Monday, July 24, 2017

We're Finally Building More Small Homes, but Construction Remains at Historically Low Levels

by Alexander Hermann
Research Assistant
Census data released last month show that after years of stagnation, construction of smaller homes grew appreciably in 2016. New completions for homes under 1,800 square feet increased nearly 20 percent in 2016 to 163,000 units, the first significant growth since 2004 and the largest rise since the data series began in 1999.

This growth is significant because many first-time and lower-income homebuyers hope to purchase smaller homes, which are generally less expensive than larger ones. Moreover, historically-low levels of home construction over the last decade have led to declining inventories, decreasing vacancy rates, and increasing prices, as discussed in our latest State of the Nation's Housing report (Figure 1).


Even with the uptick in 2016, though, small-home construction remains 65 percent below the 464,000 units completed annually between 1999 and 2006, and comprises a much smaller share of newly-built housing than in the past. In 2016, small homes were 22 percent of single-family completions, well below their 37 percent market-share in 1999. In contrast, the share of large homes built grew from 17 percent in 1999 to 30 percent in 2016, while moderately-sized homes, which have consistently been the largest share of the market, have annually been 43-to-48 percent of all new single-family homes.

Construction of condos and townhouses, possible alternatives to smaller single-family housing, also remains low. Builders of multifamily properties continue to focus on the rental market where demand remains strong. Consequently, only 28,000 condos were started in 2016, a modest increase from the 26,000 starts in 2015 but much lower than the 53,000 starts averaged annually in the 1990s (Figure 2). Similarly, townhouse starts grew from 86,000 units in 2015 to 98,000 units in 2016. While this is more than double the number of starts from 2009 and comparable to the 95,000 units started annually in the 1990s, it is less than half the number started in 2005.



The low levels of new construction have resulted in historically-low housing inventories, especially entry-level housing. According to data from CoreLogic, the supply of modestly-priced homes – those selling for 75-to-100 percent of the area's median list price – was below three months at the end of 2016, about half of the six months that generally represents a balanced market (Figure 3). Indeed, according to data compiled by Zillow, only a quarter of the homes for sale at the end of last year were in the bottom one-third of area homes by price, while half were in the top one-third.



Increased demand for entry-level housing and the corresponding uptick in smaller housing construction have already contributed to the growing number of first-time homebuyers in 2016. According to the National Association of Realtors, first-time homebuyers comprised 35 percent of home sales in 2016, up from 32 percent in 2015 but still below long-term historical rates, which are close to 40 percent of all buyers. Looking forward, increases in the supply of smaller homes, townhouses, and possibly condos could help address the growing demand for lower priced homes for first-time and low-income homebuyers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Steady Gains in Remodeling Activity Moving into 2018

by Abbe Will
Research Associate
Healthy and stable growth in home improvement and repair spending is anticipated for the remainder of the year and into the first half of 2018, according to our latest Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), released today. The LIRA projects that annual increases in remodeling expenditures will soften somewhat moving forward, but still remain at or above 6.0 percent through the second quarter of 2018.

The remodeling market continues to benefit from a stronger housing market and, in particular, solid gains in house prices, which are encouraging owners to make larger investments in their homes. Yet, weak gains in home sales activity due to tight inventories in many parts of the country is constraining opportunities for more robust remodeling growth given that significant investments often occur around the time of a sale.

Even with some easing this year, the remodeling market is still expected to grow above its long-term averageOver the coming 12 months, national spending on improvements and repairs to the owner-occupied housing stock is projected to reach fully $324 billion.


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

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Effect of Debt on Default and Consumption: Evidence from Housing Policy During the Great Recession

by Peter Ganong and
Pascal Noel, Meyer Fellows
What is the effect of mortgage debt reductions that reduce payments in the long-term but not in the short-term? In a new paper using data from a recent government mortgage modification program, we find that substantial mortgage principal reductions that left short-term payments unchanged had no effect on default or consumption for "underwater" borrowers who owed more on their home than their homes were worth.

This finding is significant because the design of mortgage modification programs was a key question facing policymakers attempting to help struggling households during the Great Recession. Policymakers faced a choice between debt reductions that focused on borrower liquidity by temporarily reducing mortgage payments or debt reductions that focused on borrower solvency by permanently forgiving mortgage debt.

This normative policy debate hinged on fundamental economic questions about the effect of long-term debt obligations on borrowers' default and consumption decisions. While a large academic literature has examined the effect debt reductions that mix both short and long-term payment reductions, little is known about the specific effects of long-term debt obligations.

To help fill this gap, we compared underwater borrowers who received two types of modifications in the federal government's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Both modification types resulted in identical payment reductions for the first five years. However, one group also received $70,000 in mortgage principal reduction, which translated into increased home equity and substantial long-term payment relief. By comparing borrowers in each of these modification types, we were able to isolate the effects of long-run debt levels holding fixed short-run payments. An important feature of the policy we studied was that borrowers remained underwater even after substantial debt forgiveness.

To compare these borrowers, we built two new datasets with information on borrower outcomes and HAMP participation. Our first dataset matched administrative data on HAMP participants to monthly consumer credit bureau records from Transunion. Our second dataset used de-identified data assembled by the JPMorgan Chase Institute (JPMCI) that included mortgage, credit card, and checking account information for borrowers who received HAMP modification from Chase.

Using an empirical strategy called a regression discontinuity design, we found that principal reduction has no effect on default. The analysis exploited a cutoff rule in a model used by mortgage servicers to assign borrowers between the two modification types. While borrowers just above the cutoff were 41 percentage points more likely to receive principal reduction than those just below the cutoff, default rates were smooth at the cutoff, which indicates that principal reduction had little effect on default (Figures 1 and 2). We also estimated that even at the upper bound of our confidence interval, the government spent $800,000 per avoided foreclosure. This is over an order of magnitude greater than estimates of the social cost of foreclosures.

Figure 1.  

Figure 2.  



In the second part of our empirical analysis, we examined the effect of principal reduction on consumption by comparing the monthly spending of the two groups of borrowers over time. We showed that these two groups of borrowers were similar before modification on a broad range of observable characteristics, and that their credit card and auto spending measures were trending similarly in the months before modification. This means that the payment reduction group could be used as a valid counterfactual control group for the principal reduction group.

We found that $70,000 in principal reduction had no significant impact on underwater borrowers' credit card or auto expenditure (Figure 3). Although the spending of both groups stabilized after modification (consistent with the idea that short-term payment reductions helped borrowers), the group that received the additional principal forgiveness showed no differential effect. Rather, we estimated for each $1 of principal reduction received by borrowers, their total spending increased by only 0.2 cents. This is an order of magnitude smaller than the consumption response for average homeowners examined in prior studies, which typically have found spending increases between 4 and 9 cents per $1 of wealth increase.

Figure 3.



The inability of underwater borrowers to borrow against the housing wealth gains from principal reduction may explain why they were far less sensitive to housing wealth changes than borrowers in other economic conditions. Typically, housing wealth gains expand borrowers' credit access--in fact, prior research has found that equity withdrawal through increased borrowing may account for the entire effect of housing wealth on spending between 2002 and 2006. But if homeowners need positive home equity in order to borrow against their house, then principal reduction that still leaves borrowers underwater or nearly underwater will fail to free up collateral that can be used to finance new consumption. This limitation helps explain why policies to lower current mortgage payments were more effective than principal reductions at increasing consumer spending during the Great Recession.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Rise of Poverty in Suburban and Outlying Areas

by Elizabeth La Jeunesse
Research Analyst
A key takeaway from our latest State of the Nation’s Housing report is that poverty is both increasing and becoming more concentrated across the country. Moreover, while a third of the poor live in high-density urban neighborhoods, the number of poor people and poor neighborhoods grew particularly rapidly in the “exurbs,” low-density neighborhoods on the fringe of the nation’s metro areas (Figures 1 and 2).



Figure 1. The Number of People Living in Poverty Has Increased Most in Suburban and Exurban Communities

Figure 2. Much of the Growth in High-Poverty Neighborhoods Has Been in Suburban and Outlying Areas


According to the report, from 2000 to 2015, the number of people living below the federal poverty line rose by 41 percent, from about 33.8 million to 47.7 million. Additionally, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods (census tracts where the poverty rate is 20 percent or more) rose by 59 percent, and the poor population living in these areas increased by 76 percent to 25.4 million. As a result, 54 percent of the nation’s poor now live in high-poverty neighborhoods, up from 43 percent in 2000.

The growth in high-poverty neighborhoods was widespread, occurring in all but three of the nation’s largest 100 metros (Honolulu, El Paso, and McAllen, TX). Moreover, the rise of poverty was particularly rapid in the exurbs, where the number of high-poverty neighborhoods more than doubled between 2000 and 2015, and the number of poor people living in these neighborhoods grew by 164 percent, rising from 1.5 million in 2000 to 3.9 million in 2015. Such growth presumably was due to the fact that housing generally is less expensive in these areas, but the savings in housing costs are often offset by higher transportation costs and more time spent travelling to work and other activities.

Our new interactive chart shows that these changes were not uniform in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. To begin with, two-thirds of these metros underwent a rise in concentrated exurban poverty from 2000-2015. Moreover, the magnitude of the increase varied. For example, the number of high-poverty, exurban tracts increased more than tenfold in the Detroit, Greensboro, and Cape Coral, FL metros, and increased by a factor of five or more in 11 other metros, including Atlanta, Denver, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Nashville and Orlando. Other large metros where the number of high-poverty, exurban neighborhoods more than tripled included Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, St. Louis, and Tampa.

For example, in the Atlanta metro, the number of low-density, high-poverty, exurban tracts rose from only 11 in 2000 to 72 in 2015 (Figure 3). Meanwhile, in the St. Louis metro, there were 28 high-poverty, exurban neighborhoods in 2015, up from 8 such areas just 15 years earlier (Figure 4).

Figure 3. Atlanta


Figure 4. St. Louis


While poverty remains highly concentrated in dense urban areas, several large metros now have unusually large shares of high-poverty, exurban neighborhoods. In the Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville metro areas, for example, nearly a quarter or more of all high-poverty neighborhoods are located in low-density, exurban areas. Poverty’s shift to lower-density areas was especially pronounced in the Charlotte area, where 41 percent of high-poverty tracts are now situated in low-density, exurban areas, up from just 15 percent in 2000 (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Charlotte, NC


Moreover, in several smaller metros across the South – such as Columbia, SC; McAllen, TX; Greenville, SC; Jackson, MS, and Knoxville, TN – well over half of all high-poverty neighborhoods are located in low-density, outlying regions (Figure 6).

Figure 6. McAllen, TX 



Use our interactive tool to see the change in high-poverty neighborhoods in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas between 2000 and 2015.

Download Excel files for additional data on high-poverty neighborhoods. (W-1 and W-15)

Download Chapter 3 of our State of theNation’s Housing 2017 report, which contains additional discussions on the growth of poverty and the spread of high-poverty neighborhoods.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Are Home Prices Really Above Their Pre-Recession Peak?


by Alexander Hermann
Research Assistant
In 2016, national home prices not only rose for the fifth year in a row, they finally surpassed their pre-recession peak in nominal dollars, according to most national measures of home prices. However, as our new State of the Nation’s Housing report notes, when adjusted for inflation, home prices were still 9 to 16 percent below peak, depending on the measure used (Figure 1).



Figure 1. National Home Prices Now Exceed Their Previous Peak in Nominal Terms, But Not in Real Dollars



Note: Prices are adjusted for inflation using the CPI-U for All Items less shelter.
Source: JCHS tabulations of S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index data.

Moreover, as our interactive maps show, changes in home price vary widely across the country and often exhibit strong regional patterns (Figure 2).

Figure 2. How Much Have Home Prices Changed?




Our interactive maps give users the ability to view price changes in 951 markets across the country over two time periods—since 2000 and since each area’s mid-2000 peak. Viewable markets include 371 Metropolitan Statistical Areas and 31 Metropolitan Divisions (derived from 11 additional metro areas), which together contain about 85 percent of that nation’s population, as well as 549 smaller Micropolitan Statistical Areas, which are home to another nine percent of the population.

The data indicate that nominal home prices were above their mid-2000s heights in 48 percent of all markets (454 total). These markets were largely concentrated in the middle of the country, the Pacific Northwest, and Texas.

However, in real dollars, prices reached their peaks in only 138 (15 percent) of all markets. Furthermore, while prices were above peak in only 10 percent of Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Metropolitan Divisions, they topped their peak in 17 percent of the smaller micro areas, which experienced less home price volatility over the last decade.

In contrast, real prices were still 20 percent below peak in about one-third of all markets, most located in areas hardest hit by the housing crisis, including Florida and large parts of the Southwest, Northeast, and parts of the Midwest.

There were notable differences in long-term patterns in areas where real prices remained well below their pre-recession peak. In many markets on both coasts—such as Miami, Washington, DC, and Sacramento—prices have risen significantly over the last several years and, in real terms, are now well above their levels in 2000. However, because prices in these areas rose significantly during the boom years and fell so sharply during the recession, the recent gains have left prices far below what they were in the mid-2000s.

In contrast, in some Midwestern and Southern markets—such as Detroit, Chicago, and Montgomery, Alabama—prices rose only modestly in the 2000s, dropped significantly during the recession, and have grown only slightly in recent years. Consequently, real prices in these areas were not only well below their peak levels from the mid-2000s, but remained below 2000 levels in many cases.

The uneven growth in home prices over the past two decades has led to increasing differences in housing costs. Illustratively, in 2000 the inflation-adjusted median home value in the 10 most expensive metros (of the country’s 100 largest metros) was about $350,000, about three times higher than the median value of homes in the 10 least expensive metros. But between January 2000 and December 2016, real home values in the ten highest-cost housing markets rose by 64 percent to about $574,000, more than five times the value of homes in the least expensive areas, which grew by only 3 percent, to $113,000.

A broader look at home prices further highlights these stark disparities. Nationally, real home prices rose 32 percent between 2000 and 2016. But home prices in 30 percent of markets (290 total) actually declined in real terms, including 28 percent of metro and 33 percent of micro areas, most of them in the Midwest and South. In the Detroit metro area, home prices declined 26 percent, the largest decrease among large metros. Prices also fell significantly in the Cleveland (22 percent decline), Memphis (15 percent decline), and Indianapolis (13 percent decline) markets.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, between 2000 and 2016 real median home prices rose by more than 40 percent in 153 markets (16 percent), most of them on the East and West Coasts. In fact, prices doubled in twelve markets, including the Honolulu metro areas, which saw 104 percent growth. Home prices also rose considerably in the Los Angeles (97 percent), San Francisco (84 percent), Miami (73 percent), and Washington, DC (62 percent) markets. While micro areas were more likely to be past their previous peak, the lower price volatility also meant they experienced less price growth since 2000, with only 12 percent of micros exceeding 40 percent growth.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Making Collaboration Work: Four Lessons from Chicago CDFIs

by Alexander von Hoffman
and Matthew Arck
Although many in the housing and community development field are excited by the idea of collaboration between organizations, such partnerships are often easier said than done. In practice, as our new case study of a partnership in Chicago shows, effective collaboration requires the partners to be thoughtful, nimble, and flexible.

The case study analyzes the work of the Chicago CDFI Collaborative, a partnership of the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), and Neighborhood Lending Services (NLS). In 2014, the collaborative received a 3-year, $5 million grant from PRO Neighborhoods, a $125 million, 5-year grant program of JPMorgan Chase & Co. that supports community development financial institutions (CDFIs) pursuing innovative collaborations. The Chicago CDFI Collaborative used the money to restore abandoned and dilapidated housing in economically depressed neighborhoods, such as Englewood and West Woodlawn, which were particularly affected by foreclosures in the financial crisis. To do so, it provided loans and technical assistance that helped small-scale investors and owner-occupants purchase and rehabilitate one-to-four-unit buildings, which comprise nearly half of the affordable rental stock in Chicago.

The Chicago CDFI Collaborative helped a small-scale investor acquire and rehabilitate this home in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. (Photo by Nathan Hardy.)





By 
By early 2017, the collaborative had lent nearly $25 million, acquired or financed the acquisition of 430 properties, and helped to preserve almost 600 housing units in low-income communities.  In interviews, leaders of the Chicago CDFIs identified four important lessons that emerged from their work.

1. Try new approaches

Although each member of the Chicago CDFI Collaborative is a well-established community lender, none of them had focused extensively on abandoned one-to-four-unit buildings. The new partnership enabled the officers of these groups to tackle this vexing problem on a large scale. The lesson, according to Robin Coffey, Chief Credit Officer of NLS, is that instead of “trying to play it safe” by simply expanding the volume of their current lending practices, collaborating CDFIs should imagine “how can we work together to change the way that we’re approaching something” so they can better aid residents of troubled low-income communities.

Some CDFI leaders might be wary of this approach because they perceive other CDFIs as rivals, but participants in the Chicago collaborative said that is not the case. In the CDFI field, Wendell Harris, Director of Lending Operations for CCLF, asserts, “there is so much work that needs to be done, there really is no discussion of us being competitors.”

2. Pursue many lines of attack

CDFIs must develop and carry out a multi-faceted strategy to overcome the multiple and systemic obstacles to revitalization in depressed neighborhoods. One way to do this is by targeting neighborhoods that have other revitalization programs already in place. For example, the Chicago CDFIs prioritized lending in seven neighborhoods where their organizations already were working.  Moreover, since NLS’s parent organization, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, also dispersed grants from the City of Chicago that help low- and moderate-income homeowners improve the exteriors of their homes, NLS was able to direct some of those outside grants to the same neighborhoods targeted by the Chicago CDFI Collaborative. According to Coffey, this reinforced the coalition’s revitalization efforts. When a potential buyer saw improvements being made to other buildings, the NLS leader explained, he or she would conclude that the neighborhood was “not as bad as I thought.”

In addition, the neighborhoods selected by the Chicago CDFIs were part of a larger set of neighborhoods that received funding from the City of Chicago’s Micro-Market Recovery Program, which supports a variety of revitalization efforts. Adding the PRO Neighborhoods funds to these other tools, such as financial assistance and community organizing, Coffey noted, “made it that much more effective.”

3. Communicate regularly and in-person

Leaders of the collaborating CDFIs stressed that regularly scheduled, in-person meetings were a key to their success. Monthly meetings facilitated open communication, which in turn helped create an effective, adaptive partnership. Doing so in face-to-face meetings rather than conference calls meant that the partners had fewer distractions and were more likely to focus on the work at hand.

The face-to-face meetings also helped partners discover issues sooner than they might have otherwise, and, according to Coffey, gave them a “sense of urgency” to solve the problems that emerged in their discussions. Conferring in person, Harris added, encouraged the partners to share information about their networks of people in the field as well as details about properties that were under discussion. In one meeting, for instance, CIC’s representative told the group that it had acquired a building in a particular neighborhood, and NLS’s representative suggested an owner-occupant who would likely be interested in acquiring and rehabbing it.  

4. Expect the unexpected and adapt to it

Leaders of collaborating CDFIs must be prepared to respond to unexpected conditions on the ground. Going into the venture, the partners in Chicago initially thought the best strategy was to target long-vacant homes for rehabilitation. However, Coffey recalled, “we learned really quickly that getting people into homes so that they wouldn’t become vacant” was easier for the homeowner and better for the block. The partners also discovered that, despite the robust technical assistance provided by the Chicago CDFI Collaborative, many potential owner-occupants remained doubtful they possessed the expertise necessary to rehab long-vacant properties. To adapt, NLS’s leaders broadened their strategy to include run-down buildings that were not currently vacant, but were likely to become vacant if major repairs were not done in the near future.

The members of the Chicago Collaborative also encountered unexpected difficulty when they tried to carry out their core strategy to acquire and renovate large numbers of distressed properties in close proximity. In response, they expanded their efforts beyond simply acquiring foreclosed buildings to include buying tax liens on properties and purchasing and reconverting condominiums back into single properties. Without such changes, said Andre Collins, vice-president of acquisition and disposition strategy for CIC, the Collaborative would have rehabilitated fewer properties and preserved fewer affordable units than they did.

Taken together, these practices can help collaborative efforts succeed, which, Harris says, is particularly important because “it takes a collaborative effort to make things better.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Our Disappearing Supply of Low-Cost Rental Housing

by Elizabeth La Jeunesse
Research Analyst
It’s not an illusion: low-cost rental housing in the US is disappearing. And our 2017 State of the Nation’s Housing report has the numbers to prove it.

Using ACS data from 2005 and 2015, our new report shows how gains in the supply of high-end units and losses of low and modest-priced units over the past decade has shifted the entire rental stock toward the high end. Nationwide, the number of units renting for $2,000 or more per month (in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars) nearly doubled between 2005 and 2015, while the number of units renting for below $800 fell by 2 percent (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Across the US

Released in conjunction with the report, our new interactive tool shows how this shift played out differently in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. Metros reporting the most dramatic losses of units renting for less than $800 per month included Austin, Seattle, Portland, and Denver – all places where apartment markets heated up in recent years.

Austin’s transformation was particularly striking. The number of units with rents under $800 declined by nearly 40 percent (a loss of around 27,000 units), while those with rents at $2,000 or more increased more than three-fold (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Austin

The pattern was similar in Denver, where the number of units renting for under $800 declined by nearly a third, a loss of 31,000 modest-priced rentals, even as the number of units with rents over $2,000 per month tripled, an increase of more than 24,000 units (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Denver


The largest aggregate increases in high-cost rentals took place in the New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC metro areas. According to ACS data, the New York metro added nearly 250,000 units renting for more than $2,000 per month, while it lost more than 120,000 units renting for less than $800 a month (Figure 4).

Figure 4: New York

Los Angeles underwent a similar shift in rental stock, losing over 94,000 units renting for less than $800 between 2005 and 2015, while gaining over 200,000 high-cost units (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Los Angeles


The San Francisco and Washington DC metropolitan areas both added over 100,000 high-cost rental units. In San Francisco, the highest-cost rental segment (those renting for more than $2,400 per month) underwent particularly rapid growth, rising by 145 percent, from almost 60,000 units in 2005 to more than 146,000 units in 2015. In contrast, the stock of low-priced rentals in the region, which was quite low in 2005, was virtually unchanged over the subsequent decade (Figure 6).

Figure 6: San Francisco



In general, areas with large numbers of assisted rental units saw little or no growth in their stock of low-priced rentals but significant growth in the most expensive units. For example, the number of units renting for less than under $800 in the Boston metro was basically unchanged, while the number of units renting for more than $2,000 grew by 70 percent (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Boston

Because of such shifts, in most metro areas the share of units that rented for less than $800 a month fell between 2005 and 2015. In Austin, for example, the share of units renting for under $800 per month declined from over a third in 2005 to less than 15 percent in 2015. Similarly, the share of units renting for under $800 per month in New York City metro, home to around 3.5 million renter households, dropped from 23 percent of all units in 2005 to just 18 percent in 2015. And in the Washington, D.C. metro, the number of units renting for less than $800 per month dropped from 15 percent in 2005 to just 10 percent in 2015.

In contrast, both the number and the share of low-rent units rose in a few metros, including the Las Vegas, Cleveland, Sacramento, and Detroit metros. These areas tended to have larger numbers of distressed properties as well as lower rates of economic growth and multifamily construction, which combined to hold down the growth in real rents between 2005 and 2015. In Detroit, for example, there was a 17 percent increase in the share of units renting for less than $800 a month and only a small rise in the number of high-rent units (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Detroit



Use our interactive tool to see how the distribution of rental units changed in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas between 2005 and 2015.

Download an Excel file with the data for each metro area (W-16).

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wait... What? Ten Surprising Findings from the 2017 State of the Nation’s Housing Report

by Daniel McCue
Senior Research Associate

Every year, when we release our State of the Nation’s Housing report, we’re asked some variation of the question: “What surprised you in this year’s report?” Given all the time and effort that goes analyzing the data and writing the report, we are so close to it that little surprises us by the time of publication. Nevertheless, here are 10 findings in this year’s report that were new and maybe even a bit surprising:

1. For-sale inventories dropped even lower over the past year.   


For the fourth year in a row, the inventory of homes for sale across the US not only failed to recover, but dropped yet again. At the end of 2016 there were an historically low 1.65 million homes for sale nationwide, which at the current sales rate was just 3.6 months of supply - almost half of the 6.0 months level that is considered a balanced market.

2. Fewer homes were built over the last 10 years than any 10-year period in recent history.

Even with the recent recovery in both single-family and multifamily construction, markets nationwide are still feeling the effects of the deep and extended decline in housing construction. Over the past 10 years, just 9 million new housing units were completed and added to the housing stock. This was the lowest 10-year period on records dating back to the 1970s, and far below the 14 and 15 million units averaged over the 1980s and 1990s.



3. Single-family construction grew at a faster pace than multifamily construction.

The slow recovery in single-family construction picked up its pace in 2016. For the first time since the Great Recession, the rate of growth in single-family construction outpaced multifamily construction.

4. Smaller homes may be coming back.
Behind the growth in single-family construction, and as a new development in 2016, construction of smaller homes is back on the rise. The median square footage of newly completed single-family homes declined slightly, due to increase in construction of smaller-sized homes (less than 1,800 sqft).
 
5. Rental markets are still strong.  

Although there are signs of moderation, the slowdown in multifamily rental markets appears to be limited, so far, to a small number of markets. Indeed, last year, multifamily construction levels were still on the rise in most of the country, rents declined in just 10 of the 100 markets, multifamily loan originations and lending volumes both hit new record highs, and rental vacancy rates were at a 30-year low.

6. Long-term, metro-area home price trends show surprisingly wide variations.

Home prices have rebounded widely across the nation. In 2016, prices were up in 97 of 100 metros, and 41 metros had regained their nominal peak price levels from the mid-2000s. Over the longer period of time, however, the combined impact of the boom and bust has resulted in significant differences in home price appreciation across the country. In some metros (particularly on the coasts) real home prices have grown by 50 percent or more since 2000, while prices in 16 of the top 100 metros (mainly in the Midwest and South) were below 2000 levels, after adjusting for inflation.

7. The 12-year decline in the US homeownership rate may be nearing an end.

Homeownership rates flattened last year and the number of homeowners increased for the first time since 2006, suggesting trends in homeownership may be strengthening. In addition, first-time homebuyers accounted for a higher share of sales in 2016 than the year before. Still, lending remained skewed to highest credit score borrowers.

8. The homeownership gap between whites and African-Americans widened to its largest disparity since WWII.

The post-2004 decline in homeownership has been especially severe for African-Americans and has pushed black homeownership rates to fully 29.7 percentage points lower than that for whites. Comparing census data going back to WWII, the white-black difference in homeownership rates has never been wider.

9. More than half of all poor now live in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Poverty is growing, concentrating, and suburbanizing all at the same time. Overall, the total number of people living in poverty in the US increased by nearly 14 million in 2000-2015. Moreover, 54 percent of the nation’s poor live in high-poverty neighborhoods (those with poverty rates over 20 percent).

10. Poverty is growing across metros and in rural areas.

Poverty has been on the rise throughout cities, suburbs, and rural areas. Indeed, while the number of poor living in high-poverty tracts in dense, urban areas grew by 46 percent between 2000 and 2015, the number of poor living in high-poverty tracts in moderate- and lower density suburban areas more than doubled.

Read the full State of the Nation’s Housing report on our website.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Growing Demand and Tight Supply are Lifting Home Prices and Rents, Fueling Concerns about Housing Affordability

A decade after the onset of the Great Recession, the national housing market has, by many measures, returned to normal, according to the 2017 State of the Nation’s Housing report, being released today by live webcast from the National League of Cities. Housing demand, home prices, and construction volumes are all on the rise, and the number of distressed homeowners has fallen sharply. However, along with strengthening demand, extremely tight supplies of both for-sale and for-rent homes are pushing up housing costs and adding to ongoing concerns about affordability (map + data tables). At last count in 2015, the report notes, nearly 19 million US households paid more than half of their incomes for housing (map + data tables).

National home prices hit an important milestone in 2016, finally surpassing the pre-recession peak. Drawing on newly available metro-level data, the Harvard researchers found that nominal prices in real prices were up last year in 97 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. At the same time, though, the longer-term gains varied widely across the country, with some markets experiencing home price appreciation of more than 50 percent since 2000, while others posted only modest gains or even declines. These differences have added to the already substantial gap between home prices in the nation’s most and least expensive housing markets (map).

“While the recovery in home prices reflects a welcome pickup in demand, it is also being driven by very tight supply,” says Chris Herbert, the Center’s managing director. Even after seven straight years of  construction growth, the US added less new housing over the last decade than in any other ten-year period going back to at least the 1970s. The rebound in single-family construction has been particularly weak. According to Herbert, “Any excess housing that may have been built during the boom years has been absorbed, and a stronger supply response is going to be needed to keep pace with demand—particularly for moderately priced homes.”

Meanwhile, the national homeownership rate appears to be leveling off. Last year’s growth in homeowners was the largest increase since 2006, and early indications are that homebuying activity continued to gain traction in 2017. “Although the homeownership rate did edge down again in 2016, the decline was the smallest in years. We may be finding the bottom,” says Daniel McCue, a senior research associate at the Center.

Affordability is, of course, key. The report finds that, on average, 45 percent of renters in the nation’s metro areas could afford the monthly payments on a median-priced home in their market area. But in several high-cost metros of the Pacific Coast, Florida, and the Northeast, that share is under 25 percent. Among other factors, the future of US homeownership depends on broadening the access to mortgage financing, which remains restricted primarily to those with pristine credit.

Despite a strong rebound in multifamily construction in recent years, the rental vacancy rate hit a 30-year low in 2016. As a result, rent increases continued to outpace inflation in most markets last year. Although rent growth did slow in a few large metros—notably San Francisco and New York—there is little evidence that additions to rental supply are outstripping demand. In contrast, with most new construction at the high end and ongoing losses at the low end (interactive chart), there is a growing mismatch between the rental stock and growing demand from low- and moderate-income households.

Income growth did, however, pick up last year, reducing the number of US households paying more than 30 percent of income for housing—the standard measure of affordability—for the fifth straight year. But coming on the heels of substantial increases during the housing boom and bust, the number of households with housing cost burdens remains much higher today than at the start of last decade. Moreover, almost all of the improvement has been on the owner side. “The problem is most acute for renters. More than 11 million renter households paid more than half their incomes for housing in 2015, leaving little room to pay for life’s other necessities,” says Herbert.

Looking at the decade ahead, the report notes that as the members of the millennial generation move into their late 20s and early 30s, the demand for both rental housing and entry-level homeownership is set to soar. The most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the nation’s history, these young households will propel demand for a broad range of housing in cities, suburbs, and beyond. The baby-boom generation will also continue to play a strong role in housing markets, driving up investment in both existing and new homes to meet their changing needs as they age. “Meeting this growing and diverse demand will require concerted efforts by the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to expand the range of housing options available,” says McCue.



Live Webcast Today @ Noon ET

Tune into today's live webcast from the National League of Cities in Washington, DC, featuring:

Kriston Capps, Staff Writer, CityLab (panel moderator)
Chris Herbert, Managing Director, Joint Center for Housing Studies
Robert C. Kettler, Chairman & CEO, Kettler
Terri Ludwig, President & CEO, Enterprise Community Partners
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, City of Baltimore, Maryland

Tweet questions & join the conversation on Twitter with #harvardhousingreport

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Would More Coordination Between Service Providers Help Address Youth Homelessness in Greater Boston?

by David Luberoff
Senior Associate Director
On a January night in 2015, 180,760 youth and young adults experienced homelessness, according to counts completed in communities across the country.

While the federal government aims to prevent and end youth homelessness by 2020, achieving that goal is challenging because many organizations that serve youth and young adults experiencing homelessness are small nonprofit organizations with small staffs and limited funding. As a result, providers often operate in silos, which not only leads to an inefficient use of limited resources but also makes it challenging to evaluate the community’s progress in ending youth and young adult homelessness.


In “Toward Developing a Regional Coordinated Entry System for Youth and Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness in Greater Boston” – a paper that received this year's Joint Center’s prize for the best student paper on housing – Elizabeth Ruth Wilson, who just received her Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), examines how Y2Y Harvard Square, a student-run shelter for young adults, could address some of these problems. Written as a Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE), HKS’ equivalent of a master’s thesis, the paper focuses on whether Y2Y, which was Wilson’s client, could improve services by working with other providers to develop a “regional coordinated entry system.”

The PAE draws on published materials, interviews, and site visits and includes case studies of five areas around the country that are planning and/or implementing coordinated entry systems designed to help providers better coordinate and improve intakes, assessments, and referrals for youth who are experiencing homelessness. Wilson found that while developing such systems can be challenging, their benefits generally outweigh their costs. In addition, after assessing three options for creating a coordinated regional system in Greater Boston, she recommended developing a system in Greater Boston modeled on the approach used in Portland/Multnomah County, Oregon, which has an entirely separate coordinated entry system that brings together four key youth and young adult providers. A similar system in Greater Boston, Wilson argued, could help improve and streamline the work of the three key entities that serve youth experiencing homelessness in Greater Boston: Y2Y, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and Youth on Fire.



While Wilson believes creating such a system in Greater Boston “would benefit clients, providers, and the community,” she also notes doing so may be challenging “because Y2Y, Bridge, and Youth on Fire have limited capacity, use two different information systems, and have different funding requirements.” To overcome those challenges, she proposed short-term strategies for improving Y2Y’s capacity and collaboration with other providers. These efforts, she noted, can lay the foundation for transitioning to a regional coordinated entry system in the future. She also recommended that Y2Y, which is run by volunteers, hire paid, full-time managers, create an advisory board, and build a real-time analytics dashboard. In addition, Wilson suggested that Y2Y work with other providers to begin developing standardized procedures for client identification, intake, and referrals and a shared evaluation process. While these recommendations would be a major improvement, Wilson notes they “will not be sufficient to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness.” Rather, she contends, they need to be pursued in conjunction with other efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing in Greater Boston and provide resources to assist and support those at risk of experiencing homelessness. Together, she says, “[those activities] will help ensure all youth and young adults in the [Greater Boston] community have a permanent place to call home.”

Download a copy of Elizabeth Ruth Wilson’s award-winning PAE.

The photos for this post were provided by Facing Homelessness, a nonprofit that works to reduce stigma associated with homelessness and encourages people to Just Say Hello to people they encounter who are in need, instead of just passing by. 

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.