Photo: Robert Clark
The US housing market is steadily returning to “normal” following the Great Recession a decade ago. But not all households or housing markets are thriving, according to a recently released study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
The study — The State of the Nation’s Housing 2017 — determined that despite the housing market’s apparent recovery, many lower-income Americans are being priced out of their local markets entirely.
According to the study, these were some of the key issues facing the housing market that urgently need to be addressed:
Some 39 million American households are living in homes they can not afford, according to the study. Nearly one third of Americans paid more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2015. Thirty percent is the widely accepted upper limit on how much of a household’s total income should go to housing.
The number of cost burdened renters surpassed the number of cost burdened homeowners in 2015. There were 21 million cost burdened renters, compared to 18 million cost burdened homeowners. Nearly half of all US renters were cost burdened in 2015. And, some 26 percent of all US renters paid more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing costs. This figure was even higher among lower-income families, according to the study.
In New York City, 44 percent of all households — including renters and homeowners — are cost burdened.
Changes in public policy and additional funding is necessary to help combat the national affordability crisis facing the country today, the study says.
Single-family home construction is well below historical levels, making it harder for homebuyers in many markets to find affordable “starter” homes. This is helping to drive home prices up to pre-recession levels in some of the country’s hottest markets.
However, with both construction labor and available land in short supply, the prospect of alleviating the country’s tight housing supply a Herculean feat.
Still, single-family home construction increased over nine percent last year, driving growth for the first time since 2005, according to the study.
“Despite these gains, housing construction is still weak by historical standards. Single-family starts have been particularly slow to recover,” the study finds.
3. Home prices
National home prices rose 5.6 percent last year, with home prices surpassing the pre-recession record high. Rising home prices helped reduce the number of “underwater” homeowners, or homeowners delinquent on their mortgages.
However, national home prices are still almost 15 percent below previous peaks in inflation-adjusted terms. In other words, many homeowners have still not regained the housing wealth they lost during the recession, according to the study.
Home prices rose in 97 of the country’s 100 largest metros last year, but they are still more than 15 percent below peaks in 32 metros.
“Markets where prices are well below peak include not only metros at the epicenter of the housing boom and bust, such as Las Vegas and Tampa, but also Midwestern markets where the cycle in home prices was comparatively mild, such as Chicago and Detroit,” the study says.
Home prices have also not recovered equally in all areas. Prices in low-income areas are still nearly 14 percent below peaks, compared to 3.3 percent in high income areas, researchers found using data from the listing site Zillow.
4. Rental market growth
The US rental market has exploded over the last 10 years, with demand now steadily outpacing supply. The number of renters and rental price growth accelerated rapidly, although some “high-end” rental markets recorded more moderate growth, according to the study.
And, while multi-family construction has been outpacing single-family construction, most new units are “luxury” or very expensive apartments. The demand for more affordable rentals remains extremely high, causing rents to climb higher. There is legitimate concern about low-income Americans being able to afford rising rents in their areas, according to the study.
The rapid influx of renters, particularly among Americans who would traditionally prefer to be homebuyers like older Americans with families, is in part due to the number of homeowners who defaulted on their mortgage during the financial crisis. The number of households with children who rent jumped to 39 percent last year from 32 percent in 2005.
Also, demographic changes in the aging added to the influx of renters. Some 27 percent of renter households last year were 55 years old or older, up 7 percent from 2005. “Older households aged 55 and over accounted for fully 44 percent of renter household growth between 2005 and 2016,” the study finds.
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