The Urban Institute has issued a report, Headship and Homeownership: What Does The Future Hold? The report opens,
Homeownership rates averaged around 64 percent until about 1990, when they began to climb dramatically, reaching 67.3 percent in 2006. The housing crisis that began in 2007 and the ensuing recession, from which the US economy is recovering slowly, resulted in a fall in the homeownership rate to 63.6 percent, according to the latest ACS numbers. Such a trajectory has generated important questions about the future of homeownership at all ages. The issues with young adults seem particularly acute. Will young adults want to own houses? Even if they do, will they be able to afford homeownership? The answers to these questions are still unclear, especially because millennials are not just slower to start their own households and purchase homes: they also are more likely to live in their parents’ homes than any generation in recent history. The rapidly changing racial and ethnic composition of the population also has profound implications for household formation and homeownership.
In this report, we dive deeply into the pace of household formation and homeownership attainment—nationally and by age groups and race/ethnicity over the past quarter-century—and project future trends. Considering the great uncertainty about household formation and homeownership, single-point forecasts of homeownership rates and housing demand could seriously mislead policymakers and obscure the potential implications of their decisions. Instead, we offer plausible competing scenarios for household formation and homeownership that generate a range of future national housing demand projections. (1)
I am not in a position to evaluate how well the report projects future trends, but some of its conclusions are worth considering together:
- the homeownership rate will decline from 65.1 percent in 2010 to 61.3 percent in 2030; (46)
- the rapid growth of the renter population will create significant demand for new rental housing construction and encourage shifting of owner-occupied dwellings to rentals; (47)
- very tight credit availability standards will retard homeownership attainment and may exacerbate the growing shortage in rental housing; (48) and
- the erosion of black homeownership needs to be addressed by more than mortgage policy. (48)
Taken together, these conclusions all point to a backsliding in the housing market: the American Dream disappearing for millions of Americans, particularly African Americans, who will end up living in overcrowded Pottersvilles straight out of It’s A Wonderful Life. Just like George Bailey, we have choices to make before that nightmare becomes a reality. But before we decide anything too hastily, we should consider the fundamental goals of housing policy.
I have argued that a “fundamental goal of housing policy is to assist Americans to live in a safe, well-maintained and affordable housing unit.” I am less convinced than most housing scholars that homeownership, given the state of today’s economy, is such a sure road to stable housing and financial well-being. So, instead of blindly focusing on increasing the homeownership rate, I would focus on increasing opportunities for sustainable homeownership. I believe the report’s authors would agree with this, but I think that housing scholars in general need to focus on policies that keep households in their housing, given how much income instability they now face.