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.

 

Regulatory Approaches to Airbnb

photo by Open Grid Scheduler

Peter Coles et al. have posted Airbnb Usage Across New York City Neighborhoods: Geographic Patterns and Regulatory Implications to SSRN. Two of the co-authors are affiliated to Airbnb and the other three are affiliated to NYU. The paper states that “No consulting fees, research grants or other payments have been made by Airbnb to the NYU authors . . .” (1) The abstract reads,

This paper offers new empirical evidence about actual Airbnb usage patterns and how they vary across neighborhoods in New York City. We combine unique, census-tract level data from Airbnb with neighborhood asking rent data from Zillow and administrative, census, and social media data on neighborhoods. We find that as usage has grown over time, Airbnb listings have become more geographically dispersed, although centrality remains an important predictor of listing location. Neighborhoods with more modest median household incomes have also grown in popularity, and disproportionately feature “private room” listings (compared to “entire home” listings). We find that compared to long-term rentals, short-term rentals do not appear to be as profitable as many assume, and they have become relatively less profitable over our time period. Additionally, short-term rentals appear most profitable relative to long-term rentals in outlying, middle-income neighborhoods. Our findings contribute to an ongoing regulatory conversation catalyzed by the rapid growth in the short-term rental market, and we conclude by bringing an economic lens to varying approaches proposed to target and address externalities that may arise in this market.

I found the review alternative regulatory approaches to be particularly helpful:

City leaders around the world have adopted a wide range of approaches. We conclude by reviewing these alternative regulatory responses. We consider both citywide as well as neighborhood-specific responses, like those recently enacted in Portland, Maine or in New Orleans. A promising approach from an economic perspective is to impose fees that vary with intensity of usage. For instance, in Portland, Maine, short-term rental host fees increase with the number of units a given host seeks to register, and a recent bill from Representatives in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (H.3454) propose taxes that vary with the intensity of usage of individual units. Such varying fees may help discourage conversions of long-term rentals to short-term rentals and better internalize externalities that might rise with greater use. That said, overly-customized approaches may be difficult to administer. Regulatory complexity itself should also be a criterion in choosing policy responses. (2-3, citations omitted)

We are still a long ways off from knowing how the short-term rental market will be regulated once it fully matures, so work like this helps us see where we are so far.

Poverty in NYC

photo by Salvation Army USA West

NYU’s Furman Center has released its annual State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods along with a focus on Poverty in New York City. The State of the City report is always of great value but each year’s focus is where we get to see the City in a new light. This year is no different:

In New York City in recent years, rents have risen much faster than incomes. The pressures of rising housing costs may be greatest on those with the fewest resources—people living in poverty. New York City has a larger number of people living in poverty today than it has since at least 1970. This sparks a range of questions about the experience of poverty in New York City that we address in this year’s State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods Focus. Who in New York City is poor today? Where do they live? What are the characteristics of the neighborhoods where poor New Yorkers live? Are poor New Yorkers more likely to be living in areas of concentrated poverty than they were in the past? How, if at all, do the answers to each of these questions differ by the race, ethnicity, and other characteristics of poor households?

Though the share of New Yorkers living in poverty has been relatively constant over the past few decades, there was a drop at the end of the last decade and then an increase in 2011–2015. Poverty concentration—the extent to which poor New Yorkers are living in neighborhoods with other poor New Yorkers—followed a similar trend, dropping in 2006–2010 and increasing again since then. The neighborhood of the typical poor New Yorker varies substantially from that of the typical non-poor New Yorker, but those disparities are largely experienced by black and Hispanic New Yorkers living in poverty. The typical poor Asian and white New Yorkers live in neighborhoods that do better on the measures we examine than the neighborhoods of the typical non-poor New Yorker. We also find that neighborhood conditions vary significantly based on the level of poverty in a neighborhood. Higher poverty neighborhoods have higher violent crime rates, poorer performing schools, and fewer adults who are college educated or working. And, poor New Yorkers are not all equally likely to live in these neighborhoods. Poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are much more likely to live in higher poverty neighborhoods than poor white and Asian New Yorkers. Children make up a higher share of the population in higher poverty neighborhoods than adults or seniors. (1, footnotes omitted)

Policymakers should have a lot to chew over in this report. Let’s hope they give it a read.

Obamas Buy Their Rental

2011 portrait by Pete Souza of the Obama family

Realtor.com quoted me in Former President Obama Finally Buys the DC Home He’s Renting: 6 Smart Reasons Why. It reads, in part,

Former President Barack Obama has decided that buying beats renting. The former first family have surprised many by purchasing the Washington, DC, house they’ve been leasing and living in since January, coughing up $8.1 million to call the place their own.

After vacating the White House, the Obamas had moved into the 6,441-square-foot, nine-bedroom, 8.5-bath mansion, located at 2446 Belmont Road NW in the tony neighborhood of Kalorama. The neighborhood has since become the place for the new political elite, with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump moving into a luxe rental a couple of blocks away, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson snapping up a $5.6 million Colonial Revival down the street.

The reason the Obamas decided to stick around DC in the first place was so their younger daughter, Sasha, then a freshman at posh Sidwell Friends, could finish up high school there. With only three years to go, renting seemed to make sense so that the Obamas could easily pick up and move once she’s done.

But apparently, there’s been a big change of heart. Why?

On its surface, their decision seems a bit puzzling, given Sasha now has only twoand-a-half years to go. In real estate, the general rule is that it makes sense to buy a home only if you plan to stay put for five years, because this allows time for your house to appreciate, which helps you recoup hefty closing costs.

“People who sell after a year or two of ownership will often find that they have lost money on their purchase,” explains David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

Nonetheless, real estate agents and other experts we spoke to say there could be plenty of reasons it’s smarter for the Obamas to buy rather than rent, even for this short span of time. Here are a few possibilities to ponder.

Reason No. 1: They’re making a commitment to DC

As presidential spokesman Kevin Lewis explained in a statement, “Given that President and Mrs. Obama will be in Washington for at least another two and a half years, it made sense for them to buy a home rather than continuing to rent property.”

Granted, you can read a whole lot into that “at least” if you want. After all, as Atlanta Realtor® Bruce Ailion explains, “Many buyers think they will only be in a property for two to three years and end up living there three to seven years. That is common.”

And it might be an indicator that our former commander in chief isn’t ready to shed the political life quite yet.

“Perhaps they want to keep a foothold in Washington, DC, for other reasons with regard to political advocacy and involvement,” says Florida Realtor Cara Ameer.

Reason No. 2: In certain markets, 2.5 years is long enough to make a profit

While 2.5 years might not be long enough to profit on a home in general, that rule varies widely by neighborhood, based on rent levels, home prices—and how quickly both are going up. And this is one hot neighborhood.

It isn’t known exactly what the Obamas were paying in monthly rent, but estimates hover at around $22,000. It’s entirely possible that the former first couple did the math and determined that buying made far more financial sense, and that mortgage payments would be less of a monthly nut. (To find out what’s best for you, you can crunch the numbers in an online rent vs. buy calculator.)

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Reason No. 5: This home will sell for a premium—he’s a former president, after all!

“It was always a little perplexing why the Obamas would ever rent if they planned to stay for anything longer than a year,” contends Washington, DC, real estate agent Rachel Valentino.

Her reason: “While they’re buying at market value, they can eventually financially benefit on the back end, where a buyer will pay significantly more for the celebrity factor. We aren’t Southern California, where every house has that star appeal. So, I can only imagine what a buyer will eventually pay to own a piece of history.”

Reason No. 6: Profits aren’t everything

“One lesson we can draw from this story is that buying a home should not always be seen as a financial transaction,” says Reiss. “Sometimes we buy a home because it’s best for our family at a particular time. Sometimes we buy a home because we fall in love with it. And sometimes those are the best reasons of all to buy a home, profits be damned.”

Dorms for Grownups

The Bridge quoted me in Why Dorms for Grownups Are a New Way of Life. It opens,

If you think applying to Stanford or MIT is a long shot, consider the odds of landing a spot in a Brooklyn co-living residence. Common, the company now operating six co-living facilities in the borough, recently received more than 15,000 applications for about 300 available rooms in three of the cities it serves: New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Why the demand? Co-living, essentially the residential version of the co-working trend, offers dorm-like, amenity-filled living that’s particularly attractive to millennials. The apartments come pre-stocked with furniture, appliances, fast WiFi, and lots of prospective friends.

John Bogil, 24, has shared a giant living room, kitchen, basement, and backyard with nine other people since moving into a Crown Heights facility called Common Albany a year ago. Although it sounds crowded, Bogil enjoys the company. “It’s awesome. I’ve made friends for life,” Bogil said. Common, launched in 2015, is Manhattan-based but has found fertile ground in Brooklyn. The growing portfolio in the borough includes the newly built Common Baltic in Boerum Hill, which offers co-living spaces as well as traditional apartments. The rent varies by neighborhood, with spaces in Crown Heights starting at $1,475 and Boerum Hill spots going for $2,143 and up.

Tenants have their own private bedrooms, many with private baths, but share the living room and kitchen as well as amenity spaces including lounges, fitness rooms, roof decks, dining rooms and work spaces. Convenience is a major selling point: the suites in a Common building come fully furnished with beds, dressers, couches, tables and chairs, a TV, towels and sheets, and a weekly cleaning service. Many of the issues that traditional roommates wind up fighting about have been taken off the table, like Real World with less drama.

Common was launched by Brad Hargreaves, who earlier had co-founded General Assembly, now a global educational company with campuses in 15 cities. Like many entrepreneurs, Hargreaves was looking to solve a problem. When the Yale grad first moved to New York City, he looked for an available room in an apartment on Craigslist and found the process cumbersome. “Common offers an alternative to this,” he said. “We make living with roommates better, more convenient, and more efficient.”

With young people increasingly crowding certain urban areas, the idea of a starter apartment is changing. While rents in Brooklyn have eased lately, thanks in part to new construction, the median rent is a daunting $2,785. With rents like those, some 76% of people 21 to 34 years old say they’ve made compromises to find a place to live, including living with roommates, according to the NHP Foundation, a group advocating affordable housing.

“Co-living has proven to be more than a passing trend,” said Hargreaves. “The response to opening our first home in Brooklyn was so strong that we were able to rapidly expand in the borough as well as into San Francisco and Washington, D.C. We now have nine homes on two coasts and are actively looking at new homes and new cities.” Common chooses its spots carefully, aiming to balance affordability and urban amenities. “We look to open in neighborhoods where there’s access to public transit and great local retail for our members to explore and enjoy,” said Hargreaves.

Common has the financial fuel to grow much more. The company has raised more than $23 million in two rounds of financing from 15 investors. The budding co-living industry now has multiple competitors as well, including WeLive, HubHaus, Node, and Krash. In Long Island City, a co-living company called Ollie plans to operate what it calls the largest co-living facility in North America, occupying 13 of the 42 floors in a new skyscraper.

While much of the allure of co-living is practical, many residents appreciate having the company, which in a cosmopolitan place like Brooklyn creates diverse collections of roommates. “I really appreciate the exposure to different peoples, ideas and cultures,” said Bogil. “I’ve learned so much about Australian politics and South African sports, for example, which might sound like useless info on the surface, but it helps me to learn about the world in a way that I never would normally. It makes the world feel smaller.” More than 70% of Common members are on 12-month leases but most stay longer than a year.

While typical co-living residents are in their 20s, the format could work for older adults as well, once the format goes mainstream. “There is growing interest in more communal types of living environments of the type offered by Common,” said David Reiss, an attorney and professor of real estate at Brooklyn Law School. “Co-living appeals to different people and our membership is diverse,” Hargreaves said. “We have young professionals, married couples, those moving to New York City for their first job, those moving from abroad, and ranging in their early 20s into their 30s and 40s.”

Gen Z Eying Real Estate Trends

photo by Thomas Tolkien

The Washington Post along with its content partner National Association of Realtors quoted me in Eye on the Future. It reads, in part,

The suburbs as we know them are in flux. Many of the country’s bedroom communities have traditionally been known for their single-family homes and a lack of walkable public spaces. That’s changing as condos, sprawling townhome complexes and apartment buildings now dot areas where single-family homes would have been built.  Developers are building walkable public spaces to accommodate young families leaving cities but still seeking urban-like amenities.

 Another wave of change is expected in the next five to 10 years. That’s when members of Generation Z-those born on the heels of millennials-will become homeowners. Experts say they’ll transform areas that are sandwiched between major cities and suburbs into districts with an urban feel and amenities, without the hefty price tags major metros demand.

That transformation is already starting to happen. “Many of our ‘suburbs’ are actually neighborhoods in Los Angeles, particularly the San Fernando Valley,” said Kathryn Bishop, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Studio City, Calif. and member of the National Association of Realtors. “In the Valley, many neighborhoods have become mini ‘cores.’ Sherman Oaks, Encino and Woodland Hills have office towers, good restaurants and night-life business creating their own city areas.”

It’s no surprise that the younger generation needs to find an alternative to the sky-high costs of urban living. The Economic Policy Institute noted in 2016 that folks who live in San Francisco face a cost of living that’s 52.9 percent above the national average. For New Yorkers, living costs were 49.4 percent higher. The country’s least-affordable place to live was Washington D.C., where residents faced costs 63.5 percent higher than the national average.

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“Since the financial crisis there has been an increase in multigenerational households, driven in large part by financial limitations and insecurity as well as by marital status and educational attainment,” said David Reiss, professor of law and research director at he Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.  “Young adults are more likely to live at their parent’s home in recent years than they have been for more than a century.”

Finding An Affordable Neighborhood

Trulia quoted me in How To Find An Affordable Neighborhood. It opens,

There’s more to consider when buying a house than the house itself. The neighborhood can be equally, if not more, important. You might already have must-haves in mind for the type of property you’ll buy — at least two bathrooms to stay sane, for example. Now you need to focus on finding the best neighborhood that fits your budget. Read on for some tips, techniques, and practices to help you find affordable neighborhoods, whether you’re looking at homes for sale in Seattle, WA, or anywhere else across the country.

1. Use the Affordability layer in Trulia Maps

The most important factor when looking for an affordable home is price. No surprise there. But the listing price doesn’t tell you the full story. The seller could have simply picked a number because that’s what they’d like to get, a price that might have nothing to do with reality.

Use the Affordability layer in Trulia Maps to compare listing prices with recent sales prices. Just scroll over your neighborhood of interest to see the median listing price, change your filter, and then scroll over the same area to see the median sales price. There may be a huge price difference between the two, which besides a too-optimistic seller could also reflect a softening market. A once-unaffordable neighborhood, based on listing prices alone, might now be in reach once you see what homes are actually selling for.

Also look at the sales price per square foot, a real eye-opener. You can see exactly how much location affects a home’s price. “If using a price-per-square-foot comparison, the homebuyer must be sure to compare similar-sized properties or allow for the different results based upon the differences in size,” says Greg Stephens, chief appraiser for Metro-West Appraisal Co. in Detroit, MI.

2. Explore other neighborhoods

If you already have a neighborhood in mind, take some time to look at the bordering neighborhoods as well. You might find more affordable options that have the same benefits. “As home prices increase within desirable areas, generally speaking, locations on the periphery become in demand,” suggests Michael Kelczewski, a Pennsylvania and Delaware real estate agent.

Pick your neighborhood of interest and note the listing and sales prices. Then pick a bordering neighborhood that costs less to buy into. Compare amenities in Trulia Maps, and you can see where the restaurants, grocery stores, nightclubs, cafes, stores, arts and entertainment areas, spas, and active-life spaces are located.

Don’t rule out up-and-coming neighborhoods. Yes, you’re taking a risk here. “Up-and-coming,” as a description, might turn out to be a tad too hopeful if the neighborhood is really going nowhere. How do you minimize the risk? Look for warning signs. “Distressed areas generally are identified by low sales volumes, elevated value decreases, and poor access to amenities,” says Kelczewski.

3. Look for fixer-uppers

If your heart is set on a neighborhood that lets you bike to work and raise urban chickens, you might not be able to get a dreamy, move-in-ready abode with all new upgrades. Instead, target fixer-uppers, or remodels, or teardowns. You might wish to consider a house with “good bones,” as they say, meaning there’s potential in there somewhere. If the house doesn’t even have that, a teardown might be in order.

You can often find fixer-uppers in the foreclosure arena. But beware. “Purchasing an REO/short sale or auction property when the asset is sold ‘as is’ necessitates a network of professionals to understand the condition and to project rehab costs,” offers Kelczewski. “Contractors, electricians, plumbers, even structural engineers may be required in order to adequately analyze a property.”

You’ll also need to devote some time, or sweat equity, to save money when you buy a fixer-upper. “It is important to have a sense of how much work would be needed to get the house in the shape you would want it to be. You would need to get estimates for the work — the final cost will probably be higher than the estimates — and try to determine how long it will take to get permits approved and contractors in the door … [and] it will probably take longer than everyone tells you,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, NY. “But when you are pulling your hair out because you are cooking dinner in a half-finished kitchen, remember all of the money that you saved when you bought.”