Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Rise of the Single-Person Household

by George Masnick
Senior Research Fellow
Perhaps nothing speaks greater volume about changes in modern American life than the rise of the single-person household. A recent paper authored by Census Bureau researchers shows that a hundred years ago, fewer than six percent of all households consisted of people who lived alone. By 1940, that share had only inched upward to 7.8 percent. By 2013, at 28 percent of all households, it is now the second most common household type just behind married couples without minor children (29 percent), and well ahead of marrieds with minor children in the household (19 percent). In the 19th and early 20th centuries, single-person households consisted mostly of men, but the greatest gains in living alone during the past 50 years have been among women. Today, women head 54 percent of all single-person households. In the past, when living alone might have been a short-term condition, for many it is now a long-term situation, the result of a number of broad demographic and economic forces at work over the past half century: greater affluence, longer lives, later ages of marriage, higher divorce, smaller family sizes, greater labor force participation and financial independence of women, and stronger government safety nets across a wide spectrum of social programs.

In parts of the country the share living alone is much higher than the national average. In many counties in the nation’s mid-section, where outmigration of young adults have led to older populations, between 30 and 40 percent of all households are single person. In large cities, single person occupancy can account for 45 percent of all households. A Pew Research Center study of single-person households reports that in some neighborhoods in Manhattan and DC, the share of single-person households approaches two thirds. 

According to the 2013 American Housing Survey, single-person households are spread across all ages. About 28 percent of all single person households are under the age of 45, another 36 percent between the ages of 45 and 64, and 36 percent are over the age of 65. Among the elderly, the older the household head, the higher the percentage that live alone. Fully 43 percent of households headed by those over the age of 65 are single-person, with 65-69 year old heads having 34 percent, 70-74 year olds at 37 percent, and 75+ registering 52 percent. Aging baby boomers will drive the share of over-65 year olds living in single-person households even higher over the next two decades. 

As recently as 1940, 61 percent of single-person households consisted of renters, but today owners are in the majority, with the 2013 American Housing Survey reporting that 54 percent of single person households were owner-occupied. Between 2003 and 2013, owners accounted for 55 percent of the growth in single person households. Among single-person households under the age of 45, two thirds are renters, but among single-person households over the age of 65, owners are a strong 70 percent majority (Figure 1).



Source: Joint Center tabulation of 2013 American Housing Survey

Single-person owners and renters are markedly different in terms of the type of housing they occupy. Fully three quarters of single-person renters live in multi-family housing, but among single-person owners almost three quarters live in single-family detached units, and another 8 percent in single-family attached structures. Single-person owners also live in larger units, with 63 percent in homes with 3+ bedrooms. This compares to only 12 percent of single-person renters living in large units (Figure 2).

Source: Joint Center tabulation of 2013 American Housing Survey

The reason that more single-person owners live in larger units compared to single-person renters is that many widows and divorcees remain in their homes after life-course events have left them living alone. Almost three-quarters of single-person owners have been in their homes for 10 or more years, including 40 percent who have been there for 20 or more. This compares to only 16 percent of single-person renters having lived in their homes for 10 or more years. Among single-person owners over the age of 65, 59 percent have been in their home for 20 or more years and another 21 percent for 10-19 years. 

Of course, not all single-person owners have lived alone the entire time in the home they now occupy. While for many, living alone might be a relatively recent event; for others it has become a long-term situation. When becoming single in late middle-age, such as when adult children of divorcees leave home, or when a spouse dies at a relatively young age, staying put has many advantages - including a neighborhood support network, familiar routines, and an overwhelming need for some stability in at least this one dimension of a life that has been turned upside down. But for many, the longer one lives alone and the older one gets, the more difficult it becomes to make a housing adjustment that might make sense across a wide spectrum of criteria.

Because young and middle-aged adults who live alone are more likely to be renters and to have lived in their homes for shorter periods of time, they are most likely to have chosen a house or apartment that best meets their current needs - in location, tenure, size, and cost.  This could also be said of elderly renters who are more mobile than elderly owners.  Elderly owners, however, who have lived in their homes for many years, are more likely to be living in places that were more suitable to when they were married or had young children. A recent Joint Center report highlights housing issues faced by many older adults as they age in place, including housing cost burdens and a lack of accessibility features in homes that are increasingly important as they faces health and mobility issues. While that report did not focus on older single-person households in particular, many of the concerns that were raised for all elderly are magnified for this group as they lack a partner or companion who can help both financially and physically.

In general, housing markets in this country respond fairly quickly to changes in demand. The upturn in multi-family construction following the Great Recession is a case in point.  However, one area where housing markets have been slow to respond is to fill the demand for smaller, affordable single-family owned units that are geared to the older homeowner in communities where the elderly now live. Land cost and availability, regulatory constraints, high property tax rates, proximity to shopping and services, and difficulties accessing public transportation are all obstacles to building such housing where many elderly now live and wish to continue to live. Unless these obstacles can be overcome, aging in place will continue to increase the number of elderly who live alone in homes that are too large and costly to maintain, requiring being able to drive to shop and get to necessary services, and perhaps unsafe and difficult to navigate when health and mobility begins to deteriorate.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Record of Steady Progress: Gov. Patrick and Predecessors Should Be Proud of Chapter 40B Contributions

by Rachel Bratt
Senior Research Fellow
Last December, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development released the latest figures on the percentage of affordable housing in each of the state’s 351 cities and towns. The numbers are encouraging.

In 1969, the Massachusetts legislature enacted the Comprehensive Permit Act, which mandates that 10 percent of each localities’ year-round housing stock be affordable to residents earning 80 percent or less of the area’s median income. While controversial in Massachusetts, across the country Chapter 40B is viewed as one of the premier state-level responses to addressing the problem known as “exclusionary zoning” – local zoning that, whether by intent or design, has an exclusionary impact, by severely limiting or excluding zoning for multifamily housing and/or the ability to build homes on small lots.

Chapter 40B has stood the test of time and has stimulated the construction or rehabilitation of over 60,000 affordable units, more than two-thirds of them rental housing. In 2010, Massachusetts voters reconfirmed their support for the statute. And for good reason; the law works.

Although progress has been slow, each decade, we observe more and more municipalities attaining the 10 percent goal and many others making significant progress. In 1972, shortly after Chapter 40B was enacted, only four municipalities had attained the 10 percent goal and only two more were close. By 1983, there was a six-fold increase in municipalities with at least 10 percent of their housing qualifying as affordable. Flash forward 40 years to the present, and 48 municipalities have now reached the 10 percent goal and another 39 are close – at 8 percent or better. This means that one-quarter of Massachusetts cities and towns are at or near the state-mandated 10 percent affordable housing goal. And, in terms of municipalities that are halfway or better toward meeting the 10 percent goal, one-half of the state’s 351 cities and towns have crossed that threshold. Contrast this with 1972, 1983, 1993 and 2001, when the 50 percent or better figures were 5 percent, 26 percent, 30 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

Both Republican and Democratic administrations deserve credit for the good news about Chapter 40B. With the end of Governor Deval Patrick’s term, and with him, his appointees at the Department of Housing and Community Development, it is timely to offer a special word of thanks for the leadership and guidance provided by former Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein. Since Gornstein assumed the position just three years ago, the state supported affordable housing through increased funding for both new development and preservation of existing affordable housing, expansion of state rental assistance, revitalization of state public housing, and the development of supportive housing for our most vulnerable populations.

Despite the continuing progress being made through Chapter 40B, there is still lots to be done to promote the state’s affordable housing agenda. In wishing Governor Charlie Baker well, I urge him, along with his excellent new Housing Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay, to continue to focus on a range of serious issues: the need for long-term housing for the homeless population that simply needs a decent, affordable place to live; continued improvements to the state public housing stock; and working with municipalities and community-based organizations to promote comprehensive neighborhood revitalization.

Although residents of Massachusetts should be rightfully proud of our more than 30-year old “right to shelter” statute, we are far from achieving the U.S. housing goal first articulated in 1949, which is to provide “a decent home and suitable living environment” for all. To make further inroads on the enormously sad and embarrassing reality of housing problems facing lower income people, many veterans, elderly, and even middle income households, as well as people with various disabilities, there needs to be a serious dialogue about the importance of housing to the stability and well-being of families and to the health of the economy. While we have the capacity to produce great housing by nonprofit, for-profit, and public entities, still lacking is a national consensus and political will to make decent, affordable housing the cornerstone of a new domestic agenda.

This post originally appeared as an op-ed in Banker & Tradesman, and is reprinted with their permission.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Most Inadequate Condition Manufactured Homes Were Built After the Introduction of Federal Building Code

by Matthew Furman
Gramlich Fellow
Since 2000, nonprofits and government entities have increasingly sought to diminish negative perceptions associated with manufactured housing by sponsoring programs that replace substandard mobile homes with state-of-the-art, energy efficient units. As national organizations, such as the Corporation for Enterprise Development and NeighborWorks America, consider scaling up these programs, it is important for housing professionals to ask: what has worked and what has not in this policy space?

As a 2014 Edward M. Gramlich Fellow in Economic and Community Development at the Joint Center for Housing Studies, I had the opportunity to explore one aspect of this question: whether or not nonprofits should focus on replacing manufactured housing built before the introduction of federal building standards in 1976. Some replacement programs exclusively target manufactured housing built prior to the advent of the national building code for manufactured housing (“the HUD Code”) under the rationale that pre-HUD code units are in the worst condition.

The 2011 American Housing Survey (AHS) suggests, however, that units built prior to the introduction of this code in 1976 are not the most likely ones in the manufactured housing stock to be inadequate. In fact, while 10.6 percent of units built between 1970 and 1975 are in inadequate condition, the figure is 10.8 percent of those built between 1985 and 1990. More manufactured homes that are now in inadequate condition were built after the HUD code but prior to the code’s 1994 update (approximately 280,000 homes) than were built prior to the HUD code (144,000 homes).

Source: American Housing Survey, 2011

As shown in Figure 2, pre-1975 units do not demonstrate significantly higher levels of physical inadequacy than 1975-1995 units across a range of features. There are several plausible explanations for this phenomenon. First, the construction standards enacted after the HUD code might not have ushered in an epochal shift. Substandard materials continued to be used in construction into the 1980s; problems with unit installation on sites and enforcement of building standards can undermine the effectiveness of the HUD code. Second, the worst conditioned manufactured homes built prior to the 1976 code might have already fallen out of the market. The units that remain are those that have benefited from weatherization or maintenance.


Source: American Housing Survey, 2011

Roughly 10 percent of manufactured homes, which is approximately the percentage of units in inadequate condition for homes built from 1965-1990, may also represent a natural level of inadequacy for manufactured housing after twenty years in use. Figure 3 compares 2011’s stock of inadequate manufactured housing by year built with the inadequate stock from 2001. A relatively small uptick in the percentage in inadequate condition is evident among units older than twenty-five years. Particularly striking is the sharp decline during the 2000s in the number of inadequate units from 1960-1975: these units are leaving the housing stock. Meanwhile, the number of units from the 1980s in inadequate condition has risen sharply. What policymakers must consider is whether post-HUD code units built in the 1980s will soon leave the market at the same rate as 1960-1970s pre-HUD code units did during the 2000s. At present, the large number of inadequate condition units that were built after the HUD code suggests that the administrators of programs that aim to replace substandard housing should not limit eligibility to pre-HUD code units, which is a common practice. Instead, all inadequate manufactured units, regardless of the period in which they were built, should be eligible for replacement.


Source: American Housing Survey, 2001 and 2011

Read more in Matthew's Gramlich fellowship paper, Eradicating Substandard Manufactured Homes: Replacement Programs as a Strategy

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: The Case of Housing

by Quinton Mayne
Harvard Kennedy School
This post kicks off a month-long series that our colleagues at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation are doing on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions.

Over the past two years, the Ash Center has welcomed leading experts from across the country to debate the structural weaknesses preventing the United States from achieving its democratic potential. Democracy demands an equal right of participation; but as the Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series has shown, the formal design and practical workings of America’s political institutions are preventing the full realization of participatory equality. Some of the key challenges covered in our series to date include the erosion of voting rights and access, the decline of social movements, and the integration of immigrants into political life.

In addition to metrics of participation related to voice and input, democracy can also be judged by its outputs. When public officials produce policies responsive to the needs and demands of citizens, democracy would appear to be in good health. But are elected politicians enacting laws and designing programs in line with popular preferences? Answering this question from the point of view of affordability, there is good reason to question the health of American democracy.

Long before the Great Recession struck in 2008, affordability posed a major problem for the American middle-class dream. The rising costs of health care and college education have made the headlines for many years now. Energy and gasoline prices also cycle in and out of the news, and in the past half-decade or so the cost of child care has grown in importance. The devastating effects of the recession on individuals and families across the nation, coupled with the organized groups and movements that emerged and strengthened in defense of those affected by the recession, brought a much-needed urgency to the issue of affordability.

Despite this heightened attention and the public policies and programs it has produced, democratically elected officials in city halls, state capitols, and the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. are struggling to systematically respond to the challenge of affordability.



Nowhere is the democratic challenge of affordability more obvious than in the case of housing. According to a 2014 report issued by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, 35 percent of U.S. households in 2012 were in housing that they could not afford. In other words, just over one in every three American households was paying in excess of 30 percent of their income in housing alone. If we break down this statistic and look just at renters, more than 50 percent are cost-burdened. The picture becomes even more alarming when we train our gaze on Americans with lower levels of income. Among households with annual incomes of less than $15,000 – which roughly equates to working year-round at the federal minimum wage – more than four out of every fifth household spent 30 percent or more of its income on housing, and almost 70 percent spent more than half their income on housing.

These are shocking statistics. They are also politically troubling ones because they suggest that large numbers of Americans with pressing need are being underserved by the democratic process. Governments across the U.S. may not be able to eradicate housing unaffordability, but they certainly have the tools and means to reduce it greatly below current levels. That they have not been able to do so to date poses a major democratic challenge, and one that we will be looking at in this series of seven posts on the Challenges to Democracy blog.

Over the next month we will be publishing commentaries and thought pieces from authors that we have invited to examine the issue of housing affordability principally through the lens of local government. As a complex issue shaped by a variety of social and economic forces, the problem of affordable housing cannot be addressed by cities alone. State and federal policy is also fundamentally important. That being said, many cities have fiscal and legislative resources at their disposal that can be used to improve the current situation.

Some of these municipal resources can increase residents’ access to affordable housing through indirect means. This includes investments in public transit and the regulation of local labor markets. Other resources are more direct: cities can increase the supply of affordable housing through financial support and direction provision. Crucially, cities also enjoy far-reaching land-use and zoning powers that can profoundly affect Americans’ access to affordable housing. In the blog series we will be looking at how and why city governments are succeeding and failing in using their resources and powers to tackle the widespread burden of housing costs.

The opening blog posts focus on the problem at hand. In the first post, Adam Tanaka, a doctoral student in urban planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, interviews officials overseeing a newly created innovation lab that aims to tackle the problem of housing affordability in the City of Boston in the coming years. The second post by Margaret Scott, a Master in Urban Planning candidate at the Graduate School of Design, considers how housing affordability has been suburbanized in recent years and the difficulties that this new geography poses for those hoping for government action.

The next two blogs focus squarely on the real demands that responding to the challenge of housing affordability places on politicians and the public sector. Given the magnitude of the problem, achieving an adequate supply of affordable housing requires local politicians with bold visions for the future who are able to build and manage broad coalitions of economic and social actors. The third post, also from Adam Tanaka, addresses this question of the pressing need for coalition building and governmental ambition by considering the affordable housing plans recently announced by Mayor de Blasio of New York City. As in many other advanced industrial democracies, public housing authorities have long served as important vehicles for local governments in the U.S. to meet affordable housing need. In our fourth post, Margaret Scott reflects on whether public housing could hold the key to unlocking supply to address the current housing affordability challenge.

The final posts turn to the role that grassroots activism plays in alleviating the burden of unaffordable housing. Focused on a non-profit that has operated in Boston for four decades, our fifth post by Adam Tanaka looks at the power of community organizations not only to place demands on elected politicians to get more affordable housing but also to serve as partners with the public sector to plan and deliver affordable housing. Our final post is by two documentary filmmakers, Andrew Padilla and King Williams, who were featured speakers in our November 2014 panel discussion, The Politics of Displacement in the American City. In their post, Padilla and Williams reflect on the role that they and other filmmakers have played in raising awareness of the problem of housing affordability and galvanizing support in favor of more effective government action.

As the blog series will show, the challenge of generating an adequate stock of affordable housing in the United States does not appear to be wanting for policy prescriptions or technical solutions. The problem instead appears to lie at the feet of elected politicians. That so many Americans are today burdened by the cost of housing (as well as the cost of child care, health care, and college education) is attributable to policy choices made by governments over many years. This is not to downplay the difficulty of tackling the problem of affordability either in the past or the present. As our blog posts confirm, the task at hand is a demanding one: elected officials must attend to a complex and changing constellation of forces and actors, and they cannot act alone. That being said, the challenge of responding to the clear and present need for affordability remains fundamentally a democratic one.

Read more posts in the Challenges to Democracy series.

Quinton Mayne is Assistant Professor of Public Policy in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a member of the Joint Center for Housing Studies Faculty Committee. His research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of comparative and urban politics.

Monday, April 20, 2015

VIDEO: An Interactive Conversation about the Role of Designers in Promoting Racial Justice in our Communities

by Jennifer Molinsky
Senior Research Associate
Earlier this month, the Joint Center for Housing Studies, together with the Loeb Fellowship and African American Student Union at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), hosted InFORMing Justice, an interactive conversation about designers’ roles in promoting racial justice in our communities. The event evolved in the wake of national discussions about the deaths of black men in Ferguson, Staten Island, South Carolina, and elsewhere, as a way for GSD students and the broader community to discuss how design and designers can promote community empowerment and ultimately justice (and its requisite parts, including equal access to safe, healthy neighborhoods and economic opportunities). 

In the opening panel, moderated by Professor Michael Hays, architects Kimberly Dowdell, Theresa HwangLiz Ogbu, and artist Seitu Jones touched on the intensely personal nature of their professional work in disadvantaged, racially segregated communities. They urged architects, designers, and planners to reflect on their own biases and assumptions as they work to build what Jones called “the beloved community;” the importance of active, intentional listening in engaging with community residents; the critical role of the design process in bringing about change; and the value of working collaboratively across disciplines. 

Following the panel, participants broke into small groups to brainstorm ideas about how design professionals can address racial injustice in the university curriculum and in practice. 

If you missed the event, you can now watch the webcast, view our Storify of tweets & images from the evening, or read more about design for equity, including contributions from panelists Liz Ogbu and Theresa Hwang.