Friday, May 12, 2017

Cincinnati Event Focuses on Lessons from the PRO Neighborhoods Initiative

by Matthew Arck
Associate Analyst
The challenges—and the unexpected benefits—of collaboration among community development financial institutions (CDFIs) were the subject of a recent gathering in Cincinnati that focused on the experiences of CDFIs that have received funding from the Partnerships for Raising Opportunities in Neighborhoods (PRO Neighborhoods) program, a five-year, $125 million competitive initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase.

Kicking off the event, Karen Keogh, Head of Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, welcomed civic and non-profit leaders, along with the directors of the award-winning CDFIs to a renovated union hall in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, commenting that the neighborhood, which many of the attendees had a personal hand in revitalizing, was “like Brooklyn, but cooler.” In her remarks, Keogh described JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic efforts, focused on workforce readiness, small business growth, consumer financial health, and supporting communities and neighborhoods. Part of this last area of focus, the PRO Neighborhoods initiative encourages CDFIs to take on specific community development challenges.

At the event, Alexander von Hoffman, a Joint Center Senior Research Fellow who is examining the initiative’s methods and achievements, and Colleen Briggs, Executive Director of Community Innovation at JPMorgan Chase, discussed findings of the Joint Center’s research on the work of the PRO Neighborhoods recipients. Dr. von Hoffman noted that, according to a Progress Report released last fall, the entities funded by the first seven PRO Neighborhood awards have made $240 million in loans and leveraged another $350 million in additional funding. This funding has helped create 2,400 jobs and produced or preserved 1,600 units of affordable housing. 

These efforts, von Hoffman said, spanned a wide array of programs, partnerships, and places. They ranged from groups like ROC USA, which took its model of helping the residents of manufactured houses purchase their mobile-home parks into new states, to collaborations between diverse programs in specific areas, such as PRO Oakland, which makes loans to small businesses, nonprofit groups, and low-income housing developers along International Boulevard and in downtown Oakland, California. Carrying out complex collaborations in diverse locales, von Hoffman explained, has taught the PRO Neighborhoods group leaders that to succeed they must be flexible, sensitive to markets, and communicate regularly with their partners.

L-R: Charlie Corrigan (Vice President, JPMorgan Chase) moderates as Joe Neri (CEO, IFF) and Jeanne Golliher (CEO, Cincinnati Development Fund) discuss lessons from their CDFI collaboration, the Midwest Nonprofit Lenders Alliance. 

Successful partnerships require strong relationships, added Jeanne Golliher and Joe Neri, the CEOs of Cincinnati Development Fund (CDF) and IFF, two CDFIs that were part of the Midwest Nonprofit Lenders Alliance (MNLA), one of seven entities funded in 2014 via a pilot program that became the PRO Neighborhoods initiative. They explained that MNLA, which is the subject of a recent Joint Center case study, brought together CDF’s local knowledge and IFF’s underwriting expertise to provide long-term facility loans to nonprofits in the Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, metro areas. (These included several projects in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.) Recounting the “courtship” that led to the CDF and IFF collaboration, Neri and Golliher described how clear communication and commitment to shared values and social goals turned “love at first sight” into a strong and fruitful “marriage.” Neri, for example, noted that Golliher’s passion for the people of Cincinnati ultimately led IFF to provide funding for a homeless shelter that was outside their organizations’ planned collaboration.

In formal and informal discussions at the event, leaders of other entities that have been funded by the PRO Neighborhoods program echoed Golliher and Neri’s remarks. Several participants noted that getting on the same page and hashing out details at the beginning of a collaboration can easily take a full year. This means that potential partners must be patient and probably should build “ramp-up” time into their plans. Extending the relationship metaphor that Neri and Golliher had used, several people also cautioned against “shotgun marriages” between CDFIs who come together only to secure funding from grants. While such partnerships may initially seem like a good idea, poorly thought out collaborations often end in heartbreak, they warned. On the other hand, some participants noted, well-thought out collaborations often go beyond their original scope and foster a sense of commonality and common purpose that led to better engagement with local officials and civic leaders. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fiduciary Landlords: Life Insurers and Large-Scale Housing in New York City

JCHS Meyer Fellow
For a brief window between the late 1930s and the late 1940s, life insurance companies built approximately 50,000 middle-income rental apartments across the United States. Most were racially-segregated, market-rate projects in semi-suburban locations. Others were central city redevelopment projects, built with the powers of eminent domain and offering below-market-rate rentals. Stuyvesant Town, an 8,755-unit apartment complex in New York City developed by Met Life, is perhaps the most famous of these projects (Figure 1) but there were many others, including Lake Meadows in Chicago (developed by New York Life), Hancock Village in Boston (developed by John Hancock Mutual Life), and the Chellis-Austin Homes in Newark (developed by Prudential).

As corporate entities with access to vast institutional funds, insurers achieved considerable economies of scale in construction, financing, and operation, and accepted longer, lower yields than conventional real estate developers. As such, policymakers hoped that life insurers and other fiduciary institutions, such as savings banks, would play a key role in building and operating large-scale, low-cost urban housing and in modernizing the postwar city more generally. By the early 1950s, however, a combination of disappointing financial returns and bruising controversies over discriminatory leasing drove insurers from the housing field.

The 789-unit Hancock Village, which straddles the Boston-Brookline border, was built in 1946 by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company. Source: “Greater Boston Housing Development Charted,” Christian Science Monitor, 01/05/1946.

While the volume of life insurance housing soon paled in the face of the postwar suburban boom — built for much the same demographic and often financed by life insurance dollars — insurers’ brief venture into multifamily development represents a significant and understudied episode in the history of affordable housing. With Stuyvesant Town currently enjoying an unexpected renaissance as both high-class investment and public policy touchstone, the time is ripe for a reevaluation of the substantial, if controversial, legacy of life insurance housing.

In a new Joint Center working paper, I provide an overview of the “rise and fall” of life insurance housing in the postwar period, with a focus on New York City, where the majority of insurance-sponsored apartments were located. The paper is part of my larger dissertation project, which examines the political and economic forces that drove various entities — including life insurance companies, labor unions, public authorities, and for-profit developers — to build some of the world’s largest middle-income housing projects in New York in the mid 20th century, as well as the factors that abruptly terminated this “large-scale approach” in the mid-1970s.

In the paper, I argue that when it came to middle-income urban housing, the 1940s represented a moment of unusual convergence between corporate need and municipal interest. While incentives were aligned, thousands of relatively low-cost apartments were built in America’s most expensive housing markets. These apartments proved a panacea for white families who earned too much for public housing but not enough to purchase suburban homes. As soon as civic and corporate needs began to diverge, however, insurance capital moved beyond city limits to suburban jurisdictions offering higher returns with fewer political obstacles. In the context of today’s continued shortage of affordable housing — particularly for middle-income renters in high-cost cities like Boston and New York — the story can be read as both missed opportunity and cautionary tale.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Renovation Spending Continues to Grow, But More Slowly

by Abbe Will
Research Analyst
Strong gains in home remodeling and repair activity are expected to ease moving into next year, according to our latest Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) released today. The LIRA projects that annual growth in home improvement and repair expenditure this year will remain above its long-term trend of 5 percent, but will decline steadily from 7.3 percent in the first quarter to 6.1 percent by the first quarter of 2018.

Homeowners are continuing to spend more on improvements as house prices strengthen in most parts of the country. Yet, recent slowdowns in home sales activity and remodeling permitting suggests improvement spending gains will lose some steam over the course of the year.

The remodeling market is approaching a cyclical slowdown after several years of steady recovery. While the rate of growth is starting to trend down, national remodeling expenditures by homeowners are projected to reach almost $320 billion by early next year.

For more information about the LIRA, including how it is calculated, visit the JCHS website.

Monday, March 27, 2017

What Impact Do Changing Interest Rates Have on Mortgage Demand?

by Stephanie Lo
JCHS Meyer Fellow
Could the post-Great Recession drop in housing demand have been driven in part by an increase in mortgage credit spreads across borrowers? In a new Joint Center working paper that uses proprietary data on the spread of mortgage rates across borrowers with different credit, I find that mortgage demand does react to mortgage interest rates in economically and statistically significant ways. 

This finding is significant because little is known about the extent to which changes in interest rates affect the demand for mortgages. Measuring this effect is difficult because both interest rates and the demand for mortgages are driven by macroeconomic factors. For example, after the financial crisis in the late 2000s, interest rates fell as the Federal Reserve attempted to stimulate the economy, but the demand for mortgages also fell because individuals faced adverse macroeconomic conditions. A naive estimate would suggest that over this period, lower interest rates drove lower housing demand, which is clearly not correct.

My study uses Loan Level Price Adjustments (LLPAs) to address this issue.  Instituted by FHFA in November 2007, LLPAs are additional fees paid upfront by the lender to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The fees are higher for loans with higher loan-to-value ratios and borrowers with lower credit scores, and feature discrete cutoffs at certain credit scores, as measured at mortgage origination. Put simply, a borrower with a 700 credit score will face the same LLPA as a borrower with a 701 credit score, but will benefit from a discretely lower LLPA than a borrower with a 699 credit score.

Using administrative mortgage rate data, I find that LLPAs are completely passed through to borrowers, so while lenders receive the same mortgage rate across credit scores, borrowers just below a credit-score cutoff pay a higher mortgage rate than those just above that cutoff point (Figure 1). I further show that borrowers across these credit scores are virtually identical, and for high credit scores, lenders do not differentially screen across these cutoffs. This allows me to apply a regression-discontinuity design to examine how mortgage demand changes for borrowers just above and below several credit score cutoff points—660, 680, 700, and 720—where the interest rates offered to borrowers change. 

Notes: Rates are for conforming 30-year FRM. The numbers shown reflect the mean across the entire baseline sample for the exact FICO score shown, on the weekly level, from October 2008 to December 2014. Higher FICO scores tend to benefit from lower mortgage rates due to lower upfront payments induced by LLPAs. Source: Optimal Blue and Fannie Mae; Author’s calculations.

The results show that borrowers respond to changes in interest rates in economically and statistically significant ways (Figure 2). I estimate that a 25 basis point cut in interest rates results in a 50 percent increase in the likelihood of a potential borrower to demand a loan. In a given month, this increases the number of mortgage originations from about 100 per 100,000 individuals to 140 per 100,000 individuals. I also find that a 25 percent basis point cut in interest rates results in an increase in loan size of approximately $15,000, or about 10 percent of the average origination volume.

Notes: The mortgage rate series comes from the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Rates survey. Mortgage originations data is calculated as the total recorded origination amount for purchase mortgages by year, using the proprietary McDash LLC data.

These estimates help to explain the post-crisis drop in mortgage demand from low-income and low-credit borrowers. A back-of-the-envelope calculation using my estimates suggests that, had 680-719 FICO borrowers been subject to the same LLPA as 720 FICO borrowers, this group would have generated $15 billion more in mortgage demand over six years, which would have been a 33 percent increase in mortgage lending to this group alone. More generally, my estimates suggest that borrowers were very sensitive to mortgage rates after the crisis, implying that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to lower interest rates, which in turn lowered mortgage rates, may have been very effective in bolstering the housing market.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Boston Mayor Gives Annual Dunlop Lecture

by David Luberoff
Senior Associate Director
In a more two-decade career that began in the construction trades and now brings him into a host of debates about federal policies, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh says he’s “learned a lot about housing: how it gets built, the role it plays in working people’s lives, and the role it plays in community development.”

Walsh, who gave the Joint Center’s 17th Annual John T. Dunlop Lecture on March 20th before more than 300 people at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, hailed the fact that, in positions that included serving as dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and as U.S. Secretary of Labor, John Dunlop “spent his career bringing together academics, government officials, workers, and labor leaders to better understand our shared challenges.” Such collaboration, “is something we could use more of today,” noted Walsh, who added, “I’ve found that kind of dialogue and collaboration to be invaluable throughout my career,” particularly when it comes to housing.

Walsh, who emerged from a crowded field to win Boston’s mayoral race in 2013, said that upon taking office, “one of the first things I confronted was what more and more people were calling a housing crisis. Rents and home prices were rising beyond middle-class, working-class, and low-income people’s budgets.”  Addressing those challenges, he said, not only required setting and achieving ambitious goals, such as building more than 50,000 additional housing units by 2030, but also doing so in ways that go beyond “simply matching housing units to the population, or meeting market-driven demand.”

Rather, he said, “the challenge is to embrace our success as a city while retaining the core values that got us here. Those values center on inclusiveness, on opportunity, on social and economic diversity. We are a community that welcomes all and leaves no one behind. These aren’t just ideals. They are pragmatic needs.” The mayor, who also spoke about city initiatives to provide more housing, reduce homelessness, and address evictions, added that those efforts further highlight “the role of housing not just in community development but also in human development.”

Turning to current debates about the federal budget and other federal policies, Walsh said the Trump administration’s recent budget proposals and other federal initiatives are “an effort to end the system of federal partnerships that date to the New Deal and Great Society commitments of the 1930s [and] the 1960s.”  Left unchecked, he said, such policies would exacerbate the already significant problem of economic inequality in Boston.  Therefore, he added, he and other mayors are actively trying “to educate people on the impacts of inequality, and advocate for solutions” such as “health care; paid family leave and affordable daycare; strong labor laws and fair tax laws; financial regulation; [and] infrastructure investments.”

While these are daunting challenges, the mayor said, “I’m still counseling confidence” because the work the city has done and continues to do puts Boston “in a good position to respond to this moment. Even if the funding arrangements we’ve built seem threatened, the relationships we’ve built are strong. They will produce new solutions and new ideas. They will bring new partners to the table.”  Those partners, he concluded, hopefully will include the many graduate and undergraduate students who attended the lecture. “We are going to need you in the years ahead,” said the mayor.

Watch Mayor Marty Walsh deliver the 2017 Dunlop Lecture.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Remodeling Activity Projected to Grow in Most Metropolitan Areas

by Elizabeth La Jeunesse
Research Analyst
Spending on home improvements is expected to increase this year in 43 of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, according to our latest report about the home improvement industry, Demographic Change and the Remodeling Outlook. The report projects that, on average, home improvement spending in 2017 in these metro areas will be 6.8 percent higher than it was in 2016, slightly more than the projected 6.1 increase nationwide. 

However, as an interactive map released in conjunction with the report shows, the growth rates will vary widely. About a third of major metro areas are expected to see strong growth of 10 percent or more, while a similar number should see declines or slow growth of under 3 percent.

Some of the largest increases, in percentage terms, are expected to occur in several Midwestern metropolitan areas such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee, where there is a consistent demand for housing and prices are not as high as in other parts of the country.

Double-digit gains in home improvement expenditures are also expected in New England’s three largest metro areas—Boston, Hartford, and Providence—where home sales have been strong. While average per-owner spending in other metropolitan areas on the East Coast has been relatively high in recent years, total spending in several of those areas is expected to increase slowly in the next year. The report projects that spending will grow by less than one percent in New York, the nation’s largest metro area, and by less than four percent in the Washington, DC area.

Home improvement spending is also expected to pick up significantly in several fast-growing, Southern metropolitan areas where homebuilding activity has revived and more households are forming, such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Orlando. In contrast, spending will grow modestly or may even decline in Southern metro areas with oil-dependent economies such as Dallas, Houston, and Oklahoma City.

On the West Coast, the report projects a significant increase in spending on home improvements in the Sacramento metro area, where house prices recovered more slowly from the Great Recession than in other parts of the state. In contrast, spending is expected to increase only modestly or decline slightly in the Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose, where leading indicators suggest housing markets may be approaching their cyclical peaks. In metro areas across the Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions, growth rates are also expected to vary widely, from a low of just under 2 percent in the Las Vegas metro to a high of nearly 10 percent in the Salt Lake City area.

These projections are based on two measures of housing demand—single-family starts and growth in existing home sales—that are strong leading indicators of national remodeling activity. The results broadly support our expectation that home improvement expenditures in certain high-cost markets may soon reach a cyclical peak, while spending will increase in markets where house prices are lower but are increasing steadily.

The report also finds that the national market for home improvements is somewhat more concentrated in the nation’s 15 largest metropolitan areas, which account for about 29 percent of the nation’s homeowners. Illustratively, according to estimates from the 2015 American Housing Survey, average per-owner improvement spending in the same 15 metro areas was $3,500, or more than 30 percent greater than average spending by homeowners outside of these areas. As a result, aggregate spending by homeowners in the same 15 areas totaled over $80 billion, or nearly 37 percent of the total spending by all owners on home improvements nationally.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Continued Growth of Multigenerational Living

by Shannon Rieger
Research Assistant
A substantial number and share of older Americans are living in “multigenerational” households, according to our analysis of recently released 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) one-year population estimates. In total, 20.3 percent of all non-institutionalized adults aged 65 and over – about 9.4 million people – live in multigenerational households that include at least two generations of adults (individuals over the age of 25). The ACS data also show large differences in the prevalence and composition of multigenerational homes by age, race, and ethnicity.

The new data not only reflect the fact that there are a growing number of older Americans, but also that the share of older Americans living in multigenerational homes has been growing steadily since the 1980s. These trends are likely to continue as baby boomers age. Importantly, multigenerational living might allow some older Americans to enjoy a higher quality of life while aging in place, as an overwhelming majority of people want to do. At the same time, for some families of limited means, multigenerational living may be a financial necessity rather than a desirable living situation. Regardless of why they are choosing multigenerational living arrangements, providing families with education and support to suitably modify their homes could help these arrangements be as safe, effective, and beneficial as possible.

Who Lives in Multigenerational Homes?

About two-thirds of the 9.4 million older adults living in multigenerational homes live in households that have exactly two adult generations (usually parents and adult children aged 25 or older). The rest are in three-or-more-generation households that typically include grandparents, adult children, and grandchildren.

Trends in multigenerational living also change with age (Figure 1). The share of people living in multigenerational settings is highest for individuals in their late 20s (mostly due to adult children still living at home), then drops for those in their 30s as young adults move out and form their own households. The share rises again for people in their early 40s until peaking at about 23 percent for people in their late 50s. This “sandwich” age group includes people who are living with their adult children, those who are living with their aging parents, who often need daily support and care, and those living with both their children and aging parents.
Notes: Multigenerational households are those with least two adult generations aged 25 or older or that include grandchildren, adult children, and grandparents. Householders and parents are considered “adults” regardless of age. Other household members include extended family members (e.g. aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews) and unrelated individuals. Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates. 

Because adult children move out and elderly parents pass away, the share of people living in multigenerational households declines for people who are in their 60s and early 70s. However, the share rises steadily for older adults in their mid-70s, who often are starting to face more daunting health and financial challenges. Among the oldest age groups (aged 85 and over), 27 percent – about 1.5 million people – lived in multigenerational households in 2015.

In addition to differences in age, people of color and foreign-born individuals are far more likely to live in multigenerational settings than non-Hispanic whites and people born in the United States (Figure 2). More than 25 percent of native-born blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/others aged 65 and over live in multigenerational homes, as do more than 45 percent of foreign-born in all three of these groups. In contrast, 15 percent of native-born non-Hispanic whites of the same age, and just over 20 percent of foreign-born non-Hispanic whites, live in multigenerational households. 

Notes: Whites, blacks, and Asians/others are non-Hispanic. Hispanics may be of any race. Multigenerational households are those with least two adult generations aged 25 or older or that include grandchildren, adult children, and grandparents. Householders and parents are considered “adults” regardless of age.
Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates. 

A sizeable subset of these multigenerational homes include at least three generations: usually grandparents, adult children, and grandchildren living together under the same roof. Roughly ten percent of native-born blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/others aged 65 or over live in such households, along with around 25 percent of foreign-born older adults in each group. Among non-Hispanic whites, just under 4 percent of older native-born adults and 7 percent of the foreign-born live with three or more generations.

Looking forward, projected growth and demographic shifts in the older population seem likely to increase the number of multigenerational households and the share of people living in those households. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent population projections estimate that by 2035, about 79 million Americans will be age 65 or older, an increase of more than 30 million people in just two decades. This growth is due to the fact that the baby boom generation is getting older and because with increases in longevity more people will live well into their 80s, 90s, and beyond.  In fact, the Census Bureau projects the number of “oldest old” adults aged 85 and over to double over the next two decades.

The racial and ethnic composition of the older population will also shift markedly over the next several decades. The non-Hispanic white share of the 65-and-over population is projected to drop nearly ten percentage points to 69 percent by 2035, while the black, Hispanic, and Asian shares will rise, respectively, by 20 percent, 67 percent, and 39 percent (Figure 3). Census Bureau projections estimate that the foreign-born share of the 65 and over population will also continue to increase, growing from 13 percent in 2015 to 19 percent in 2035. Though the direction of future residential preferences among the older population is uncertain, the sheer magnitude of growth in the older population and the fact that much of the growth will be among the very old, people of color, and the foreign born suggests there will be substantial growth in multigenerational households in the coming years. 

Notes: Whites, blacks, and Asians/others are non-Hispanic. Hispanics may be of any race.   
Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, 2014 Population Projections. 

Impacts on Housing and Services

As this growth occurs, it will be important to consider how new and existing housing stock might be designed or modified to best meet the needs of multigenerational households. Universal design features including single-floor living, zero-step entrances, and hallways and doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, or strollers can make homes more accessible for older adults with mobility limitations as well as for their young grandchildren. Flexible layouts that can change as family needs evolve, as well as the addition of semi-private spaces for each generation (such as in-law suites with separate entrances, multiple master bedrooms or kitchens, and accessory dwelling units), can also help make the housing stock better suited for multigenerational households.

While multigenerational living works well for many households, it is important to note that it is not necessarily a desirable option for every family. Rather, multigenerational living may be a financial necessity rather than an attractive housing option not only for families with lower incomes but also for moderate-income families living in higher-cost areas. Further, sharing a home with multiple generations can be challenging, particularly if the house is small, has inadequate amenities, or there are unclear or unrealistic expectations about responsibilities for both finances and personal care. Finally, informal help from family members may not be an adequate replacement for professional care, particularly for aging adults with serious health conditions. Providing families with guidance about how to live successfully in multigenerational settings, and, perhaps, with financial assistance to make home upgrades and modifications, will therefore be critical if multigenerational living is going to be an appealing, comfortable option for families of all means. While designing and carrying out such policies and programs will be challenging, such efforts have the potential to provide a more appealing and cost-effective housing option for older Americans and their families.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Urbanization and Growth in India

by Sonali Mathur
Research Assistant
“Urbanization as a Growth Strategy for India” was the focus of a panel discussion on Saturday, February 6 at the India Conference at Harvard University, the largest student-run conference focusing on India held in the United States. (The Joint Center was one of the event’s co-sponsors.) As one of the most populous countries in the world, the policy decisions and investment choices that are made in India will have a resonance beyond its borders in terms of environmental impact and quality of life for one of the largest and fastest growing markets in the world. Panelists at the conference, who noted that India’s urban population is expected to grow significantly in coming decades, focused on a variety of topics including the role that urban areas can play in the country’s economy and the many challenges to achieving that goal.

Shirish Sankhe, Director of the Mumbai office of McKinsey & Co. opened by citing the 2010 McKinsey Global Institute report, India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth, which estimates that India’s working age population will grow by nearly 270 million people by 2030 (from about 800 million to over 1 billion). The growth will be urban, he said, noting that by 2030 at least 10 of India’s 29 states will be more than 50 percent urbanized.  (Currently, only two relatively small states are urbanized.) Moreover, McKinsey projects a five-fold increase in GDP.

Accommodating this growth will be a major challenge, he conceded, because 25 percent of the urban population of India lives in slums and the country only invests $17 per capita per year in infrastructure, about an eighth of what McKinsey estimated was needed. Illustratively, because the country has underinvested in transportation, the share of people using public transportation is estimated to have dropped in recent years from 50 percent to 30 percent. Moreover, there is a significant lack of public understanding about administrative practices and the role of various organizations involved in city and state governance, which not only makes public participation challenging but complicates the entire planning process.

Photo courtesy of The India Conference

Prathima Manohar, an architect and founder of The Urban Vision, an urbanism “think do-tank;” asserted that another key challenge is that the leaders of India’s cities seem to be fixated on strategies that more developed parts of the world are moving away from, such as auto-centric development and over-consumption of resources. Despite the creative brilliance and skilled human capital in India’s cities, she added, there is a lack of civic and recreational space that would improve residents’ quality of life. However, she also said there are an increasing number of grassroots organizations working to improve urban environments. She also predicts that the success of these smaller enterprises will be paramount to improving livability of the cities.

Brotin Banerjee, CEO of Tata Housing, noted that the lack of affordable housing options is a problem that has plagued Indian cities for decades. Given the scale of the problem, he said it would take efforts from various sectors in order to make a difference. Tata Housing is spearheading this effort from the private sector, by investing in construction that provides homeownership options for the low- and middle-income urban residents. The challenge in doing this, he added, is devising models that are scalable and profitable, particularly when new projects must also provide supportive infrastructure such as water and sewer connections as well as roadways, which are typically the public sector’s responsibility.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, the panelists agreed that given the scale and interdependence of the urban problems in India, the prevalent expectation that the public sector should solve all the urban problems is unreasonable and likely detrimental. Instead, they agreed that there needs to be – and there seems to be – growing coordination between the public and private sector, and there is a significant role for grassroots organizations to play.

In discussions moderated by Bish Sanyal, Ford International Professor of Urban Development and Planning and Director of the Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies at MIT, the panelists highlighted a host of approaches and practices that, in their opinion, seem to be working. Shirish Sankhe noted that funding allocation methods based on competitive grounds, like the one being used for development of ‘smart cities,’ seems to be a successful model. These are small to medium size cities competing for federal fund to spur infrastructure development and the selection is based on certain predefined design criteria.

Along similar lines, he noted, there is a movement towards a performance management system of city governance. In this approach, India’s cities are ranked on various criteria which then puts pressure on the elected officials to perform and be more accountable to the public. Highlighting some of the positives surrounding the development of “greenfield” sites, he added that anticipation of transportation needs and how those are likely to evolve over time has become an integral part of planning. In the context of building more affordable housing, Brotin Banerjee noted that some of the policy solutions in recent times have revolved around making construction and green construction more cost effective by providing flexibility around height limitations and FAR regulations. He also added that perhaps the best form of public-private partnership would be talent sharing.

In response to questions from the audience about the segregation patterns that have or could emerge based on racial and cultural lines, the panelists agreed that Indian cities need to move away from identity based politics in order to avoid increased segregation and to build more inclusive cities.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New Report: Aging Homeowners Drive Growth in Remodeling as Millennials Begin to Gain Footing

Homeowner spending on remodeling is expected to see healthy growth through 2025, according to Demographic Change and the Remodeling Outlook, the latest biennial report in our Improving America’s Housing series. Demographically based projections suggest that older owners will account for the majority of spending gains over the coming years as they adapt their homes to changing accessibility needs. Although slower to move into homeownership than previous generations, millennials are poised to enter the remodeling market in greater force, buying up older, more affordable homes in need of renovations.

The residential remodeling market includes spending on improvements and repairs by both homeowners and rental property owners, and reached an all-time high of $340 billion in 2015, surpassing the prior peak in 2007. [See our Interactive Infographic.] Spending by owners on improvements is expected to increase 2.0 percent per year on average through 2025 after adjusting for inflation, just below the pace of growth posted over the past two decades, and about on par with expected growth in the broader economy.

The large baby boom generation has led home improvement spending for the past twenty years, and its influence shows no signs of waning. Older homeowners will continue to dominate the remodeling market, as they make investments to age in place safely and comfortably. Expenditures by homeowners age 55 and over are expected to grow by nearly 33 percent by 2025, accounting for more than three-quarters of total gains over the decade. The share of market spending by homeowners age 55 and over is projected to reach 56 percent by 2025, up from only 31 percent in 2005.

Gen-Xers are now in their prime remodeling years, and while some are still recovering from home equity losses after the housing crash, many in this generation will undertake discretionary projects deferred during the downturn. And as younger households move into homeownership, they will supplement the already thriving improvement market.

Try the Interactive Infographic
“With national house prices rising sufficiently to help owners rebuild home equity lost during the downturn, and with both household incomes and existing home sales on the rise, we expect to see continued growth in the home improvement market,” says Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Even though increasing house prices are encouraging homeowners to reinvest in their homes, they also are raising housing affordability concerns among younger buyers. Climbing mortgage interest rates and rising house prices not only make homeownership more difficult for younger households, but leave those who are able to buy with fewer resources to make improvements and repairs. And while high rents may provide an incentive to buy homes, they also make it difficult for first-time buyers to save for a downpayment.

Some demographic trends are also presenting challenges to a healthier remodeling market outlook. A disproportionate share of growth over the coming decade will be among older owners, minority owners, and households without young children; groups that traditionally spend less on home improvements.

“Despite these challenges, the remodeling industry should see numerous growth opportunities over the next decade,” says Chris Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies. “Strong demand for rental housing has opened up that segment to a new wave of capital investment, and the shortage of affordable housing in much of the country makes the stock of older homes an attractive option for buyers willing to in invest in upgrades.”

Finally, as a new generation of homeowners enters the remodeling market, specialty niches focused on energy-efficiency, environmental sustainability, and healthy homes are likely to see significant growth. Home automation—encompassing everything from entertainment systems to home energy management, lighting, appliance control, and security—is also emerging as a strong growth market, particularly among younger households.

Looking ahead, there are several opportunities for further growth in the remodeling industry. The retiring baby boom generation is already boosting demand for accessibility improvements that will enable owners to remain safely in their homes as they age. Additionally, growing environmental awareness holds out promise that sustainable home improvements and energy-efficienct upgrades will continue to be among the fastest growing market segments.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Can We Learn from Attempts to Reduce the Cost of Affordable Housing?

by Sam LaTronica
Gramlich Fellow
Midwestern CDCs trying to build affordable homes that do not require development subsidies have identified three potentially promising strategies: building smaller homes, utilizing factory-built homes, and creatively designing houses to get more out of them. In a new working paper that grows out my work as an Edward M. Gramlich Fellow in Community and Economic Development I conclude that while each technique presents opportunities for cost savings, each also comes with its own set of challenges.

The fellowship, which is co-sponsored by the Joint Center for Housing Studies and NeighborWorks® America, also expanded my horizons because for years, my conception of new “affordable housing” had been limited to the standard multifamily properties developed in larger urban areas. This was the type of affordable housing I had seen since moving to the Boston area, as well as working for an affordable advocacy organization in the San Francisco Bay Area prior to attending the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

As a Gramlich Fellow in the summer of 2015, I was exposed to a new region and new approach to affordable housing. The Midwestern CDCs, which were part of NeighborWorks® America’s national network, often had in-house general contractors and focused on building and selling affordable single-family homes, in both urban and rural areas. Given the dearth of housing subsidies, particularly subsidies for affordable housing in rural areas, these CDCs were trying to find cost-saving construction techniques that would allow them to build affordable housing without development subsidies.

The Rambler, a single-family home constructed by the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. The home is 1,092 square feet on the main floor with another 1,092 square feet of unfinished basement space that can be converted into living space or more bedrooms at a later date. This home was constructed in 2014 with an asking price of $153,900.

Through reading popular literature on home construction, analyzing building trends, conducting interviews with CDC leaders, and visiting new developments in the Midwest, it became clear that CDCs were interested in pursuing three potential cost saving techniques: building smaller homes, using factory-built homes, and creatively designing houses to get more out of them.

Smaller homes are theoretically cheaper to build because they simply require fewer materials and less construction time. Once occupied, these houses not only can be cheaper to heat or cool but also will cost less to maintain. Smaller footprints also make it possible to build these homes on smaller or irregularly shaped lots, which helps expand the options for CDCs.

However, cost savings are not always realized when buildings are smaller. Once land and other development costs are factored in, it is possible that building smaller homes will be only slightly cheaper than building larger homes on the same lot. Moreover, the marginal cost of constructing a few hundred more square feet might allow the CDC to sell the house for more money while still keeping it affordable. Some CDC leaders also worry that producing affordable homes that are much smaller than new market-rate homes would create obvious distinctions between income levels and stigmatize the people living in the new, smaller homes. Finally, while building smaller can be smart for a number of reasons, most people still want bigger homes as evidenced by the fact that average house sizes have been increasing and have recently surpassed pre-recession levels. This suggests that without a shift in the overall market, smaller homes may not be a particularly appealing option for CDCs trying to build affordable housing.

While factory-built construction techniques are not necessarily new, they are new to many CDCs. Many Midwestern CDCs are currently experimenting with (or exploring the possibility of using) both modular homes and homes made from structural insulated panels (SIPs). Factory-built homes have the benefit of being produced mostly indoors and using assembly line techniques, which can significantly reduce onsite construction time and protect against weather delays, theft, vandalism, etc. Moreover, homes built in factory-controlled settings can be tighter and more energy efficient and make more efficient usage of building materials (which should reduce their cost).

Like building smaller, however, the cost savings that are touted in popular literature are harder to realize in practice. If CDCs, architects, contractors, and subcontractors do not have enough experience working with factory-built housing, then the development process can hit major roadblocks that negate the hypothetical cost savings that would result from a shorter construction period and lower production costs. In fact, some CDCs that experimented with these techniques ended up with homes that cost far more than they would have cost using traditional stick-built techniques.

Finally, creatively designing houses can supplement the previous construction types to get the most out of new homes. This can come in many forms. Designing attached accessory dwelling units will add more units to the housing stock and can supplement the primary tenant’s income.  Co-housing development can utilize scale and reduce the per-owner development costs. Open floor plans can make smaller homes more palatable and unfinished buildouts can reduce costs while allowing families to later customize their home to meet their particular needs.

In the end, there is no silver bullet that can be used to build affordable single-family homes without a development subsidy. However, there are many techniques that, when combined, could produce significant cost savings. CDC leaders interested in pursuing these approaches should remember that the benefits of these techniques, as described in popular literature, do not always materialize in practice. Therefore, CDC leaders should learn from others who have already experimented with them. They should also establish strong relationships with architects and contractors who have experience with these techniques, so that they reduce the likelihood of delays that would drive up costs. Hopefully, by persevering and learning from others, the CDCs can increase the production of affordable homes.

Sam LaTronica, who graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2016, was a 2015 recipient of the TheEdward M. Gramlich Fellowship in Community and Economic Development, which is co-sponsored by NeighborWorks®America and the Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Defining the Generations Redux

by George Masnick
Senior Research Fellow
How should we define the baby boom, Generation X, and the millennial generation?

In a Joint Center blog published in 2012, I argued that using 20-year age spans for each generation would make it easier to compare them. Since many researchers still use generational definitions that span different and inconsistent age ranges, particularly for millennials, it is perhaps timely to reframe and restate my case.

In keeping with my recommendations, the Joint Center has long identified the cohort born between 1945 and 1964 as baby boomers.Those born between 1965 and 1984 are Generation X, and the cohort born between 1985 and 2004 are millennials (Figure 1). 

However, other analysts use several different earlier dates to usher in the millennial generation, apparently because they want to ensure that the oldest member of this cohort were considered adults at the dawn of the new millennium (i.e. they had turned 18 or 20 in the year 2000). This definition meant that by 2015, the oldest millennials were in their mid-30s, old enough to prompt compelling stories about how many 30-somethings were still living with parents, living in cities, forsaking marriage and childbearing, and delaying homeownership. In contrast, under my recommended cut-off dates, the oldest millennials turned age 20 in 2005 and didn’t start entering their 30s until 2015.

Besides making it easier to compare generations, there are several reasons why the millennial generation should start with those born in 1985 and turning 20 in 2005. As I noted in my 2012 blog, 1985 was the year that U.S. births once again exceeded 3.7 million, the approximate number that demarcated the beginning and the end of the baby boom, as well as the beginning and the end of the “baby bust” that defines Generation X.

Three other big changes occurred shortly after 2005 that significantly altered the way young adults live. First, social media participation skyrocketed. Facebook became available to everyone age 13 and older with a valid e-mail address in September 2006. Twitter became public in 2006. The first iPhone was released in June of 2007. As a result of these and other changes, the share of adults using social media rose from five percent in 2005 to 69 percent in 2016, according to a recent Pew Research publication.

Second, student loan debt outstanding more than tripled between 2005 and 2016, rising from $400 billion to over $1.3 trillion. This high level of debt is thought to affect everything from leaving the parental home, to getting married and starting a family, and purchasing a first home. 

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the economic changes that led to the Great Recession hit hardest among young adults who were in their 20s shortly after 2005. The unemployment rate of adults older than 25 without a high school degree rose from below six percent in late 2006 to 15 percent in mid-2009. (Those with a high school degree or more followed this trend within a year.) Unemployment rates of those with a high school degree or more have slowly improved, but still remain above pre-recession levels. Unemployment rates for those with less than a high school degree have returned to their pre-recession elevated levels, but people in this group generally are making less money and receiving fewer benefits than they did before the recession. Meanwhile, housing costs have returned to, or now exceed, their pre-recession levels.

Using equally broad 20-year age spans produces several important findings about the different generations. To start with, the millennial generation has been larger than the baby boom generation, now or at any other previous time since the boomers were age 10-29 in 1975 (Figure 2). Millennials now number almost 87 million compared to less than 79 million for baby boomers at the same age. This is in contrast to findings of a 2016 Pew Research study that compared generations using millennials with a smaller age range and found roughly equal numbers between these two generations in 2015 (75 million).

Using consistent age spans also shows the changing ways that immigration has affected the number of people in each generation. In 1995, when Generation X was age 10-29, it was smaller than the baby boom generation was in 1955, when it was the same age. However, because of immigration, by 2005, when Generation X was age 20-39, it already exceeded the number of baby boomers at the same age. 

Immigrants also make up a small but growing share of millennials. In 2015, 9.6 percent of millennials were foreign born compared to 21.4 percent of Generation X, and 15.3 percent of baby boomers (Figure 3). However, according to the latest Census Bureau population projections, the share of millennials who are foreign born is expected to rise to 20.9 percent in 2035 when they are age 30-49, which will boost the number of millennials to 97.3 million (Figure 4).  

* Data do not allow 85-89 year olds from 85+ age group

Finally, the constant-age-span approach allows us to identify significant generational differences in race and ethnicity. Overall, in 2015, 45.4 percent of millennials, 41 percent of Generation X, and 28.6 percent of baby boomers were minorities (i.e. non-Hispanic Blacks, non-Hispanic Asian/Others, or Hispanics of any race). Moreover, because of continued immigration, the share of millennials who are minorities is projected to rise to almost 50 percent in 2035 and the share of Generation X is projected to rise slightly to 42.4 percent. In contrast, the share of baby boomers who are minorities is projected to hold constant at 28.6 percent. 

These differences reflect changes for both foreign-born and native-born members of each generation. In 2015, fully 85 percent of both foreign-born millennials and foreign-born members of Generation X were minorities.  In contrast, only 78.5 percent of foreign-born baby boomers were minorities. Moreover, while 41.2 percent of native-born millennials were minorities, only 29 percent of native-born members of Generation X and 19.6 percent of native-born baby boomers were minorities (Figure 5).

* Data do not allow 85-89 year olds from 85+ age group

Looking forward to 2035, the size of the baby boom cohort will drop to about 60 million people because a growing number of baby boomers will pass away. Many millennials and members of Generation X will want to live in the housing units formerly occupied by those baby boomers. Their ability to do so will not only be shaped by the fundamental economic and social changes discussed above but also by whether the large numbers of racial and ethnic minorities in these two generations will have full access to those housing markets, and with it, the ability to achieve the American dream. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When Do Renters Behave Like Homeowners? High Rent, Price Anxiety, and NIMBYism

by Michael Hankinson
Meyer Fellow
In theory, renters and homeowners disagree about proposals to build new housing in their communities, particularly if that housing is close to where they live. However, in practice, this is not always the case. 

Rather, in a new Joint Center working paper that is based on new national-level experimental data and city-specific behavioral data, I find that in high-housing cost cities, renters and homeowners both oppose new residential developments proposed for their neighborhoods. However, in high-cost markets renters are still more likely than homeowners to support citywide increases in the supply of housing. Since changes in city governments over the past several decades have generally strengthened the power of neighborhood-level opponents to proposed projects, my findings help explain why it is so hard to build new housing in expensive cities even when there is citywide support for that housing.

NIMBYism and the Rising Cost of Housing

Since 1970, housing prices in the nation’s most expensive metropolitan areas have dramatically increased. Real prices have doubled in New York City and Los Angeles and nearly tripled in San Francisco. Driving this appreciation is an inability of new housing supply to keep up with demand. Even accounting for the cost of materials and natural geographic constraints on supply, the dominant factor behind this decoupling of supply and demand is political regulation, such as limits on the density of new housing developments and caps on the number of permits issued by a localities’ government.
These limits are a classic example of the NIMBY (Not in My BackYard) phenomenon. Even if residents support a citywide increase in the supply of housing, they may still oppose specific projects in their neighborhood. This seeming disconnect between views on citywide and local development policies creates a classic collective action problem for those policymakers who must find ways to reconcile the conflicting views.  

Photo by Michael Hogan/Flickr

Despite its popularity as a scapegoat, there is no individual-level, empirical data on how NIMBYism operates and among whom.
 Students of urban politics generally assume that homeowners have strong NIMBY tendencies not only because they benefit from rising house prices but also because they worry that nearby new housing units, particularly nearby subsidized housing units, might decrease the value of their home.

There is less consensus on (or studies of) how renters view new development. New supply may help ease prices for renters but their pro-development views may not be reflected in local policies because renters are less likely to become politically involved than highly motivated homeowners.  Alternatively, renters might not favor new projects if they believe the units will increase demand in their neighborhood, which, in turn, will lead to increased housing prices. To date, however, there has been very little research on how renters view development projects and whether their views differ from those of homeowners.
Measuring NIMBYism

To measure NIMBYism and general support for new housing, I collected two unique datasets. I conducted the first experimental tests of NIMBYism through an online survey of 3,019 respondents across 655 cities in 47 states. Respondents were asked about their support for development policies, including whether they would support a 10 percent increase in their city’s housing supply, with the question customized to each respondent’s city, stating how many homes and apartments currently exist and how many more would be built. Respondents also participated in an experiment where they were presented with two housing developments and asked which of the two proposals they preferred for their city. Each proposed development was described using several attributes, such as height and affordability level. To measure NIMBYism, respondents were also told how far each the of developments would be from their home, from two miles away to ⅛ mile away. By randomly varying this distance along with the other attributes, I was able to measure respondents’ sensitivity to proximity (NIMBYism), holding all other attributes equal.

To supplement this national survey, I also conducted a 1,660-person exit poll during the 2015 San Francisco election. Voters at 26 polling locations were asked their opinions on several housing-related ballot propositions similar to those presented in the national survey.

When Renters Behave Like Homeowners

As noted, renters and homeowners are expected to disagree on support for new housing, with NIMBY homeowners opposing citywide and neighborhood development and renters likely supporting the new supply. In line with existing theory, homeowners in my national survey largely opposed the proposed 10 percent increase in their city’s housing supply (28 percent approval), while a majority of renters supported the new supply (59 percent approval). Likewise, when asked in the experiment which of two randomly generated buildings they would prefer for their city, homeowners exhibited consistent NIMBYism, preferring buildings that were farther away from their home. In contrast, renters on average did not pick buildings based on distance from their home. If anything, renters preferred affordable housing that was closer to their home, displaying a YIMBY or ‘Yes in My BackYard’ attitude. In short, homeowners and renters tend to have very different attitudes towards both NIMBYism and the citywide housing supply.

However, in high-rent cities, renters look far more like homeowners. Instead of paying little attention to the location of proposed new housing, renters in expensive cities are just as NIMBY towards market-rate housing as homeowners. Moreover, this renter opposition to nearby development does not mean they support less new development overall. In fact, renters in expensive cities show just as much support for a 10 percent increase in their city’s housing supply as renters in more affordable cities. The main difference between these groups of renters is their NIMBYism.

Results from the San Francisco exit poll show a similar combination of supporting supply citywide, but opposing it locally. When asked about a 10 percent increase in the San Francisco housing supply, both renters and homeowners expressed high levels of support, at 84 percent and 73 percent approval, respectively. But, somewhat surprisingly, when asked if they would support a ban on market-rate development in their neighborhood, renters showed far more NIMBYism than homeowners, with 62 percent of renters supporting the NIMBY ban compared to 40 percent of homeowners.

NIMBYism and How We Permit Housing

Renters in high-rent cities generally both want new housing citywide but behave like homeowners when it comes to their own neighborhood. These scale-dependent preferences present a policy challenge for keeping cities affordable. Over the past 40 years, city governments have increasingly empowered neighborhoods to weigh-in on housing proposals through formal planning institutions. In doing so, these decisions have amplified NIMBYism and the ability to reject new housing, without maintaining a counterweight for the broader interest for new supply citywide. In other words, while most residents may support new housing for the city as a whole, both homeowners and renters are willing and increasingly able to block that supply in their own neighborhood, effectively constraining the housing supply citywide. This is housing’s collective action problem.

In separate research, I am empirically testing the effect of these strengthened neighborhood institutions on the rate of housing permitting since 1980. Likewise, I am conducting further experimental research on what types of citywide housing proposals are able to win the greatest support among both homeowners and renters. Hopefully, by measuring the tradeoffs between the ‘city’ and ‘neighborhood’ in the politics of housing, we can better address the deepening affordability crisis facing many American cities.