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.


Moving To Opportunity

Mount Laurel

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has posted Realizing the Housing Voucher Program’s Potential to Enable Families to Move to Better Neighborhoods. It opens,

Housing Choice Vouchers help families afford decent, stable housing, avoid homelessness, and make ends meet. They also enable children to grow up in better neighborhoods and thereby enhance their chances of long-term health and success. When African American and Hispanic families use housing vouchers, for example, their children are nearly twice as likely as other poor minority children to grow up in low-poverty neighborhoods and somewhat less likely to grow up in extremely poor areas. Still, 280,000 children in families using vouchers lived in extremely poor neighborhoods in 2014. Vouchers could do much more to help these and other children grow up in safer, low-poverty neighborhoods with good schools.

Public housing agencies have flexibility under current Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program rules to implement strategies to improve location outcomes, and state and local governments could facilitate these efforts. But without changes in federal policy to encourage state and local agencies to take such steps and to modify counter-productive policies — and reliable funding to maintain the number of families receiving HCV assistance and to administer the program effectively — there is little reason to expect better results.

Federal, state, and local agencies can make four sets of interrelated policy changes to help families in the HCV program live in better locations:

  • Create strong incentives for state and local housing agencies to achieve better location outcomes;
  • Modify policies that discourage families from living in lower-poverty communities;
  • Minimize jurisdictional barriers to families’ ability to live in high-opportunity communities; and
  • Assist families in using vouchers to rent in high-opportunity areas. (1)

This paper poses a number of concrete policy proposals for HUD to increase choices for voucher recipients. They include giving weight to location outcomes for recipients in measuring local housing agency performance; aligning these goals with the new fair housing rules; and providing incentive payments to local agencies that help voucher recipients move to higher-opportunity areas. (8) There are more concrete proposals in the paper that I leave to the reader to review.

What I like about these proposals is that many of them can be implemented administratively by HUD, just like the fair housing rules were. I hope HUD is giving this paper its full attention — there is a lot of good stuff in it that can help people move to opportunities that they cannot currently access.

Housing Opportunity for Kids

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report, Creating Opportunity for Children: How Housing Location Can Make a Difference. There is some research on the positive effects that homeownership has on outcomes for children. But it is hard to determine whether it is homeownership per se which causes the positive effects as opposed to a stable housing situation more generally. Thus, further research on the role of stable housing options, like that found in this report, is quite welcome.  This report finds that the Housing Choice Voucher program

has performed much better than HUD’s project-based rental assistance programs in enabling more low-income families with children—and particularly more African American and Latino families—to live in lower-poverty neighborhoods. . . . Having a housing voucher also substantially reduces the likelihood of living in an extreme-poverty neighborhood, compared with similar families with children that either receive project-based rental assistance or don’t receive housing assistance at all. (6)
The report concludes that

Based on the evidence on how housing location affects low-income families, particularly children, and the performance of federal rental assistance programs on location-related measures, we recommend two closely related near-term goals for federal rental assistance policy: 1) federal rental assistance programs should provide greater opportunities for families to choose affordable housing outside of extreme-poverty neighborhoods; and 2) the programs should provide better access for families to low-poverty, safe communities with better-performing schools. (7)
The report also recommends four policy changes to achieve these goals:
  1. Create strong incentives for local and state housing agencies to achieve better location outcomes.
  2. Modify policies that discourage families from living in lower-poverty communities.
  3. Minimize jurisdictional barriers to families’ ability to choose to live in high-opportunity communities.
  4. Assist families in using vouchers to live in high-opportunity areas. (7-8)

This is a pretty hefty report and it is worth digging into more deeply.