The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Housing

California Attacks Middle Income Housing Crisis

 

Photo: St. Vincents Housing

The California legislature has introduced a bill to make low income housing tax credits available to housing agencies for middle income housing. Assemblyman David Chu, D -San Francisco, said “During the housing crisis middle income Californians are in a very tough spot, “he noted that “They don’t qualify for low income affordable housing, but also can’t afford market rates”. It is good to see the California legislature taking action on this core issue for the middle class.

With stagnant wage increases, lack of affordable housing and rising interest rates middle income families are forced to rent instead of buying a starter home. Overall nationally the number of first time buyers in the market has dropped by two percentage points to 30 % from 32 % last month which indicates how they are getting squeezed out of the market in our recent blog of 2-20-18. The housing affordability index is at a 9 year low as well.

Add to these factors driving the lack of affordability is the inventory of starter houses is continuing to shrink as builders go for higher margin larger homes with higher prices – the average price of a home has increased year over year by 6.8 % way above the average salary increase barely reaching 2.5 %.

The following chart shows how home ownership rose during the period prior to the Great Recession but has fallen since to 1990s levels.

Source: Department of Commerce – 4/26/18

We need to have housing ownership levels back to 2003 levels before all the sub-prime mortgage programs spiked the home owner binge.

As we have observed in the past home ownership is a foundational goal for many people. Homeowners invest time and energy in a commitment to the long term improvement of our communities. Household creation boosts our economy when new home owners buy appliances, furniture, carpeting and improvement services.

We applaud the California bill but it does not go far enough. We need renewed housing funding via Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, incentives for builders to build low cost starter homes, cities to set aside more land for housing and an end to Administration protectionist tariffs against Canada driving up the piece of lumber.

Millennial Buyers Hit by Shrinking Inventory of Starter Homes

 

Image: ccdallas.org

The number of starter homes for first time home buyers has continued to decline over the past six years. Millennial first time buyers are struggling with high student debt loads, car payments and sky high rents.  Many young people can’t afford to live on their own and live with their parents into their late 20s and 30s. New household formations are at their lowest level since before the 2008 recession.

Sources: Trulia, Bloomberg – 3/22/18

On top of all the personal finance issues for first time buyers the price of housing continues to sky rocket now at a 7 – 8 % increase year over year.  Plus, the GOP Administration has slapped tariffs on Canadian imported lumber a major building material for homes giving a even bigger boost to prices.  The difference between incomes for starter home buyers and their incomes continues to spread with the housing affordability index at a 9-year low. For our economy we need a boost in first time buyer homes to increase house formation which will increase sales in home furnishings, appliances, and floor coverings – which are now flat to growing at only 1 to 2 % per year.

Builders make more margin on higher priced homes, so when they have a choice to build a high priced home versus an affordable one they will choose the high priced home.  So, how do we provide incentives for builders to build more starter homes, and increase the pool of first time buyers so builders have a good market for starter homes?

Next Steps:

Home builders are business focused, they see a declining number of first time home buyers so they build more high prices homes and they have few incentives from loan providers to build first time homes.

First, we need to mitigate the student loan debt load by refinancing their loans at lower rates, providing more workouts on favorable terms or for public service out and out forgiveness of the loan.

Second, the lumber tariff needs to be ended, so we can balance lumber markets between the US and Canada to reduce lumber prices

Third, we need to work with federal home loan agencies to finance more first time homes on more favorable terms, so young couples, or others can purchase their starter home.

When people own a home they take care of it and their neighborhood looks better, they gain an intrinsic sense of reward in caring for their home and making it theirs – renting can never provide that feeling.  Home ownership is a key pillar of our democracy building the equality of ownership. Homes need to be available to all to own, not just the wealthy.

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