The Hispanic Homeownership Gap




photo by Gabriel Santana

Freddie Mac’s latest Economic & Housing Research Insight asks Will the Hispanic Homeownership Gap Persist? It opens,

This is the American story.

A wave of immigrants arrives in the U.S. Perhaps they’re escaping religious or political persecution. Perhaps a drought or famine has driven them from their homes. Perhaps they simply want to try their luck in the land of opportunity.

They face new challenges in America. Often they arrive with few resources. And everything about them sets them apart—their religions, their languages, their cultures, their foods, their appearances. They are not always welcomed. They frequently face discrimination in housing, jobs, education, and more. But over time, they plant their roots in American soil. They become part of the tapestry that is America. And they thrive.

This is the story of the Germans and Italians and many other ethnic groups that poured into the U.S. a century ago.

Today’s immigrants come, for the most part, from Latin America and Asia instead of Europe. Hispanics comprise by far the largest share of the current wave. Over the last 50 years, more than 30 million Hispanics migrated to the U.S. And these Hispanics face many of the same challenges as earlier European immigrants.

Homeownership provides a key measure of transition from a newly-arrived immigrant to an established resident. Many immigrants arrive without the financial resources needed to purchase a home. In addition, the unfamiliarity and complexity of the U.S. housing and mortgage finance systems pose obstacles to homeownership. As a result, homeownership rates start low for new immigrants but rise over time.

The homeownership rate among Hispanics in the U.S.—a population that includes new immigrants, long-standing citizens, and everything in between— stands around 45 percent, more than 20 percentage points lower than the rate among non-Hispanic whites. Much of this homeownership gap can be traced to differences in age, income, education and other factors associated with homeownership.

Will the Hispanic homeownership gap close over time, as it did for the European immigrants of a century ago? Or will a significant gap stubbornly persist, as it has for African-Americans? (1-2)

It concludes,

Census projections of future age distributions suggest that the age differences of Whites and Hispanics will be reduced by six percent (0.7 years) by 2025 and 12 percent (1.2 years) by 2035. If these projections are realized, the White/Hispanic homeownership gap is likely to narrow by 20 percent (five percentage points) by 2035. The Census projections include both current residents and future immigrants, and averaging the characteristics of these two groups of Hispanics tends to mask the relatively-rapid growth in homeownership among the current residents.

It is important to remember that about 13 percent of the White/Hispanic homeownership gap cannot be traced to population characteristics such as age and income. The explanation for this residual gap is unclear, although some of it may be due to wealth gaps and discrimination. (12)

Researchers at the Urban Institute have documented the importance of the Hispanic homeownership rate to the housing market more generally. It is worthwhile for policymakers to focus on it as well.

Is $321 Billion The Right Amount?

Whipping Post and Stocks

The Boston Consulting Group has released its Global Risk 2017 report, Staying the Course in Banking. Buried in the report is Boston Consulting’s calculation of the amount of penalties paid by banks since the financial crisis:  $321,000,000,000. The report states,

Strict regulatory enforcement has now been place for several years, with cumulative financial penalties of about $321 billion assessed since the 2007-2008 financial crisis through the end of 2016.

About $42 billion in fines were assessed in 2016 alone, levied on the basis of past behavior. While postcrisis regulatory fines and penalties appear to have stabilized a lower level in 2105, with US regulators remaining the most active, we expect fines and penalties by regulators in Europe and Asia to rise in coming years.

As conduct-based regulations evolve, fines and penalties, along with related legal and litigation expenses, will remain a cost of doing business.  Managing these costs will continue to e a major task for banks. They will have to create a strong non-financial framework around the first, second, and third lines of defense — business units, independent risk function, and internal audit — to avoid continued fallout from past behavior.

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[C]onduct risk and the prevention of financial crime remain high on regulators’ agendas. (16-17, references omitted)

Readers of this blog know that I have called for aggressive enforcement of wrongdoing in the consumer financial services sector. But I have also have trouble figuring out if the penalties assessed were properly scaled to the wrongdoing. Now that ten and eleven figure settlements have become routine, we may have forgotten that they were unheard of before the financial crisis. Many of these settlements were negotiated by federal prosecutors who were constrained only by their own judgment and the possibility that a defendant would call the government’s bluff and go to trial.  Now that post-crisis litigation is winding down, it makes sense to study how to make sure that the financial penalty fits the financial crime.

Comparing Rental Housing Across the Atlantic

photo by Tiago Fioreze

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies has released a working paper, Rental Housing: An International Comparison. The abstract reads,

This report compares rental housing in 12 countries in Europe and North America, using individual records from household surveys. Differences in housing characteristics, conditions, and costs across countries reflect a number of factors, including demographics, geography, culture, and government policies. A lack of comparable data can make international comparisons difficult to execute, but such analysis is valuable for understanding and contextualizing differences in affordability and other characteristics of renter households and housing.

The analysis revealed the US, along with Spain, as notably unaffordable for renter households, based on a number of measures. The greater apparent cost burdens reflected a variety of factors, including differences in characteristics of the housing stock and differences in tax burdens, as well as measurement problems.

However, two major influences – differences in the size and availability of housing allowances and the degree of income inequality – emerged as the main drivers of differences in housing affordability. The effects of supply-side factors such as the extent of social housing supply, supply subsidies, and rent controls were unclear, due to problems with the identification and description of below-market rentals in the household survey data. (1)

The housing stock and political context is so different among countries, but this type of analysis is still very useful and can offer valuable lessons to the United States:

One factor that appears to contribute to the pervasive affordability problems in the US is the degree of income inequality. That is not a feature of the housing market per se, but there may be opportunities to address the consequences of income inequality through appropriate housing policies.

Other countries have devoted more resources to ameliorating the problems of unaffordable housing. The US provides fairly generous housing benefits to only a small share of needy households. In the UK, a broadly available system of housing allowances offsets what would otherwise be a much more severe affordability problem than exists in the US. In other countries, affordable rental housing supplied by governments or nonprofits helps to address affordability issues, although the efficiency of that practice, relative to the provision of housing allowances, has been questioned, as it has been in the US. The EU-SILC data used in this analysis did not adequately identify or describe below-market-rate housing, making it impossible to adequately assess the effects of such housing.

The somewhat larger size and perhaps higher quality of units in the US rental stock also affects relative affordability, although relative quality and its effect on cost differences are difficult to assess using the available data. The large share of single-family detached rentals in the US reflects preferences, the demographic mix among renters, land availability, etc., but it could also reflect zoning and other regulations limiting the supply of less expensive multifamily rentals. It is hard to imagine that regulations are more stringent in the US than in some of the more dirigiste nations of Europe, but regulations elsewhere may dictate, rather than constrain, density and cost reductions. The size and quality of the housing occupied by low-income renters in the US reflect the fact that most of those units were originally built for owner occupancy or for higher-income renters. That’s probably true in other countries as well. Whether the extent of such filtering is greater or less in various countries is perhaps worth exploring in the future. (37-38)

Income inequality, housing subsidies and land use reform — the report hits on a trifecta of key issues that housing policy should be dealing with. While I do not see much of an appetite for major reform of the first two items in today’s political climate, there might be support for some loosening of land use restrictions on housing construction. I wonder if there is some room for movement on that third front. Can local jurisdictions be incentivized by the federal government to build more housing?

Craziest Real Estate Windfalls

"Le Voyage dans la lune" by Georges Méliès - Roger-Viollet quoted me in A Brief History of Crazy Real Estate Windfalls. It opens,

Real estate is one of those things where it’s hard to differentiate between a once-in-a-lifetime deal or an epic bomb without the benefit of hindsight. Want proof? Let’s take an invigorating jog down memory lane and view a few of the land swaps that are considered the most lopsided in history—windfalls for one side, colossal blunders on the other. Let’s crack open the history books!

Proof that Portugal needs better maps

The historical highlights: In the 15th century for the Treaty of Tordesillas, global superpowers Portugal and Spain sat down with a map of the world (as they knew it in the 1400s) and drew a line down the middle. Portugal got everything on the left, Spain on the right. Even Steven, right? Not quite. Once they decided to actually look at their new “empire,” Portugal found it basically had nothing (well, besides Brazil), while Spain had pretty much the entire world (you know, Europe, Asia, Russia…).

It taught Portugal a harsh lesson: Approaching land deals the way the kids in “Family Circus” deal with sharing toys is not a viable global expansion strategy.

Real estate updateGranted, Portugal botched this deal at the table, but it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. According to David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, the treaty was “heavily modified afterward” to give Portugal more land to the west, including control over most of the Indian Ocean.

Still, in the end, no one won: Both empires eventually shrank back to the size you see today. If Spain won anything, it’s the language war: Most of Central America speaks Spanish, while only Brazil parlays in Portuguese.

America goes through a major growth spurt

The historical highlights: In 1803, America made its historic Louisiana purchase, buying 828,000 square miles of land from France for $15 million—roughly the catering budget of an “Avengers” flick today. That territory gave the fledgling nation a hell of a growth spurt, adding land that would become 15 Midwestern states from Arkansas to, of course, Louisiana.

Real estate update: It was a lot of land, and it cost a lot at the time. But it was totally worth it. “You got New Orleans, so right there it was a good deal,” says Reiss. “If you look at the home sales in New Orleans today, $15 million is the price of just the top four most expensive houses combined.”

The Alaskan ‘oil rush’

The historical highlights: In 1856, Russia negotiated with U.S. Secretary of State William Seward to sell Alaska for about 2 cents per acre, or $7.2 million. The purchase was derided, and the American people quickly dubbed Alaska “Seward’s Folly.”

Real estate update: Most people think that the measly $7 mill we spent on Alaska is pocket change compared to the gushing vats of cash funneling into the U.S. through the Alaska oil pipeline, right? Not exactly.

“We think of Alaska and its pipeline, and we think it’s a great deal,” says Reiss. “But economists have deduced that the pipeline earns the government less than it costs to govern Alaska, so it’s a net loss. Calling it ‘Seward’s Folly’ makes sense.”

$24 for … Manhattan?

The historical highlights: It’s one of the oldest stories in our history—Savvy Dutch settlers, preying on the naiveté of the Canarsie Indians, bought all of what would become Manhattan for $24, less than the price of a sweater from a Times Square Forever 21.

Real estate update: True, New York City is estimated to be worth $802.4 billion today, and Manhattan is its busiest hub. However, before you express outrage about those poor Indians, consider this: It was the Dutch who got conned. You see, the Canarsie Indians who brokered the deal didn’t live in Manhattan. Sure, they’d hop over there to party with the Manhattoes tribe, but it wasn’t their home and they certainly had no right to sell.

“The common story is that the Europeans swindled the natives,” says Reiss. “But it does look like the other way around.” (The Manhattoes, however, are another story.)

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Man sells the moon

The historical highlights: In 1967, the United Nation Outer Space Treaty stated in regard to our moon: “No nation by appropriation shall have sovereignty or control over any of the satellite bodies.” In 1980, a Nevada resident named Dennis Hope came to the conclusion that the treaty forbade nations from owning the moon but not individuals. So he wrote a letter to the U.N. saying he was taking ownership and that it should contact him if it had any issue with that. The U.N. did not respond, and he’s been selling moon acreage ever since. Hope claims to have sold over 600 million acres, with the largest going for over $13 million.

Real estate update: If he really has those checks in hand, then Hope is a genius and this is indeed a very lopsided deal—he’s selling uninhabited land that will be completely inaccessible in the lifetimes of the buyers. Not that we should necessarily applaud him for it.

At worst, “I’d classify him as a huckster,” says Reiss. “And it appears his interpretation of the law is incorrect. The fact that the government hasn’t responded to his letter doesn’t give him rights to the land.” So, even if he does have all that money, it could get him in a whole lot of trouble.

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

S&P: Future of Private-Label RMBS Uncertain

S&P has posted an Executive Comment, Lifted By Improving Economic Conditions, The U.S. Leads The Global Securitization Rebound–But Headwinds Remain. It concludes,

After surviving its first severe test, the market for securitization is slowly emerging from a sharp downturn, demonstrating its viability to efficiently distribute risk and expand credit availability. In this light, with many regulatory and economic uncertainties still present, we’re forecasting continuing slow growth going into next year.

The question is if, and when, securitization will register large issuance numbers again, contribute to the funding diversity and liquidity positions of banks, and improve the efficient allocation of resources to foster global economic growth.

For the U.S.–far and away the largest and most mature securitization market in the world–it’s clear, given the interconnectivity of the economy, the securitization market, and housing finance, that a continued economic recovery is necessary before the securitization market can fully recover. Economic growth will also encourage regulators, policymakers, and investors to work on the eventual return of private housing finance. But we believe that mortgage financing remains a concern for general credit availability and a continuing housing market recovery. The future of non-agency RMBS will remain in question so long as the GSEs dominate housing finance while enjoying exemptions from the qualified mortgage and risk-retention rules. (7)

I do not think that there is anything particularly new in this analysis, but it does highlight an important issue, one that I have touched on before. The gridlock on housing finance reform in DC has many effects. The GSEs are not on solid footing. The private-label industry does not know what part of the mortgage market it can operate in, whether with Qualified Mortgage (QM) or Non-QM products. And most importantly, homeowners are  not getting credit at a price that a stable and mature market would offer.

The conventional wisdom is that housing finance reform is off the table until after the mid-term elections or even until after the next presidential election. That is bad news for American households, the housing industry and the financial markets. And without some strong leadership in DC, it looks like the conventional will be right.

The Road to Securitization

Miguel Segoviano et al. of the IMF released a helpful Working Paper, Securitization:  Lessons Learned and the Road Ahead (also on SSRN). It opens,

Like most forms of financial innovation, there are cost and benefits associated with the securitization of cash flows. From a conceptual perspective, a sound and efficient market for securitization can be supportive of the financial system and broader economy in various ways such as lowering funding costs and improving the capital utilization of financial institutions—benefits which may be passed onto borrowers; helping issuers and investors diversify risk; and transforming pools of illiquid assets into tradable securities, thus stimulating the flow of credit—an issue of particular relevance for some European countries. However, these features need to be weighed against the potential costs, including the risk that securitization contributes to excessive credit growth in and outside of the formal banking system; principal-agent problems that amplify perverse incentives; the complexity and opaqueness of certain products which make efficient pricing problematic; and the heavy reliance of the industry on credit ratings. (3)

The authors identify lessons learned from the financial crisis as well as impediments to a renewed securitization market. They conclude with a set of policy recommendations.

I recommend this paper as a good overview. I particularly like that it looks beyond the United States market, although it does spend plenty of time looking at the history and structure of the U.S. market. The recommendations tend to be pretty reasonable, but not particularly innovative — implement Dodd-Frank-like requirements in non-U.S. jurisdictions; de-emphasize the role of NRSRO credit ratings; increase transparency and decrease needless complexity throughout the industry; modernize land record regimes, etc.

It is surely hard to get your hands around the global securitization industry, but it is important that we try to. Securitization is here to stay. We should manage its risks the best that we can.