Millennials and Luxury Housing

 

photo by Jeremy Levine

The Phoenix Business Journal quoted me in Avilla Homes Finds Millennial Niche in Luxury Rental Market (behind a paywall). It opens, 

As home ownership rates declined in the past decade, more and more people have opted to rent homes. This provided a niche market for young professionals: luxury rental home communities.
Arizona-based NexMetro Communities has developed Avilla Homes, which COO Josh Hartmann calls a “hybrid between single-family living and apartment living,” with communities in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, as well as recent expansion into Denver and Dallas suburbs.
Hartmann said the draw of Avilla Homes is it is a unique hybrid: providing the feel of living in your own house without the responsibilities of being a homeowner. It incorporates some aspects of apartment living, such as on-call maintenance, but focuses on the draw of living in a single-family home, such as four-walled individual units with one’s own yard space.
“I think (owning a home) is less of a draw for investment’s sakes and if you take that away, owning a home is a lot of work,” Hartmann said. “You have to be constantly fixing things. What the real draw of our product is that you don’t have to worry about all those things but you still get to live in a home.”
When the project first began in Tucson in 2011, the board of directors thought its main consumer would be people who lost their homes in the recession and were looking to rent. But the project ended up being a success with an unexpected demographic-the millennials.
Hartmann attributes millennials’ attitude toward homeownership and how they spend their money as a factor in the communities’ success. He estimates that about 65 percent of Avilla Homes’ customers are early in their career, between the ages of 25 and 34.
“I just think what they want to spend the dollars they make on is different than what my generation or the generation before me did,” Hartmann said.
David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School says lifestyle changes coupled with the recession caused many people to turn to renting. The nation’s home ownership was down to 63.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015 from about 69 percent in 2004, according to census data.
“Another piece of it is kind of long term trends: Household formation, student loans that millennials have, another thing is income and job security,” said Reiss. ” A lot of things people have in place before they want to be a homeowner are not in many households.”

New Housing and Displacement

Lsanburn

The Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley has issued a research brief, Housing Production, Filtering and Displacement: Untangling the Relationships. It opens,

Debate over the relative importance of subsidized and market-rate housing production in alleviating the current housing crisis continues to preoccupy policymakers, developers, and advocates. This research brief adds to the discussion by providing a nuanced analysis of the relationship between housing production, affordability, and displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area, finding that:

• At the regional level, both market-rate and subsidized housing reduce displacement pressures, but subsidized housing has over double the impact of market-rate units.

• Market-rate production is associated with higher housing cost burden for low-income households, but lower median rents in subsequent decades.

• At the local, block group level in San Francisco, neither market-rate nor subsidized housing production has the protective power they do at the regional scale, likely due to the extreme mismatch between demand and supply.

Although more detailed analysis is needed to clarify the complex relationship between development, affordability, and displacement at the local scale, this research implies the importance of not only increasing production of subsidized and market-rate housing in California’s coastal communities, but also investing in the preservation of housing affordability and stabilizing vulnerable communities. (1)

This brief takes on an important subject — the relationship between new housing and displacement — and concludes,

There is no denying the desperate need for housing in California’s coastal communities and similar housing markets around the U.S. Yet, while places like the Bay Area are suffering from ballooning housing prices that are affecting people at all income levels, the development of market-rate housing may not be the most effective tool to prevent the displacement of low-income residents from their neighborhoods, nor to increase affordability at the neighborhood scale.

Through our analysis, we found that both market-rate and subsidized housing development can reduce displacement pressures, but subsidized housing is twice as effective as market-rate development at the regional level. It is unclear, however, if subsidized housing production can have a protective effect on the neighborhood even for those not fortunate enough to live in the subsidized units themselves.

By looking at data from the region and drilling down to local case studies, we also see that the housing market dynamics and their impact on displacement operate differently at these different scales. Further research and more detailed data would be needed to better understand the mechanisms via which housing production affects neighborhood affordability and displacement pressures. We know that other neighborhood amenities such as parks, schools, and transit have a significant impact on housing demand and neighborhood change and it will take additional research to better untangle the various processes at the local level.

In overheated markets like San Francisco, addressing the displacement crisis will require aggressive preservation strategies in addition to the development of subsidized and market-rate housing, as building alone won’t protect specific vulnerable neighborhoods and households. This does not mean that we should not continue and even accelerate building. However, to help stabilize existing communities we need to look beyond housing development alone to strategies that protect tenants and help them stay in their homes. (10-11, footnote omitted)

The brief struggles with a paradox of housing — how come rents keep going up in neighborhoods with lots of new construction? The answer appears to be that the broad regional demand for housing in a market like the Bay Area or New York City overwhelms the local increase in housing supply. The new housing, then, just acts like a signal of gentrification in the neighborhoods in which it is located.

If I were to criticize this brief, I would say that it muddies the waters a bit as to what we need in hot markets like SF and NYC: first and foremost, far more housing units. In the absence of a major increase in supply, there will be intense market pressure to increase rents or convert units to condominiums. Local governments will have a really hard time overcoming that pressure and may just watch as area median income rises along with rents. New housing may not resolve the problem of large-scale displacement, but it will be hard to address displacement without it. Preservation policies should be pursued as well, but the only long-term solution is a lot more housing.

I would also say that the brief elides over the cost of building subsidized housing when it argues that subsidized housing has twice the impact of market-rate units on displacement. The question remains — at what cost? Subsidized housing is extremely expensive, often costing six figures per unit for new housing construction. The brief does not tackle the question of how many government dollars are needed to stop the displacement of one low-income household.

My bottom line: this brief begins to untangle the relationship between housing production and displacement, but there is more work to be done on this topic.

The Single-Family Rental Revolution Continues

single-family-home-1026378_1280

The Kroll Bond Rating Agency has released its Single-Borrower SFR: Comprehensive Surveillance Report:

Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA) recently completed a comprehensive surveillance review of its rated universe of 23 single-borrower, single-family rental (SFR) securitizations. In connection with these transactions, 132 ratings are outstanding, all of which have been affirmed. The transactions have an aggregate outstanding principal balance of $13.0 billion, of which $12.6 billion is rated. These transactions have been issued by six sponsors, which own approximately 159,700 properties, 90,649 of which are included in the securitizations that are covered in this report. (3)

This business model took off during the depths of the Great Recession when capital-rich companies were able to buy up single-family homes on the cheap and in bulk. While the Kroll report is geared toward the interests of investors, it contains much of interest for those interested in housing policy more generally. I found two highlights to be particularly interesting:

  • The 90,649 properties underlying the subject transactions have, on average, appreciated in value by 10.2% since the issuance dates of the respective transactions . . . (4)
  • The underlying collateral has exhibited positive operating performance with the exception of expenses. Contractual rental rates have continued to increase, vacancy rates declined (but remain above issuance levels), tenant retention rates have remained relatively stable, and delinquency rates have remained low. (Id.)

KBRA’s overall sector outlook for deal performance is

positive given current rental rates, which have risen since institutional investors entered the SFR space, although the rate of increase has slowed. Future demand for single-family rental housing will be driven by the affordability of rents relative to home ownership costs as well as the availability of mortgage financing. In addition, homeownership rates are expected to continue to decline due to changing demographics. Recent data released by the Urban Institute shows the percentage of renters as a share of all households growing from 35% as of the 2010 US Decennial Census to 37% in 2020 and increasing to 39% by 2030. Furthermore, 59% of new household formations are expected to be renters. Against this backdrop, KBRA believes single-borrower SFR securitizations have limited term default risk. However, there has been limited seasoning across the sector, and no refinancing has occurred to date. As such, these transactions remain more exposed to refinance risk. (9)

Kroll concludes that things look good for players in this sector. It does seem that large companies have figured out how to make money notwithstanding the higher operating costs for single-family rentals compared to geographically concentrated multifamily units.

I am not sure what this all means for households themselves. Given long-term homeownership trends, it may very well be good for households to have another rental option out there, one that makes new housing stock available to them. Or it might mean that households will face more competition when shopping for a home. Both things are probably true, although not necessarily both for any particular household.

Preserving Affordable Housing

photo by Rgkleit

Alexander von Hoffman of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies has posted an interesting working paper, To Preserve Affordable Housing in the United States. It opens,

Most Americans who have any idea about low-income housing policy in the United States think of it as composed of programs that either build and manage residences – such as public housing – or help pay the rent – such as rental vouchers. Few people realize that much, perhaps most, of the government’s effort to house poor families and individuals is now devoted to supporting privately owned buildings that, courtesy of government subsidies, already provide low-income housing. Similarly, few know of the national movement to prevent these rental homes from being converted to market-rate housing or demolished and to keep them affordable and available to low-income households.

The problem of “preservation of affordable housing” generally refers to privately owned but government-subsidized dwellings developed under a particular set of federal subsidy programs. Although the first of these programs was enacted in 1959, their heyday – when they produced the bulk of government-subsidized low-income housing – lasted from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s. Before these programs were adopted, the government’s chief low-income housing program had been public housing, in which government agencies funded, developed, owned, leased, and managed apartments for people of limited incomes on a permanent basis.

Starting about 1960, however, the government shifted to a new policy in which it provided subsidies limited to a specific length of time to private developers of low-income rental housing. These private developers could be nonprofit organizations or for-profit companies operating through entities that earned limited dividends. In the low-income rental programs of the 1960s the government subsidized the rents of poor tenants by providing low-interest mortgage loans (through mortgage insurance and/or direct payments) to the projects’ developers. In 1974, Congress added another program, Section 8, in which the government signed a contract to pay a portion of the tenants’ rents for up to twenty years, which was as long as the mortgage subsidies had been.

After the low-income rental projects were completed, a number of circumstances threatened to displace the projects’ low-income occupants from their homes. In the early years especially, some owners faced financial difficulties, including foreclosures. Starting in the boom years of the 1980s, others desired to pay back their subsidized mortgages early (or “prepay”) to rent or sell the apartments at lucrative market rates. And eventually all owners reached the end of the time limit of their original subsidies. To keep low-income tenants in the subsidized apartments, housing advocates fought to keep the subsidized projects livable and within the means of poor people. The cause they rallied to was the “preservation of affordable housing.”

*    *    *

Since the late 1980s a wide array of interests – including for-profit owners and investors, non-profit developers and managers, and tenants – have organized their interest-group associations and entered into coalitions with one another to shape government policies. They have worked with sympathetic members of Congress and their aides to preserve the subsidized housing stock for low-income Americans. The road has been rough at times. The Reagan administration was indifferent at best to the issue. Legislation in 1987 and 1990 for all practical purposes banned prepayments, angering the owners’ representatives who opposed these laws. After prepayments were again allowed, advocates and owners joined together again to push for affordable housing preservation programs and procedures. The government programs that they attained in the 1990s became a major component of low-income housing policy in the United States.

Until relatively recently, the interest groups focused on shaping federal policy. They worked to pass – or repeal – national legislation and to influence program rules set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Although the federal government continues to be essential to housing policy, the growing political opposition to large federal spending programs has led advocates of affordable housing preservation to press state governments for financial support. (3-5)

This working paper clearly identifies the problems with “[p]oorly thought out programs” that “encouraged bad underwriting and long-term management” and how they played out in affordable housing projects that were not intended to provide for permanent affordability. (73) It also provides a good foundation for a discussion of where affordable housing policy should be heading now.

Homeowner Nation or Renter Nation?

Andreas Praefcke

Arthur Acolin, Laurie Goodman and Susan Wachter have posted a forthcoming Cityscape article to SSRN, A Renter or Homeowner Nation? The abstract reads,

This article performs an exercise in which we identify the potential impact of key drivers of home ownership rates on home ownership outcomes by 2050. We take no position on whether these key determinants in fact will come about. Rather we perform an exercise in which we test for their impact. We demonstrate the result of shifts in three key drivers for home ownership forecasts: demographics (projected from the census), credit conditions (reflected in the fast and slow scenarios), and rents and housing cost increases (based on California). Our base case average scenario forecasts a decrease in home ownership to 57.9 percent by 2050, but alternate simulations show that it is possible for the home ownership rate to decline from current levels of around 64 percent to around 50 percent by 2050, 20 percentage points less than at its peak in 2004. Projected declines in home ownership are about equally due to demographic shifts, continuation of recent credit conditions, and potential rent and house price increases over the long term. The current and post WW II normal of two out of three households owning may also be in our future: if credit conditions improve, if (as we move to a majority-minority nation) minorities’ economic endowments move toward replicating those of majority households, and if recent rent growth relative to income stabilizes.

This article performs a very helpful exercise to help understand the importance of the homeownership rate.  This article continues some of the earlier work of the authors (here, for instance). I had thought that that earlier paper should have given give more consideration to how we should think about the socially optimal homeownership rate. Clearly, a higher rate, like the all-time high of 69% that we had right before the financial crisis, is not always better. But just as clearly, the projected low of 50% seems way too low, given long term trends. But that leaves a lot of room in between.

This article presents a model which can help us think about the socially optimal rate instead of just bemoaning a drop from the all-time high. It states that

Equilibrium in the housing market is reached when the marginal household is indifferent between owning and renting, requiring the cost of obtaining housing services through either tenure to be equal. In addition, for households, the decision to own or rent is affected by household characteristics and, importantly, expected mobility, because moving and transaction costs are higher for owners than for renters.  Borrowing constraints also affect tenure outcomes if they delay or prevent access to homeownership. (4-5)

This short article does not answer all of the questions we have about the homeownership rate, but it does answer some of them. For those of us trying to understand how federal homeownership policy should be designed, it undertakes a very useful exercise indeed.

California Dreamin’ of Affordable Housing

Architecturist

Just A Dream for Many

Yesterday, I blogged about the affordable housing crisis in New York City. Today, I look at a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, How Housing Vouchers Can Help Address California’s Rental Crisis. It opens,

California’s severe shortage of affordable housing has hit low-income renters particularly hard. Nearly 1.6 million low-income California renter households paid more than half of their income for housing in 2013, and this number has risen 28 percent since 2007. While the shortage is most severe on California’s coast, many families throughout California struggle to pay the rent. A multifaceted approach with roles for local, state, and federal governments is needed to address the severe affordable housing shortage, but the federal Housing Choice Voucher program can play an outsized role.

California’s high housing costs stretch struggling families’ budgets, deepening poverty and hardship and exacerbating a host of other problems. For example, 23 percent of Californians are poor, according to Census measures that take housing costs into account, well above the poverty rate of 16 percent under the official poverty measure. California has 14 percent of the nation’s renter households but nearly 30 percent of the overcrowded renters. And California has one-fifth of the nation’s homeless people, more than any other state. A large body of research shows that poverty, overcrowding, housing instability, and homelessness can impair children’s health and development and undermine their chances of success in school and later in the workforce.

Housing vouchers help some 300,000 low-income California families afford the rent, more than all other state and federal rental assistance programs combined. Vouchers reduce poverty, homelessness, and housing instability. They can also help low-income families — particularly African American and Hispanic families — raise their children in safer, lower-poverty communities and avoid neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Moreover, so-called “project-based” vouchers can help finance the construction of affordable rental housing in areas with severe shortages.

Yet the number of vouchers in use has fallen in recent years, even as California’s housing affordability problems have worsened. Due to across-the-board federal budget cuts enacted in 2013 (called sequestration), 14,620 fewer California families used vouchers in December 2014 than in December 2012. By restoring funding for these vouchers, Congress can enable thousands more California families to afford safe, stable housing. (1, reference omitted)

Really, the analysis here is not California-specific. The authors are arguing that low-income families benefit greatly from rental subsidies and that Congress should restore funding for housing vouchers because they provide targeted, effective assistance to their users. While California has a high concentration of voucher users, all low-income renter households would benefit from an increase in the number of housing vouchers. No argument there.

I am disappointed that the report does not address an issue that I highlighted yesterday — attractive places like NYC and California continue to draw a range of people from global elites to low-income strivers. Policymakers cannot think of the affordable housing problems in such places as one that can be “fixed.” Rather, it must be seen as, to a large extent, a symptom of success.

So long as more and more people want to live in such places, housing costs will pose a challenge. Housing costs can be mitigated to some extent in hot destinations, but they are hard to solve. And if they are to be solved, those destinations must be willing to increase density to build enough units to house all the people who want to live there.

5 Signs You Probably Need an Accountant

Alan Cleaver

WiseBread quoted me in 5 Signs You Probably Need an Accountant. It reads, in part,

Do you dread filing your income taxes each year? Does preparing your taxes take weeks of your time? And once you’ve sent your papers to the IRS, do you have the sneaking suspicion that you might not have taken all the deductions to which you are entitled?

You might need to hire an accountant.

“Hiring an accountant depends on whether your knowledge, time, and money are best spent on bookkeeping, loan application, and tax preparation, or whether you have higher priorities,” says Valrie Chambers, associate professor of taxation and accounting at Stetson University in Celebration, Florida. “A business owner who excels at sales should probably use her time increasing sales rather than learning and doing accounting. That strategy is just more profitable for the business.”

Here are five signs that you need to hire an accountant.

*       *       *

4. You Own Rental Real Estate

Renting an apartment or two is a great way to earn passive income. But doing so can also complicate your finances. That’s why it makes sense to hire an accountant to make sure that you don’t miss any important tax deductions related to rental income, and that you file all the paperwork necessary when working as a landlord.

“There comes a point when personal tax software is not sophisticated enough to take into account the complexities of real estate investments,” says David Reiss, professor of law and research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School in New York City. “If a taxpayer has multiple properties that have both a personal and investment component, tax software may not be able to accept all of the relevant inputs and generate the correct output.”