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.


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.