of New York City households, could afford an additional 13 percent of sales (based on a total purchase price of up to $364,000), leaving 78 percent of sales out of reach for households with incomes of less than $83,000 annually. Less than half of sales in 2014 (42%) were affordable to 77 percent of New York households, including those characterized as NYC-Middle-Income.

Moving outside of New York City does not necessarily improve a New York City household’s potential to buy a home. In Westchester County, only two percent of sales were affordable to New York City Low-Income and Moderate-Income homebuyers combined in 2014. In Nassau County, only 24 percent of sales were affordable to New York City Low-Income, Moderate-Income, and Middle-Income homebuyers in 2014. In Suffolk County, 42 percent of sales were affordable to New York City Low-Income, Moderate-Income, and Middle-Income households. (4)

New Yorkers, and a lot of non-New Yorkers, are going to eat up the graphs in this report (what IS the median sales price in Brooklyn?!?), so it is worth a read for the real estate obsessed (yes, you). But it also has policy implications about the housing stock of the City and the surrounding region. The report itself does not make any policy recommendations, but it offers a stark reminder of how important rental housing policy is to any effort to maintain socio-economic diversity in the City.

 

Preserving Affordable Housing

photo by Rgkleit

Alexander von Hoffman of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies has posted an interesting working paper, To Preserve Affordable Housing in the United States. It opens,

Most Americans who have any idea about low-income housing policy in the United States think of it as composed of programs that either build and manage residences – such as public housing – or help pay the rent – such as rental vouchers. Few people realize that much, perhaps most, of the government’s effort to house poor families and individuals is now devoted to supporting privately owned buildings that, courtesy of government subsidies, already provide low-income housing. Similarly, few know of the national movement to prevent these rental homes from being converted to market-rate housing or demolished and to keep them affordable and available to low-income households.

The problem of “preservation of affordable housing” generally refers to privately owned but government-subsidized dwellings developed under a particular set of federal subsidy programs. Although the first of these programs was enacted in 1959, their heyday – when they produced the bulk of government-subsidized low-income housing – lasted from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s. Before these programs were adopted, the government’s chief low-income housing program had been public housing, in which government agencies funded, developed, owned, leased, and managed apartments for people of limited incomes on a permanent basis.

Starting about 1960, however, the government shifted to a new policy in which it provided subsidies limited to a specific length of time to private developers of low-income rental housing. These private developers could be nonprofit organizations or for-profit companies operating through entities that earned limited dividends. In the low-income rental programs of the 1960s the government subsidized the rents of poor tenants by providing low-interest mortgage loans (through mortgage insurance and/or direct payments) to the projects’ developers. In 1974, Congress added another program, Section 8, in which the government signed a contract to pay a portion of the tenants’ rents for up to twenty years, which was as long as the mortgage subsidies had been.

After the low-income rental projects were completed, a number of circumstances threatened to displace the projects’ low-income occupants from their homes. In the early years especially, some owners faced financial difficulties, including foreclosures. Starting in the boom years of the 1980s, others desired to pay back their subsidized mortgages early (or “prepay”) to rent or sell the apartments at lucrative market rates. And eventually all owners reached the end of the time limit of their original subsidies. To keep low-income tenants in the subsidized apartments, housing advocates fought to keep the subsidized projects livable and within the means of poor people. The cause they rallied to was the “preservation of affordable housing.”

*    *    *

Since the late 1980s a wide array of interests – including for-profit owners and investors, non-profit developers and managers, and tenants – have organized their interest-group associations and entered into coalitions with one another to shape government policies. They have worked with sympathetic members of Congress and their aides to preserve the subsidized housing stock for low-income Americans. The road has been rough at times. The Reagan administration was indifferent at best to the issue. Legislation in 1987 and 1990 for all practical purposes banned prepayments, angering the owners’ representatives who opposed these laws. After prepayments were again allowed, advocates and owners joined together again to push for affordable housing preservation programs and procedures. The government programs that they attained in the 1990s became a major component of low-income housing policy in the United States.

Until relatively recently, the interest groups focused on shaping federal policy. They worked to pass – or repeal – national legislation and to influence program rules set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Although the federal government continues to be essential to housing policy, the growing political opposition to large federal spending programs has led advocates of affordable housing preservation to press state governments for financial support. (3-5)

This working paper clearly identifies the problems with “[p]oorly thought out programs” that “encouraged bad underwriting and long-term management” and how they played out in affordable housing projects that were not intended to provide for permanent affordability. (73) It also provides a good foundation for a discussion of where affordable housing policy should be heading now.