The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University released its The State of the Nation’s Housing 2015 report. I typically focus on the discussion of the mortgage market in this excellent annual report. Here are some of the mortgage highlights:
- mortgage delinquency rates nationwide have fallen by half since the foreclosure crisis peaked. But the remaining loans that are seriously delinquent (90 or more days past due or in foreclosure) are concentrated in relatively few neighborhoods; (6)
- According to CoreLogic, 10.8 percent of homeowners with mortgages were still underwater on their loans in the fourth quarter of 2014; (8)
- Despite rising prices, homebuying in most parts of the country remained more affordable in 2014 than at any time in the previous two decades except right after the housing crash. In 110 of the 113 largest metros for which at least 20 years of price data are available, payment-to-income ratios for the median-priced home were still below long-run averages. And in nearly a third of these metros, ratios were 20 percent or more below those averages. (22)
The Joint Center believes that “Looser mortgage lending criteria would help. Given that a substantial majority of US households desire to own homes, the challenge is not whether they have the will to become homeowners but whether they will have the means.” (6) I am not sure what to make of that statement. It seems to me that the right question is whether looser mortgage lending criteria would result in long-term housing tenure for new homeowners. In other words, looser mortgage lending criteria that result in future defaults and foreclosures are of no benefit to potential homebuyers. Too few commentators tie mortgage availability to mortgage sustainability. The Joint Center should take a lead role in making that connection.
One last comment, a repetition from my past discussions of Joint Center reports. The State of the Nation’s Housing acknowledges sources of funding for the report but does not directly identify the members of its Policy Advisory Board, which provides “principal funding” for it along with the Ford Foundation. (front matter) The Board includes companies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which are directly discussed in the report. In the spirit of transparency, the Joint Center should identify all of its funders in the State of the Nation’s Housing report itself. Mainstream journalists would undoubtedly do this. I see no reason why an academic center should not.