The State of Moderate-Income Housing

photo by Jaksmata

The Center for Housing Policy’s most recent issue of Housing Landscape gives its 2016 Annual Look at The Housing Affordability Challenges of America’s Working Households (my discussion of the Center’s 2015 report is here). it opens,

Millions of working households face big challenges in finding affordable housing, particularly in areas with strong economic growth. In 2014, more than 9.6 million low- and moderate-income working households were severely housing cost burdened. Severely cost burdened households are those that spend more than half of their income on housing costs. Overall, 15 percent of all U.S. households (17.6 million households) had a severe housing cost burden in 2014, with renters facing the biggest affordability challenges. In 2014, 24.2 percent of all renter households were severely burdened compared to 9.7 percent of all owner households. These percentages were even higher for working households, of whom 25.1 percent of renters and 16.2 percent of owners had a severe housing cost burden.

Housing costs continue to rise, particularly for working renters, who saw their median housing costs grow by more than six percent from 2011 to 2014. And for the first time since 2011, housing costs increased for working owner households as well, marking the end of a three-year downward trajectory. Additionally, more working households were renting their homes as opposed to buying—52.6 percent of working households were renters in 2014, up nearly two percentage points from 2011, when the share was 50.8 percent.

With more working households renting their homes, demand for rental housing continues to grow, pushing rents even higher in already high-cost rental markets. And although incomes are growing for many working households, this growth is not always sufficient to offset rising rents, meaning that working renter households are increasingly having to spend a higher proportion of their incomes on housing costs each month. (1)

The report outlines a series of good policy proposals (many of which are politically unfeasible in the current environment) to address this situation. But my main takeaway is that the wages of working-class households “are not sufficient for meeting the cost of adequate housing.” (5) Their housing problem is an income problem.

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

Millennials, Paycheck to Paycheck


The National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy issued a report, Paycheck to Paycheck: A Snapshot of Housing Affordability for Millennial Workers. The report opens,

Public perception of millennials tends to paint a picture of highly educated hipsters living in city micro-units, or perpetual youth living in their parents’ basements. However, those stereotypes do not adequately portray the diversity of race, education, income, family types, living arrangements and employment among millennials.

In fact, most millennials do not live in micro-units or with their parents. Many are getting married and starting families. Even though millennials are more highly educated than previous generations, many face limited job prospects. And many millennial workers are in relatively low-paying jobs and have difficulty finding housing they can afford. As a result, they spend a burdensome share of their paycheck on housing, leaving little for other expenses, including student debt payments, savings for a mortgage down payment and childcare. (1)

The report makes a variety of conservative assumptions. For instance, it assumes that a loan to value ratio of 28% of income and it assumes that households have only one worker. It proposes a variety of policies to expand mortgage credit, affordable housing subsidies and zoning reforms to increase the supply of housing.

Given that the report comes from two affordable housing advocacy groups, its policy proposals to increase the supply of affordable housing for millenials are not surprising. But I do think it is worth thinking about household formation a bit more in this context.

Many of us do not give much thought to how households form.  When we think about our own experience, we might conclude that when we had enough money to get our own place we did just that. But, in fact, the rate of household formation is significantly affected by broader economic forces, namely the state of the job market. If an individual does not believe that her income is stable, she will delay creating her own household. Thus, she might live with her parents or share an apartment with others. Reports like this one assume that there is a natural rate of household formation just as many people assume that there is a natural rate of homeownership. As a general rule, those people generally assume that higher is better.

It might be worth considering that household formation and homeownership rates are driven by the interplay of much larger forces. Instead of trying to move those rates for their own sake, it might be more important to look at fundamentals in the economy, like the unemployment rate and wage growth, and let household formation and homeownership rates take care of themselves.

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Round-Up

  • The Furman Center has released discussion 16, A New Approach to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing  in its ‘The Dream Revisited’ Series, a “slow debate.”  Discussion 16 contains five essays on the subject of affirmatively furthering fair housing.  This Author recommends HUD’s New AFFH Rule: The Importance of the Ground Game, by Michael Allen, which argues the HUD lacks the resources to enforce its rule which requires grant recipients not just avoid housing discrimination but “affirmatively further fair housing.”  Allen believes that the only way to hold the public housing agencies and block grant recipients accountable is through grass roots and legal advocates implementing their own enforcement strategy, through litigation if necessary.
  • The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index is up for the 12th straight month, year over year, despite a slight decline from July to August. The index decreased 1.4 percent to 109.4 in August from 110.9 in July but is still 6.1 percent above August 2014 (103.1). Watch NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun discuss his view of the housing market.
  • The National Housing Conference has released Paycheck to Paycheck a database that compares wages for selected occupations to assess the affordability of housing for full-time employees in different areas of the United States.  A companion report, A Snapshot of Metropolitan Housing Affordability for Millennial Workers explores housing affordability for millennials in five occupations, including: administrative assistant, retail cashier, e-commerce customer service representative, food service manager, and cardiac technician.

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Round-Up

  • Corelogic’s recently released, Home Price Indicator (HPI) predicts that home prices will appreciate 4.7% from July 2015 to July 2016.
  • MakeRoom’s campaign to bring attention to the millions of families who struggle to pay rent.  Every first of the month, when rent due, the organization arranges a concert in the living room of a family struggling to pay rent.  On September first the R&B group Miguel played in the home of Devona.  Devona, a single mother from Detroit, Michigan who is also raising a nice and nephew, pays over half of her income in rent to keep her family in a safe suburban home.
  • The National Housing Conference (NHC) will be hosting a webinar on September 8th  to discuss the ways in which affordable housing development policies are linked to educational outcomes and ways in which organizations are addressing the issue.

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup