Greg Kaplan et al. posted The Housing Boom and Bust: Model Meets Evidence to SSRN. The abstract reads,
We build a model of the U.S. economy with multiple aggregate shocks (income, housing ﬁnance conditions, and beliefs about future housing demand) that generate ﬂuctuations in equilibrium house prices. Through a series of counterfactual experiments, we study the housing boom and bust around the Great Recession and obtain three main results. First, we ﬁnd that the main driver of movements in house prices and rents was a shift in beliefs. Shifts in credit conditions do not move house prices but are important for the dynamics of home ownership, leverage, and foreclosures. The role of housing rental markets and long-term mortgages in alleviating credit constraints is central to these ﬁndings. Second, our model suggests that the boom-bust in house prices explains half of the corresponding swings in non-durable expenditures and that the transmission mechanism is a wealth eﬀect through household balance sheets. Third, we ﬁnd that a large-scale debt forgiveness program would have done little to temper the collapse of house prices and expenditures, but would have dramatically reduced foreclosures and induced a small, but persistent, increase in consumption during the recovery.
I think the last sentence is worth pondering a bit: “a large-scale debt forgiveness program would have done little to temper the collapse of house prices and expenditures, but would have dramatically reduced foreclosures and induced a small, but persistent, increase in consumption during the recovery.” During the Great Depression, the federal government took steps that relieved the debt burden of over a million households by extending the terms of their mortgages and lowering the interest rates on them.
While this was no panacea, it did let millions stay in their homes during a period of great financial stress. The steps taken to help struggling homeowners during the recent Great Recession were much more timid than those taken during the Great Depression. This paper adds to a body of literature that suggests we should not be so timid the next time we are hit by an economic tsunami.