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.


Poverty in NYC

photo by Salvation Army USA West

NYU’s Furman Center has released its annual State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods along with a focus on Poverty in New York City. The State of the City report is always of great value but each year’s focus is where we get to see the City in a new light. This year is no different:

In New York City in recent years, rents have risen much faster than incomes. The pressures of rising housing costs may be greatest on those with the fewest resources—people living in poverty. New York City has a larger number of people living in poverty today than it has since at least 1970. This sparks a range of questions about the experience of poverty in New York City that we address in this year’s State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods Focus. Who in New York City is poor today? Where do they live? What are the characteristics of the neighborhoods where poor New Yorkers live? Are poor New Yorkers more likely to be living in areas of concentrated poverty than they were in the past? How, if at all, do the answers to each of these questions differ by the race, ethnicity, and other characteristics of poor households?

Though the share of New Yorkers living in poverty has been relatively constant over the past few decades, there was a drop at the end of the last decade and then an increase in 2011–2015. Poverty concentration—the extent to which poor New Yorkers are living in neighborhoods with other poor New Yorkers—followed a similar trend, dropping in 2006–2010 and increasing again since then. The neighborhood of the typical poor New Yorker varies substantially from that of the typical non-poor New Yorker, but those disparities are largely experienced by black and Hispanic New Yorkers living in poverty. The typical poor Asian and white New Yorkers live in neighborhoods that do better on the measures we examine than the neighborhoods of the typical non-poor New Yorker. We also find that neighborhood conditions vary significantly based on the level of poverty in a neighborhood. Higher poverty neighborhoods have higher violent crime rates, poorer performing schools, and fewer adults who are college educated or working. And, poor New Yorkers are not all equally likely to live in these neighborhoods. Poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are much more likely to live in higher poverty neighborhoods than poor white and Asian New Yorkers. Children make up a higher share of the population in higher poverty neighborhoods than adults or seniors. (1, footnotes omitted)

Policymakers should have a lot to chew over in this report. Let’s hope they give it a read.

Housing Booms and Busts

photo by Alex Brogan

Patricia McCoy and Susan Wachter have posted Why Cyclicality Matter to Access to Mortgage Credit to SSRN. The paper is now particularly relevant because of President Trump’s plan to roll back Dodd-Frank’s regulation of the financial markets, including the mortgage market. While McCoy and Wachter do not claim that Dodd-Frank solves the problem of cyclicality in the mortgage market, they do highlight how it reduces some of the worst excesses in that market. They make a persuasive case that more work needs to be done to reduce mortgage market cyclicality.

The abstract reads,

Virtually no attention has been paid to the problem of cyclicality in debates over access to mortgage credit, despite its importance as a driver of tight credit. Housing markets are prone to booms accompanied by bubbles in mortgage credit in which lenders cut underwriting standards, leading to elevated loan defaults. During downturns, these cycles artificially impede access to mortgage credit for underserved communities. During upswings, these cycles make homeownership unnecessarily precarious for many who attain it. This volatility exacerbates wealth and income disparities by ethnicity and race.

The boom-bust cycle must be addressed in order to assure healthy and sustainable access to credit for creditworthy borrowers. While the inherent cyclicality of the housing finance market cannot be fully eliminated, it can be mitigated to some extent. Mitigation is possible because housing market cycles are financed by and fueled by debt. Policymakers have begun to develop a suite of countercyclical tools to help iron out the peaks and troughs of the residential mortgage market. In this article, we discuss why access to credit is intrinsically linked to cyclicality and canvass possible techniques to modulate the extremes in those cycles.

McCoy and Wachter’s conclusions are worth heeding:

If homeownership is to attain solid footing, mitigating the cyclicality in the housing finance system will be imperative. That will require rooting out procyclical practices and requirements that fuel booms and busts. In their place, countercyclical measures must be instituted to modulate the highs and lows in the lending cycle. In the process, the goal is not to maximize homeownership per se; rather, it is to ensure that residential mortgages are made on safe and affordable terms.

*     *     *

Taming procyclicality in industry practices in housing finance is much farther behind and will require significantly more work. There is no easy fix for the procyclical effect of mortgage appraisals because appraisals are based on neighboring comparables. Similarly, procyclicality will require serious attention if the private-label securitization market returns. While the Dodd-Frank Act made modest reforms designed at curbing inflation of credit ratings, the issuer-pays system that drives grade inflation remains in place. Similarly, underpricing the risk of MBS and CDS will continue to be a problem in the absence of an effective short-selling mechanism and the effective identification of market-wide leverage. (34-35)

McCoy and Wachter offer a thoughtful overview of the risks that mortgage market cyclicality poses, but I am not optimistic that it will get a hearing in today’s Washington.  Maybe it will after the next bust.

Mommy, I’m Home!

cartoon by Mell Lazarus

The Pew Research Center has released For First Time in Modern Era, Living with Parents Edges out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds (link for complete report on right side of page). This report adds to the growing literature on changes in household formation (see here, for instance) that have taken hold in large part since the financial crisis. There are lots of reasons to think that the way we live now is different from how we lived one generation, two generations, three generations ago.

The report opens,

Broad demographic shifts in marital status, educational attainment and employment have transformed the way young adults in the U.S. are living, and a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data highlights the implications of these changes for the most basic element of their lives – where they call home. In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.

This turn of events is fueled primarily by the dramatic drop in the share of young Americans who are choosing to settle down romantically before age 35. Dating back to 1880, the most common living arrangement among young adults has been living with a romantic partner, whether a spouse or a significant other. This type of arrangement peaked around 1960, when 62% of the nation’s 18- to 34-year-olds were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, and only one-in-five were living with their parents. (4, footnotes omitted)

The report found that education, race and ethnicity was linked to young adult living arrangements. Less educated young adults were more likely to live with a parent as were black and Hispanic young adults. Some of the other key findings include,

  • The growing tendency of young adults to live with parents predates the Great Recession. In 1960, 20% of 18- to 34-year-olds lived with mom and/or dad. In 2007, before the recession, 28% lived in their parental home.
  • In 2014, 40% of 18- to 34-year-olds who had not completed high school lived with parent(s), the highest rate observed since the 1940 Census when information on educational attainment was first collected.
  • Young adults in states in the South Atlantic, West South Central and Pacific United States have recently experienced the highest rates on record of living with parent(s).
  • With few exceptions, since 1880 young men across all races and ethnicities have been more likely than young women to live in the home of their parent(s).
  • The changing demographic characteristics of young adults—age, racial and ethnic diversity, rising college enrollment—explain little of the increase in living with parent(s) (8-9)

It seems like unemployment and underemployment; student debt; and postponement or retreat from the institution of marriage all play a role in delaying young adult household formation.

My own idiosyncratic takeaway from the report is that, boy, the way we live now sure is different from how earlier generations lived (look at the graph on page 4 to see what I mean). Moreover, there is no reason to think that one way is more “natural” or better than the other. That being said, it sure is worth figuring out what we are doing now in order to craft policies to properly respond to it.

Cool Mortgage Tool

The Urban Institute has created a cool interactive tool to map mortgages in the United States. Enterprise describes the tool as follows: it

maps 12 years of data on more than 100 million mortgage originations throughout the U.S. by race and ethnicity, illustrating how the housing boom and bust affected borrowers of different backgrounds by metropolitan area. According to the data, not only were African-American and Hispanic communities particularly damaged by the housing bust, but they have also been the least likely to recover since the recession. The map also shows how geographically uneven the housing recovery has been. For instance, while mortgage originations have only decreased 18 percent in San Francisco and San Jose since 2005, they have fallen by 39 percent in Detroit.

The Urban Institute argues that

For a full mortgage market recovery, we need to expand the credit box again. A number of reforms can be undertaken to encourage lending to creditworthy borrowers who would have qualified before the housing boom. A return to 2005 and 2006 lending practices would be ill-fated, but the pendulum has unquestionably swung too far. Today’s tight standards have locked out many prospective borrowers from homeownership, disproportionately preventing African American and Hispanic families from building wealth and benefiting from the recovery.

There is a growing outcry to loosen credit. It is important that those calling for that loosening also support reforms that ensure that new credit is sustainable credit.  The last thing that people need is a mortgage that has a high likelihood of ending up in default. The Urban Institute acknowledges this point, but it can get lost in the political fight over the future of housing finance.

Policy folk also need to better understand how homeownership helps households build wealth, particularly given the rapid changes in the mortgage market. If households can readily access the equity in their homes through home equity loans, homeownership’s wealth-building function becomes more of a consumption spreading one.  That is, if homeowners access equity in the present in order to supplement current income, they will not be building wealth over the long term.

The robust Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should protect consumers from predatory attempts to get them to refinance, but people may not protect their future selves from their current desires. This may just be the way it goes, but we should not make claims about wealth building until we know more about how homeownership in the 21st century actually promotes it.