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.