Expanding Access to Homeownership

New homeowners Lateshia, Sylvia, and Tyrell Walton stand in front of their new home.  U.S. Navy photograph by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Shamus O’Neill

Christopher Herbert et al. has posted Expanding Access to Homeownership as a Means of Fostering Residential Integration and Inclusion. It opens,

Efforts to enable greater integration of communities by socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity have to confront the issue of housing affordability. Cities, towns and neighborhoods that offer access to better public services, transportation networks, shopping, recreational opportunities, parks and other natural amenities have higher housing costs. Expanding access to these communities for those with lower incomes and wealth necessarily entails some means of bringing housing in these areas within their financial reach. While households’ financial means are central to this issue, affordability intersects with race/ethnicity in part because minorities are more likely to be financially constrained. But to the extent that these areas are also disproportionately home to majority-white populations, discrimination and other barriers to racial/ethnic integration must also be confronted along with affordability barriers.

Enabling greater integration also entails some means of fostering residential stability by maintaining affordability in the face of changing neighborhood conditions. This issue is perhaps most salient in the context of neighborhoods that are experiencing gentrification, where historically low-income communities are experiencing rising rents and house values, increasing the risk of displacement of existing residents and blocking access to newcomers with less means. More generally, increases in housing costs in middle- and upper-income communities may also contribute to increasing segregation by putting these areas further out of reach of households with more modest means.

It is common to think of subsidized rental housing as the principal means of using public resources to expand access to higher-cost neighborhoods and to maintain affordability in areas of increasing demand. But for a host of reasons, policies that help to make homeownership more affordable and accessible should be included as part of a portfolio of approaches designed to achieve these goals.

For example, survey research consistently finds that homeownership remains an important aspiration of most renters, including large majorities of low- and moderate-income households and racial/ethnic minorities. Moreover, because owner-occupied homes account for substantial majorities of the existing housing stock in low-poverty and majority-white neighborhoods, expanding access to homeownership offers the potential to foster integration and to increase access to opportunity for low- income households and households of color. There is also solid evidence that homeownership remains an important means of accruing wealth, which in turn can help expand access to higher-cost communities. Owning a home is associated with greater residential stability, in part because it provides protection from rent inflation, which can help maintain integration in the face of rising housing costs. Finally, in communities where owner-occupied housing predominates, there may be less opposition to expanding affordable housing options for homeowners.

The goal of this paper is to identify means of structuring subsidies and other public interventions intended to expand access to homeownership with an eye towards fostering greater socioeconomic and racial/ethnic integration. (1-2, footnotes omitted)

The paper gives an overview of the barriers to increasing the homeownership rate, including affordability, access to credit and information deficits and then outlines policy options to increase homeownership. The paper provides a good overview for those who want to know more about this topic.

 

New Landlord in Town

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in "It's A Wonderful Life"

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life”

Bloomberg quoted me in Wall Street, America’s New Landlord, Kicks Tenants to the Curb. It opens,

On a chilly December afternoon in Atlanta, a judge told Reiton Allen that he had seven days to leave his house or the marshals would kick his belongings to the curb. In the packed courtroom, the truck driver, his beard flecked with gray, stood up, cast his eyes downward and clutched his black baseball cap.

The 44-year-old father of two had rented a single-family house from a company called HavenBrook Homes, which is controlled by one of the world’s biggest money managers, Pacific Investment Management Co. Here in Fulton County, Georgia, such large institutional investors are up to twice as likely to file eviction notices as smaller owners, according to a new Atlanta Federal Reserve study.

“I’ve never been displaced like this,” said Allen, who said he fell behind because of unexpected childcare expenses as his rent rose above $900 a month. “I need to go home and regroup.”

Hedge funds, large investment firms and private equity companies helped the U.S. housing market recover after the crash in 2008 by turning empty foreclosures from Atlanta to Las Vegas into occupied rentals.

Now among America’s biggest landlords, some of these companies are leaving tenants like Allen in the cold. In a business long dominated by mom-and-pop landlords, large-scale investors are shifting collections conversations from front stoops to call centers and courtrooms as they try to maximize profits.

“My hope was that these private equity firms would provide a new kind of rental housing for people who couldn’t — or didn’t want to — buy during the housing recovery,” said Elora Raymond, the report’s lead author. “Instead, it seems like they’re contributing to housing instability in Atlanta, and possibly other places.”

American Homes 4 Rent, one of the nation’s largest operators, and HavenBrook filed eviction notices at a quarter of its houses, compared with an average 15 percent for all single-family home landlords, according to Ben Miller, a Georgia State University professor and co-author of the report. HavenBrook — owned by Allianz SE’s Newport Beach, California-based Pimco — and American Homes 4 Rent, based in Agoura Hills, California, declined to comment.

Colony Starwood Homes initiated proceedings on a third of its properties, the most of any large real estate firm. Tom Barrack, chairman of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, and the company he founded, Colony Capital, are the largest shareholders of Colony Starwood, which declined to comment.

Diane Tomb, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, which represents institutional landlords, said her members offer flexible payment plans to residents who fall behind. The cost of eviction makes it “the last option,” Tomb said. The Fed examined notices, rather than completed evictions, which are rarer, she said.

“We’re in the business to house families — and no one wants to see people displaced,” Tomb said.

According to a report last year from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, a record 21.3 million renters spent more than a third of their income on housing costs in 2014, while 11.4 million spent more than half. With credit tightening, the homeownership rate has fallen close to a 51-year low.

In January 2012, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke encouraged investors to use their cash to stabilize the housing market and rehabilitate the vacant single-family houses that damage neighborhoods and property values.

Now, the Atlanta Fed’s own research suggests that the eviction practices of big landlords may also be destabilizing. An eviction notice can ruin a family’s credit and make it more difficult to rent elsewhere or qualify for public assistance.

Collection Strategy?

In Atlanta, evictions are much easier on landlords. They are cheap: about $85 in court fees and another $20 to have the tenant ejected, according to Michael Lucas, a co-author of the report and deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. With few of the tenant protections of places like New York, a family can find itself homeless in less than a month.

In interviews and court filings, renters and housing advocates said that some investment firms are impersonal and unresponsive, slow to make necessary repairs and quick to evict tenants who withhold rent because of complaints about maintenance. The researchers said some landlords use an eviction notice as a “routine rent-collection strategy.”

Aaron Kuney, HavenBrook’s former executive director of acquisitions, said the companies would rather keep their existing tenants as long as possible to avoid turnover costs.

But “they want to get them out quickly if they can’t pay,” said Kuney, now chief executive officer of Piedmont Asset Management, a private equity landlord in Atlanta. “Finding people these days to rent your homes is not a problem.”

Poor Neighborhoods

The Atlanta Fed research, based on 2015 court records, marks an early look at Wall Street’s role in evictions since investment firms snapped up hundreds of thousands of homes in hard-hit markets across the U.S.

Researchers found that evictions for all kinds of landlords are concentrated in poor, mostly black neighborhoods southwest of the city. But the study found that the big investors evicted at higher rates even after accounting for the demographics of the community where homes were situated.

Tomb, of the National Rental Home Council, said institutional investors at times buy large blocks of homes from other landlords and inherit tenants who can’t afford to pay rent. They also buy foreclosed homes whose occupants may refuse to sign leases or leave.

Those cases make the eviction rates appear higher than for smaller landlords, according to Tomb, whose group represents Colony Starwood, American Homes 4 Rent and Invitation Homes. The largest firms send notices at rates similar to apartment buildings, which house the majority of Atlanta renters.

Staying Home

Not all investment firms file evictions at higher rates. Invitation Homes, a unit of private equity giant Blackstone Group LP that is planning an initial public offering this year, sent notices on 14 percent of homes, about the same as smaller landlords, records show. In Fulton County, Invitation Homes works with residents to resolve 85 percent of cases, and less than 4 percent result in forced departures, according to spokeswoman Claire Parker.

The Fed research doesn’t say why many institutional investors evict at higher rates. It could be because their size enables them to negotiate less expensive legal rates and replace renters more quickly than mom-and-pop operators.

“Lots of small landlords, when they have good tenants who don’t cause trouble, they’ll work with someone who has lost a job or can’t pay for the short term,” said David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in residential real estate.

New Housing and Displacement

Lsanburn

The Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley has issued a research brief, Housing Production, Filtering and Displacement: Untangling the Relationships. It opens,

Debate over the relative importance of subsidized and market-rate housing production in alleviating the current housing crisis continues to preoccupy policymakers, developers, and advocates. This research brief adds to the discussion by providing a nuanced analysis of the relationship between housing production, affordability, and displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area, finding that:

• At the regional level, both market-rate and subsidized housing reduce displacement pressures, but subsidized housing has over double the impact of market-rate units.

• Market-rate production is associated with higher housing cost burden for low-income households, but lower median rents in subsequent decades.

• At the local, block group level in San Francisco, neither market-rate nor subsidized housing production has the protective power they do at the regional scale, likely due to the extreme mismatch between demand and supply.

Although more detailed analysis is needed to clarify the complex relationship between development, affordability, and displacement at the local scale, this research implies the importance of not only increasing production of subsidized and market-rate housing in California’s coastal communities, but also investing in the preservation of housing affordability and stabilizing vulnerable communities. (1)

This brief takes on an important subject — the relationship between new housing and displacement — and concludes,

There is no denying the desperate need for housing in California’s coastal communities and similar housing markets around the U.S. Yet, while places like the Bay Area are suffering from ballooning housing prices that are affecting people at all income levels, the development of market-rate housing may not be the most effective tool to prevent the displacement of low-income residents from their neighborhoods, nor to increase affordability at the neighborhood scale.

Through our analysis, we found that both market-rate and subsidized housing development can reduce displacement pressures, but subsidized housing is twice as effective as market-rate development at the regional level. It is unclear, however, if subsidized housing production can have a protective effect on the neighborhood even for those not fortunate enough to live in the subsidized units themselves.

By looking at data from the region and drilling down to local case studies, we also see that the housing market dynamics and their impact on displacement operate differently at these different scales. Further research and more detailed data would be needed to better understand the mechanisms via which housing production affects neighborhood affordability and displacement pressures. We know that other neighborhood amenities such as parks, schools, and transit have a significant impact on housing demand and neighborhood change and it will take additional research to better untangle the various processes at the local level.

In overheated markets like San Francisco, addressing the displacement crisis will require aggressive preservation strategies in addition to the development of subsidized and market-rate housing, as building alone won’t protect specific vulnerable neighborhoods and households. This does not mean that we should not continue and even accelerate building. However, to help stabilize existing communities we need to look beyond housing development alone to strategies that protect tenants and help them stay in their homes. (10-11, footnote omitted)

The brief struggles with a paradox of housing — how come rents keep going up in neighborhoods with lots of new construction? The answer appears to be that the broad regional demand for housing in a market like the Bay Area or New York City overwhelms the local increase in housing supply. The new housing, then, just acts like a signal of gentrification in the neighborhoods in which it is located.

If I were to criticize this brief, I would say that it muddies the waters a bit as to what we need in hot markets like SF and NYC: first and foremost, far more housing units. In the absence of a major increase in supply, there will be intense market pressure to increase rents or convert units to condominiums. Local governments will have a really hard time overcoming that pressure and may just watch as area median income rises along with rents. New housing may not resolve the problem of large-scale displacement, but it will be hard to address displacement without it. Preservation policies should be pursued as well, but the only long-term solution is a lot more housing.

I would also say that the brief elides over the cost of building subsidized housing when it argues that subsidized housing has twice the impact of market-rate units on displacement. The question remains — at what cost? Subsidized housing is extremely expensive, often costing six figures per unit for new housing construction. The brief does not tackle the question of how many government dollars are needed to stop the displacement of one low-income household.

My bottom line: this brief begins to untangle the relationship between housing production and displacement, but there is more work to be done on this topic.

Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning in NYC

"East New York" by MMZach

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued an analysis of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and the East New York Rezoning. It opens,

In an effort to address the City’s ongoing affordable housing crisis, the New York City Planning Commission is currently proposing a series of zoning changes, including Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality  and Affordability (ZQA), for potential application in communities across the city. One neighborhood targeted for significant redevelopment is the East New York/Cypress Hill area of Brooklyn. While many Community Boards have already expressed a variety of concerns about the proposed rezonings, the ultimate question comes down to this: does the proposal help or hurt the existing affordability crisis — in East New York and across the five boroughs? (1)

The analysis concludes that “the City’s own data shows that the current plan could inadvertently displace tens of thousands of families in East New York, the vast majority of whom will be unable to afford the relatively small number of new units that will be built.” (1)

In place of the Mayor’s plan, the Comptroller proposes the following principles, among others:

  • target density to sites primed for affordable housing
  • ensure affordability for existing, low-income residents

While the Comptroller is right to highlight the impact of zoning changes on existing residents, his principles do not seem to lead to a better result for a city starved of new housing. Targeting density to sites primed for affordable housing will result in many fewer housing units because it applies to far fewer parcels. Ensuring affordability for existing, low-income residents will mean that subsidy dollars will have to be concentrated on fewer units of affordable housing.

This debate between the Mayor and the Comptroller highlights two key issues. First, every plan to increase affordable housing has winners and losers. Second, affordable housing policies almost always have to choose between providing moderate subsidies to many units or deep subsidies to fewer units. While the Comptroller’s analysis highlights those tensions in the Mayor’s plan, it does not acknowledge them within its own. There are no easy answers here and those who are truly committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing in NYC must make sure not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

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.

Gentrification and Displacement

Joe Wolf

Miriam Zuk et al. have posted a Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Working Paper, Gentrification, Displacement and The Role of Public Investment: A Literature Review. The paper opens,

The United States’ metropolitan areas’ ever-changing economies, demographics, and morphologies have fostered opportunity for some and hardship for others. These differential experiences “land” in place, and specifically in neighborhoods. Generally, three dynamic processes can be identified as important determinants of neighborhood change: movement of people, public policies and investments, and flows of private capital. These influences are by no means mutually exclusive – in fact they are very much mutually dependent – and they each are mediated by conceptions of race, class, place, and scale. How scholars approach the study of neighborhood change and the relative emphasis that they place on these three influences shapes the questions asked and attendant interventions proposed.

These catalysts result in a range of transformations – physical, demographic, political, economic – along upward, downward, or flat trajectories. In urban studies and policy, scholars have devoted volumes to analyzing neighborhood decline and subsequent revitalization at the hands of government, market, and individual interventions. One particular category of neighborhood change is gentrification, definitions and impacts of which have been debated for at least fifty years. Central to these debates is confronting and documenting the differential impacts on incumbent and new residents, and questions of who bears the burden and who reaps the benefits of changes. Few studies have addressed the role of public investment, and more specifically transit investment, in gentrification. Moreover, little has been written about how transit investment may spur neighborhood disinvestment and decline. Yet, at a time when so many U.S. regions are considering how best to accommodate future growth via public investment, developing a better understanding of its relationship with neighborhood change is critical to crafting more effective public policy.

This literature review will document the vast bodies of scholarship that have sought to examine these issues. First, we contextualize the concept and study of neighborhood change. Second, we delve into the literature on neighborhood decline and ascent (gentrification). The third section examines the role of public investment, specifically transit investment, on neighborhood change. Next, we examine the range of studies that have tried to define and measure one of gentrification’s most pronounced negative impacts: displacement. After describing the evolution of urban simulation models and their ability to incorporate racial and income transition, we conclude with an examination of gentrification and displacement assessment tools. (2, footnote omitted)

Because gentrification is such a contested topic both within and without the academy, this literature review is very useful. Notwithstanding the fact that the results of many of the studies mentioned are mixed, the authors were able to identify certain findings that emerge from the literature. These include,

  • Neighborhoods change slowly, but over time are becoming more segregated by income, due in part to macro-level increases in income inequality.
  • Racial segregation harms life chances and persists due to patterns of in-migration, “tipping points,” and other processes; however, racial integration is increasing, particularly in growing cities.
  • Despite severe data and analytic challenges in measuring the extent of displacement, most studies agree that gentrification at a minimum leads to exclusionary displacement and may push out some renters as well. (44-45)

As hot cities like New York and San Francisco struggle with their changing housing markets, policy makers should make decisions based on the best available research on gentrification and displacement. This literature review provides a guide.

Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

Forest Hills RR Station

Enterprise Community Partners has issued a white paper, Promoting Opportunity Through Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD): Making the Case. The Executive Summary opens,

Investments in transportation infrastructure can catalyze regional growth and improve mobility. Given limited public funds, public officials and transportation planners have increasingly recognized the benefit of coordinating transportation investments with land use, housing and economic development investments and policies. In particular, there has been a specific emphasis on facilitating transit-oriented development (TOD) – a growth model characterized by compact development, a mix of land uses, and multi-modal transportation connectivity. When properly planned, such development can support transit ridership and revenues, boost property values and enhance economic competitiveness.

While TOD can take many forms, for a variety of reasons there has been increased demand for transit-oriented neighborhoods with a critical mass of population, neighborhood-serving retail establishments, employment opportunities and/or economic activity. Some prefer these transit-oriented, amenity-rich neighborhoods based on lifestyle preferences. However, for others – particularly people with lower incomes or for whom driving is difficult or impossible – the accessibility that TOD offers is crucial to reaching jobs and life’s other necessities in an efficient and economical manner.

Unfortunately, a number of factors – most notably the prevalence of zoning codes that separate residential from commercial and retail uses – have limited the number of compact, mixed-use, multi-modal neighborhoods. To the extent that demand for housing in such neighborhoods – as a result of either choice and/or necessity – remains strong, scarcity of housing in these neighborhoods can increase property values. Significant price increases can lead to additional cost burdens, potential displacement and/or barriers to entry for low- and moderateincome households. If these households are displaced it can also reduce likely riders’ access to transit and limit employees’ and customers’ access to businesses.

One solution to these challenges is equitable TOD (eTOD), which is well-planned and implemented development near transit that accounts for the needs of low and moderate-income people, largely through the preservation and creation of affordable housing. eTOD can expand mobility options, lower commuting expenses and enhance access to employment, child care, schools, stores and critical services. This development model also conveys ancillary benefits to the broader community, the economy, the environment and the transportation system. (5-6)

This is all to the good, but the report does not struggle with a fundamental problem: local governments do not want to build housing for low- and moderate-income households because they tend to be a net drain on municipal budgets a opposed to the typical household living in a single-family home. Even local politicians who are sympathetic to eTOD will face many roadblocks from their constituents if they try to make it happen. Enterprise promises a second report that will address barriers to eTOD. Hopefully, it will address this issue head on.