Cracked Foundation for American Households

photo by shaireproductions.com

President Trump’s budget claims to lay A New Foundation for American Greatness. Whatever else it does, when it comes to housing it leads down a path to ruin for many an American family.

Here is just some of what he proposes: cutting housing choice vouchers by almost $1 billion; cutting support for public housing by nearly $2 billion; and getting rid of the entire $3 billion budget for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). These are all abstract numbers, so it is worth breaking them down to a more human scale.

Vouchers.  Housing choice vouchers help low-income families afford a home. Republicans and Democrats have long supported these vouchers because they help tenants afford apartments that are rented by private landlords, not by public housing agencies. Vouchers are effectively an income subsidy for the poor that must be used for housing alone. The landlord is paid the subsidy and the tenant pays the difference between the subsidy and the rent. These vouchers are administered by local public housing agencies.

Nearly half of vouchers go to families with children, nearly a quarter go to the elderly and another fifth go to disabled adults. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that voucher dramatically reduce homelessness. It also found that voucher holders were likely to be in the workforce unless they were elderly or disabled. While vouchers are a very effective subsidy, the federal budget has only provided enough funds for about a quarter of eligible households. Trump’s proposed cuts would cut funding for more than 100,000 families. That’s 100,000 families that may end up homeless as a result.

Public Housing. Public housing has been starved of resources for nearly forty years. While some believe that public housing has been a failure overall, it remains a vital source of housing for the very poor. Trump’s proposed cuts to public housing operating and capital expenses means that these tenants will see their already poorly maintained homes descend deeper into decrepitude. Unaddressed leaks lead to mold; deferred maintenance on boilers leads to no heat in the winter – every building needs some capital repairs to maintain a baseline of habitability.

We must ask ourselves how bad will we allow this housing stock to get before we are overcome by a sense of collective shame. If a private landlord provided housing that was as poorly maintained as much of the public housing stock, it would be on a worst landlords list in local newspapers. The fact that the landlord is the government does not redeem the sin.

CDBG. The Community Development Block Grant funds affordable housing and anti-poverty programs along with community development activities engaged in by local governments. CDBG has broad support from Republicans and Democrats because it provides funds that allow local governments to respond more nimbly to local conditions. Local governments use these funds for basic infrastructure like water and sewer lines, affordable housing and the soft costs involved in planning for their future.

While these expenditures are somewhat abstract, recent press stories have highlighted that CDBG also funds Meals on Wheels for the elderly. While this is not a big portion of the CDBG budget, it does make concrete how those $3 billion are being allocated each year by local communities seeking to help their neediest residents.

*     *     *

Trump’s budget proposal is honest in that it admits to making “substantial changes to the policies and spending priorities of the previous administration . . .” Members of Congress from both parties will now have to weigh in on those substantial changes. Are they prepared to make Trump’s cuts to these housing and community development programs that provide direct aid to their neighbors and local governments? Are they prepared for the increase in homeless that will follow? In the increase in deficits for state and local governments? If not, they should reject President Trump’s spending priorities and focus on budget priorities that support human dignity and compassion as well as a commitment to local responses to address local problems.

Rental Potholes

photo by Eric Haddox

Realtor.com quoted me in Rental Potholes—and How to Avoid Falling Into Them. It opens,

Until you have the money to buy your own home, renting is eventually a part of just about every person’s life. And typically this transaction tends to work out just fine. Until it doesn’t. Because there is indeed plenty that can go wrong, leaving renters learning some difficult lessons through trial and error. To make sure you aren’t one of them, check out these rental roadblocks—and what you can do to keep from getting stuck.

Somebody’s watching you

“My work took our family to Florida and in our haste to find somewhere to live with our two kids, we found a gorgeous townhouse seaside rental. The ocean views were incredible, just what we’d dreamed of. So incredible, in fact, that we didn’t realize the unit lacked window coverings of any kind! And as much as I loved looking at the ocean, there were times when some level of privacy was desired; people could see into the whole house if they were walking along the beach. When we shared this ‘oversight’ with the landlord, his offer was to split the costs of full-house window coverings! We decided not to help the property owner increase the value of his home. We continued to enjoy ocean views on a 24/7 basis but moved out after a year.” – Rhonda Moret, Del Mar, CA

Lesson learned: Don’t let your enthusiasm keep you from doing your due diligence before thoroughly vetting a place and signing on the dotted line.

“This responsibility falls squarely on the tenant; you can’t expect someone else to look out for your interests. That’s your job,” says David Reiss, academic program director for Brooklyn Law School’s Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. But by the same turn, don’t fall for a landlord’s request to “split the cost”—any renovations should be his responsibility all the way.

Bye-bye, security deposit

“When I handed our landlord a $1,000 security deposit, I assumed I’d get it back whenever we left, and didn’t bother to do a walk-through of the apartment to make sure it was in decent shape. Big mistake! Once we moved out, the landlord sent us a letter stating he was keeping the security deposit because we had broken a window in the garage. Only we hadn’t—that must have been done by a previous tenant. We got charged for someone else’s damage.” – Mindy Jensen, Wheaton, IL

Lesson learned: “Doing a walk-through inspection is important if you want your security deposit back,” says Reiss. “It’s important to add details like time stamps to everything and get documentation that your landlord received the report.”

Also consider recording a video with your smartphone while you walk through the place. The more backup material you have, the better the odds that you’ll get back what you deserve.

Your pet or your pad

“A few years ago, my family and I rented a townhouse. There was a pet shop on the corner selling the cutest puppies, and we fell in love with a French bulldog and bought him. That’s when things started to get ugly. We hadn’t checked the rental agreement to see if we could own a pet. When our landlord found out, she became hysterical and asked us to leave—or get rid of the dog. We ended up homeless, but with a very cute puppy. Fortunately, we stayed at a friend’s place until we found a dog-friendly home.” – Derek McLane, Sydney, Australia

Lesson learned: “Read the fine print before you sign. This is pretty fundamental, even if it is not fun to do,” says Reiss.

At the very least, ask your landlord what the rules are and to specify where the pertinent parts can be found in the lease. Be aware that many leases don’t allow pets, or will make pet owners pay an extra fee known as pet rent.

You’ve got mail … a mile away

“I was living in an amazing apartment when the mailboxes in the foyer were vandalized to the point where the USPS deemed them ‘unsafe for delivery of mail.’ We were ‘temporarily’ redirected to pick up mail six blocks up and four very long avenue blocks over until the landlords had an opportunity to repair our mailboxes. A year and a half later, they still hadn’t been fixed—and to make matters worse, a stairwell skylight had collapsed. I was forced to take on the practically full-time job of challenging my landlord to make repairs. I finally was able to make something happen by researching the building and finding out that my landlord had illegally jacked up the rent more than was legally allowed by rent-stabilization laws. Eventually, my efforts resulted in a rent reduction, reinstated mail delivery, and a very bad tenant/landlord relationship.” – Tim Tucker, Las Vegas, NV

Lesson learned: “Know your rights. Tenants have a lot of them, particularly in rent-regulated apartments,” says Reiss.

New Landlord in Town

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in "It's A Wonderful Life"

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life”

Bloomberg quoted me in Wall Street, America’s New Landlord, Kicks Tenants to the Curb. It opens,

On a chilly December afternoon in Atlanta, a judge told Reiton Allen that he had seven days to leave his house or the marshals would kick his belongings to the curb. In the packed courtroom, the truck driver, his beard flecked with gray, stood up, cast his eyes downward and clutched his black baseball cap.

The 44-year-old father of two had rented a single-family house from a company called HavenBrook Homes, which is controlled by one of the world’s biggest money managers, Pacific Investment Management Co. Here in Fulton County, Georgia, such large institutional investors are up to twice as likely to file eviction notices as smaller owners, according to a new Atlanta Federal Reserve study.

“I’ve never been displaced like this,” said Allen, who said he fell behind because of unexpected childcare expenses as his rent rose above $900 a month. “I need to go home and regroup.”

Hedge funds, large investment firms and private equity companies helped the U.S. housing market recover after the crash in 2008 by turning empty foreclosures from Atlanta to Las Vegas into occupied rentals.

Now among America’s biggest landlords, some of these companies are leaving tenants like Allen in the cold. In a business long dominated by mom-and-pop landlords, large-scale investors are shifting collections conversations from front stoops to call centers and courtrooms as they try to maximize profits.

“My hope was that these private equity firms would provide a new kind of rental housing for people who couldn’t — or didn’t want to — buy during the housing recovery,” said Elora Raymond, the report’s lead author. “Instead, it seems like they’re contributing to housing instability in Atlanta, and possibly other places.”

American Homes 4 Rent, one of the nation’s largest operators, and HavenBrook filed eviction notices at a quarter of its houses, compared with an average 15 percent for all single-family home landlords, according to Ben Miller, a Georgia State University professor and co-author of the report. HavenBrook — owned by Allianz SE’s Newport Beach, California-based Pimco — and American Homes 4 Rent, based in Agoura Hills, California, declined to comment.

Colony Starwood Homes initiated proceedings on a third of its properties, the most of any large real estate firm. Tom Barrack, chairman of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, and the company he founded, Colony Capital, are the largest shareholders of Colony Starwood, which declined to comment.

Diane Tomb, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, which represents institutional landlords, said her members offer flexible payment plans to residents who fall behind. The cost of eviction makes it “the last option,” Tomb said. The Fed examined notices, rather than completed evictions, which are rarer, she said.

“We’re in the business to house families — and no one wants to see people displaced,” Tomb said.

According to a report last year from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, a record 21.3 million renters spent more than a third of their income on housing costs in 2014, while 11.4 million spent more than half. With credit tightening, the homeownership rate has fallen close to a 51-year low.

In January 2012, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke encouraged investors to use their cash to stabilize the housing market and rehabilitate the vacant single-family houses that damage neighborhoods and property values.

Now, the Atlanta Fed’s own research suggests that the eviction practices of big landlords may also be destabilizing. An eviction notice can ruin a family’s credit and make it more difficult to rent elsewhere or qualify for public assistance.

Collection Strategy?

In Atlanta, evictions are much easier on landlords. They are cheap: about $85 in court fees and another $20 to have the tenant ejected, according to Michael Lucas, a co-author of the report and deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. With few of the tenant protections of places like New York, a family can find itself homeless in less than a month.

In interviews and court filings, renters and housing advocates said that some investment firms are impersonal and unresponsive, slow to make necessary repairs and quick to evict tenants who withhold rent because of complaints about maintenance. The researchers said some landlords use an eviction notice as a “routine rent-collection strategy.”

Aaron Kuney, HavenBrook’s former executive director of acquisitions, said the companies would rather keep their existing tenants as long as possible to avoid turnover costs.

But “they want to get them out quickly if they can’t pay,” said Kuney, now chief executive officer of Piedmont Asset Management, a private equity landlord in Atlanta. “Finding people these days to rent your homes is not a problem.”

Poor Neighborhoods

The Atlanta Fed research, based on 2015 court records, marks an early look at Wall Street’s role in evictions since investment firms snapped up hundreds of thousands of homes in hard-hit markets across the U.S.

Researchers found that evictions for all kinds of landlords are concentrated in poor, mostly black neighborhoods southwest of the city. But the study found that the big investors evicted at higher rates even after accounting for the demographics of the community where homes were situated.

Tomb, of the National Rental Home Council, said institutional investors at times buy large blocks of homes from other landlords and inherit tenants who can’t afford to pay rent. They also buy foreclosed homes whose occupants may refuse to sign leases or leave.

Those cases make the eviction rates appear higher than for smaller landlords, according to Tomb, whose group represents Colony Starwood, American Homes 4 Rent and Invitation Homes. The largest firms send notices at rates similar to apartment buildings, which house the majority of Atlanta renters.

Staying Home

Not all investment firms file evictions at higher rates. Invitation Homes, a unit of private equity giant Blackstone Group LP that is planning an initial public offering this year, sent notices on 14 percent of homes, about the same as smaller landlords, records show. In Fulton County, Invitation Homes works with residents to resolve 85 percent of cases, and less than 4 percent result in forced departures, according to spokeswoman Claire Parker.

The Fed research doesn’t say why many institutional investors evict at higher rates. It could be because their size enables them to negotiate less expensive legal rates and replace renters more quickly than mom-and-pop operators.

“Lots of small landlords, when they have good tenants who don’t cause trouble, they’ll work with someone who has lost a job or can’t pay for the short term,” said David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in residential real estate.

Are Month-to-Month Rentals Good Deals?

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Zillow.com quoted me in Are Month-to-Month Rentals Good for Landlords? It opens,

Your tenant’s lease is up, and they ask about switching to a month-to-month arrangement. Assuming they’re a good tenant — they pay rent on time, keep the place clean, don’t host loud parties — you might be tempted to accommodate the request. But before you do, be sure to understand the relevant landlord-tenant laws.

The Appeal Of Month-To-Month Renting

From the tenant’’ perspective, the benefit of month-to-month renting — also known as tenancy at will — is its flexibility compared to a standard long-term lease. Whether they’re pursuing out-of-town job opportunities, considering relocation to a different neighborhood or just thinking about moving up to a more spacious abode, the elasticity of month-to-month renting is appealing to a potentially footloose tenant.

From your point of view as a landlord, the appeal centers on cash flow and convenience — of not having the property stand vacant while you hassle with finding a new renter. In addition, a month-to-month rental can give you some added flexibility, too.

The Terms Of The Original Lease Generally Remain In Effect

There is no overarching federal law regarding tenancy at will; the rules are typically state-specific. Or, as Matthew Kreitzer an attorney with Booth and McCarthy in Winchester, Virginia, notes, “Tenancy-at-will is largely a creature of local law.” If and when there is no formal written agreement in place, local case law usually comes into play to fill the gap, he explains.

Michael Vraa, managing attorney at HOME Line, a tenant hotline based in Minnesota, says that in his state, as well as many others, the terms of the initial rental agreement carry forward into the month-to-month rental period.

Assuming rent is paid on a monthly basis, “unless the lease has some provision that describes what would happen if a new lease is not agreed to, the law would default to the notion that the agreement becomes month to month,” says Vraa. “If the lease ends July 31 and the tenant pays the next month’s rent (August), and the landlord accepts it, the agreement probably shifts to a month-to-month agreement.”

Tom Simeone, attorney at Simeone and Miller in Washington, D.C., adds that even a verbal contract or agreement to carry forth on a month-to-month basis is legally enforceable in most states. “If the parties previously had a written lease that expired, those terms will remain in effect in the tenancy at will. If not, the court will enforce what it finds to be the parties’ intentions and fill in any contract terms with what it deems to be reasonable,” Simeone says.

As Vraa noted, landlords sometimes include provisions in the original lease describing what can or will happen if a new lease is not agreed to at the end of the set term. Some management companies, for example, include a statement in the original lease saying the landlord or management company can or will raise the rent if a new lease is not signed. This may be by a certain dollar amount, such as “increased by $50 per month,” or by a specified percentage rate, as in “up to 5 percent per month.”

Rules About Tenant Privacy And Intent To Vacate Still Apply

Vraa and Simeone say that, generally, the rules regarding a tenant’s right to privacy are the same under tenancy at will as under a lease. Thus the amount of notice you have to give a tenant before entering their premises remains the same — typically 24 hours, as dictated by law in many states.

In regard to the notice required for intent to vacate, Simeone says this, too, is determined by the original lease. “If not,” he adds, “a court will likely require the lease to be month to month, especially if rent is paid on a monthly basis, which is typical. If so, thirty days’ notice is required to terminate — by either [the] landlord or tenant.”

However, Vraa says, in a month-to-month rental term, neither the landlord nor tenant are required to provide a specific reason for discontinuing the contract. That means you can give the tenant a notice to vacate the property, regardless of whether you plan to sell the property, rent to someone else, or simply do not wish to continue leasing to that specific tenant. But David Reiss, professor at Brooklyn Law School, notes, “The big risk, for both parties, is that the other party wants to terminate [the tenancy] at a time that is inconvenient for the other party. In that case, the parties can agree to a longer term (a year-to-year lease or one for a specific term of years).”

Reiss also stresses that although most state laws regarding tenancy at will derive from common law, “each jurisdiction may have variations from these common law principles that result from court decisions or statute. For instance, the meaning of one month’s notice to terminate a month-to-month lease can have small, but legally significant variations among jurisdictions.”

REFinBlog has been nominated for the second year in a row for The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Competition in the Education Category.  Please vote here if you like what you read.

High Times for New REIT

photo by Jorge Barrios

Realtor.com quoted me in Could This Marijuana REIT Make Millions, or Are They Just High? It opens,

Investing in real estate just got waaay more interesting, dudes! That’s because amid all that stuffy stock-market buzz, a wacky new REIT (real estate investment trust) has just gone public—and it’s the first in the country to focus on funding marijuana growers.

REITs, for you rookies out there, are funds that specialize in real estate. So, they use their investors’ money to build shopping malls, hotels, and condo complexes with the hope that their value will rise over time. This new pot-friendly REIT, owned by San Diego investment firm Innovative Industrial Properties (IIP), works exactly the same way, only by investing in facilities that grow, store, and distribute cannabis.

Granted, IIP is concentrating exclusively on medicinal marijuana facilities—so no one’s getting high for fun off investor money.

Nonetheless, this REIT could provide a much-needed infusion of capital for marijuana growers. Currently, although cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes in 24 states and for recreational use in four (which could rise to nine after Election Day), under federal law, marijuana is still illegal—and that keeps most banks from loaning these companies money.

REITs, however, aren’t bound by the same strict principles as big banks. So, IIP can shower ganja growers with cash—and could stand to make huge piles of money for its investors, right?

It could … but this whole scheme could also implode in a funky cloud of smoke.

“With limited information due to the newness of cannabis legalization, there’s not much of a track record or history to determine a cannabis REIT’s future performance,” says real estate and economic advisor Jack McCabe of McCabe Research & Consulting. McCabe also concedes that he hasn’t scrutinized this particular firm’s investment criteria, methodology, or fees.

“The early results show a new and flourishing industry,” McCabe says. “My opinion is that marijuana REITs and investors could see triple-digit profits and growth that could be historic and surpass profits generated by most all established industries.”

Whoa, triple-digit returns! That’s pretty impressive performance for any investment.

“A typical REIT is viewed as a fixed-income vehicle that competes with bonds,” says Paul Habibi, a real estate entrepreneur and professor at UCLA. “The range of REIT dividends are in the mid-single digits, like 5% to 6%.”

But there’s another caveat: No one knows how the federal government might decide to deal with semilegal cannabis down the road.

“Given medical-use marijuana is illegal under federal law, how could that play out with federal regulation of IIP?” points out David Reiss, a professor of Law at Brooklyn [Law School] and editor of REFinBlog.com.

The IIP (which could not comment), admits that much is still unknown in one of its SEC filings:

“Although the federal government currently has a relaxed enforcement position as it relates to states that have legalized medical-use cannabis, it remains illegal under federal law, and therefore, strict enforcement of federal laws regarding medical-use cannabis would likely result in our inability and the inability of our tenants to execute our respective business plans.”

How to Break a Lease Early

photo by Marcel Oosterwijk

Realtor.com quoted me in How to Break a Lease Early. It reads,

It’s Murphy’s Law, rental edition: You find the perfect apartment, sign the lease, move in, start to get settled in, then something happens. Maybe you get transferred to another state for work, maybe you meet the love of your life and decide to shack up together (congrats!), or perhaps your parents fall ill and you need to move closer to them.

Unfortunately life and rental laws don’t always coincide, all of which might mean you may have to entertain the idea of breaking a lease. What would happen if you do? Answers are ahead, along with some advice on how to handle this sticky scenario.

First things first: Read your lease

If you find yourself needing to break your lease, your first step should be to read it again—carefully. You could get lucky: Some leases have an “opt out” clause, meaning that you can terminate early for an agreed-upon fee. Depending on that financial amount, it might make sense for you to just pay the penalty and make a clean break, says David Reiss, academic program director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship.

Then again, some leases will say that you’re responsible for the rent due for the remainder of the term of your lease. Still, even in this worse-case scenario, you may have some wiggle room based on how benevolent your landlord is.

Talk to your landlord

If there is no opting out or the fees are too steep for you to financially absorb, it would probably behoove you to speak directly with your landlord or rental company.

“Your landlord may be willing to let you out of the lease early,” says Reiss. “You could also try to negotiate a lower amount for early termination than the lease calls for by forfeiting your security deposit.”

All in all, it never hurts to ask (and pray you catch your landlord in a good mood). It’s possible he may not mind your moving out since this means he could raise the rent sooner.You won’t know until you ask.

Find a new tenant

Another option is to offer to help your landlord find a new tenant for your apartment.

“It generally is not allowed without landlord consent, but you can discuss it with your management to see if they would consent to a sublease and under what terms,” says Reiss. You may also need to check local laws that may be applicable to subleases. If it is allowable, you might try a site like Flip, where renters can post leases they need to break in search of qualified renters who are looking for someplace to live.

Don’t just walk out

The one thing you absolutely cannot do without legal ramifications is just walk out and stop paying your rent. You won’t be trading your apartment for a cell with bars (it’s a civil, not criminal, matter), but Reiss warns you can get in a lot of financial hot water if you handle this incorrectly.

“You cannot be arrested for nonpayment of rent—unless you live in 19th-century London—but you can be sued in court; have a judgment against you; have your wages garnished; and [have] liens placed on your property to satisfy the judgment,” says Reiss.

Did we mention that this will mess up your credit scores? It will mess up your credit scores.

That said, there are a couple of cases where you could break your lease without consequences, but they are extenuating circumstances.

“If the apartment becomes unlivable—for instance, no heat in the winter—you could argue that you have been constructively evicted from the unit,” says Reiss. “Also, some states allow domestic violence survivors to break a lease in order to ensure their safety.”

Millennial Homeowners Following ‘Rents

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TheStreet.com quoted me in Potential Homeowners Follow in Footsteps of Parents. It opens,

Consumers tend to follow the strategies of their parents when they are faced with whether they should stick with renting or buying their first home.

Potential homeowners, including both Gen X-ers and Millennials, are influenced by the decisions made by their parents. As homeownership rates in the U.S. have fallen to a 51-year low, one reason Gen Y-ers tend to skip homeownership is due to the choice made by their parents while others are faced with mounting student loans and higher costs to purchase a house.

Consumers are nearly three times as likely to purchase a house if their parents were homeowners compared to parents who rented, said Felipe Chacon, a housing data analyst at Trulia, a San Francisco-based real estate website, which analyzed over four decades of data from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

 “What the analysis in the report suggests is that people who grew up in rented homes are less likely to own their own home, even after you exclude those who have gotten financial help from their folks or their spouse’s folks,” he said.
As Millennials are heading toward their 30s, the impact of their childhood is taking effect as ones which grew up in homes the parents owned were 2.8 times more likely to seek the same goal, the researchers found. The trend of home ownership has declined among Millennials and part of the reason could be that people who are 19 to 34 years are less likely to have been raised in homes where their parents owned the homes compared to Gen X-ers or those who are 35 to 45 years old.
“It could simply be an issue of values, where those from owned homes make homeownership a more urgent priority and strive to reach it sooner simply because it is familiar and comfortable to them,” Chacon said.
Consumers are probably more likely to buy a house if their extended family can explain how the process works and what criteria should be prioritized from improving their credit score to saving for a down payment.
“It probably helps to have parents and relatives around who can help you navigate the system as a first time homebuyer,” he said. “Since Millennials, especially younger ones seem to be slightly less likely to be raised in owned homes, there could be a long term cooling effect on the ownership rate among this group.”
The attitude of Americans owning their homes and pursuing the traditional “American Dream” has remained pretty steady over the past five years. In fact, more Millennials are eager to purchase a home and 80% expressed this sentiment in 2015 compared to 71% in 2010, according to a Trulia survey. The overall population mirrors this belief with 75 % who agree in 2015 from 72% in 2010.
One of the hurdles to homeownership is accruing enough money for the down payment. Millennials who grew up with parents who owned a home received more help financially with 11.4% who were given money compared with 2.6% of those who grew up in mostly rented homes.
“The American homeownership rate carries a lot of political and social significance with it and for many, it is seen as a marker of the health of American society,” said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York. “The significant dip in the homeownership rate that has occurred since the financial crisis has shaken the confidence of many that the nation’s households are on solid footing.”