The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Housing

Rents Need to Be Stabilized Now – An Innovative Approach

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: newsregistrysf.com

Since 2007 there has been a 20 % increase in the number renter households while the number of owner – occupied households has barely increased.  Why?   Right after the Great Recession home lending took a nosedive as foreclosure homes were worked off the inventory and lending standards were tightened.  Builders focused on construction of multi-unit buildings where the market was more lucrative.  Banks stepped back from mortgage lending, now the federal government backs about 70 % of all home loans.

Sources: The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 10/24/18

So, prospective home buyers saw few opportunities for them to buy homes, while wages for the 80 % in income were stagnant they had no choice but to rent.  When the economy started to recover builders focused on high margin, luxury homes that were priced why out of the budget for first time buyers.

As cities focused on bringing more jobs into their business center building homes or apartments were a secondary priority because businesses provided more tax revenue.  By 2011,  there was a 37 % increase in the number of households paying more than 50 % of their income in rent.  There were almost 11 million households paying more than 50 % of their income in rent, that is a staggering number of people who are financially squeezed.

Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University – 2016

While the economy was taking off inflation increased much faster than the price of homes.  Wages were not keeping up with the rate of home price increases which averaged about 6.7 % per year. The divergence between wages and  home prices only continues to widen to the highest level since 2007.

Source: The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – 2016

Between 2000 and 2018 the rate of inflation was 2.12 % versus 3.09 % so the greed factor for landlords was about 45 %.  Why are rents moving up higher than the rate of inflation?  Lack of affordable alternatives is one reason.  In places like the San Francisco Bay Area and many metro areas, there is a huge jobs versus housing imbalance. In cities like Palo Alto there is a 20 to 1 jobs to household imbalance. With little competition in under housed growing metro areas landlords can charge any price they want. There just is not enough competition to keep an apartment building owner from raising rents.

Lack of homes means renters don’t have an alternate. Landlords have control because there  are no other cheaper units nearby and the buying a home alternative is not an alternative for most working class folks with the home affordability index at its worst level in 8 years.

This lack of competition economists don’t seem to understand when rent price controls are proposed.  When there is little competition apartment owners can just keep raising rents because there is nothing stopping them from gouging the renter.

Next Steps:

Most rent initiatives usually require a cap on rents as a way to deal with the problem. The problem with this approach is it penalizes the efficient property managers with the inefficient and greedy ones. We suggest a more innovative approach to tax the behavior we don’t want and give incentives for the behavior we do want.  So if a landlord raises the rent above the normal cost of housing index by more than 1 % for a county then property taxes on the amount over would increase by 2x.  This takes away the benefit raising the rent too high, the money won’t go to the landlord it goes to the city.  If the apartment owner keeps the rent below the cost of living index by 2 %, they would receive a lower property tax by 4 % for that year, the money goes right to his pocket for running an efficient multi-unit business.  In terms of building new units, these models can be used to come up with reasonable profits to attract investors while placing the focus on high quality property management.

Purchasing a home is crucial to providing competition to landlords.  We have proposed in the past that the federal government provide incentives for builders to build less expensive homes with smaller square footage for the working class.  Cities need to set aside land for homes, not businesses and quit being so greedy about the tax revenue they would get from a potential business taking the land.  We need our leaders to make it a national priority for all families that want to own a home to be able to purchase a home on working class wages.  When people own homes, they improve the home and the yard, the neighborhoods look better and values go up.  People care more about their neighborhoods, schools and local services than when they rent an are likely to move somewhere else if the rent goes up.

Rethinking How We Get From Home to the Grocery Store

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: texastribune.org

In a recent seminar by Climate One, an environmental conversation group, sponsored in San Francisco, one participant pointed out “the greenhouse gas reduction potential is huge.  Greenhouse gases from transportation are about 28% of all greenhouse gases in this country. “  Certainly changing how we get from home to the grocery store and everywhere will have a significant impact on climate change and greenhouse gas diffusion into the atmosphere.

While a few of us walk to the market bringing home our groceries in a cart with a basket, 99 % of all grocery trips are made by one person in a two-ton car, spewing out carbon gases.  Of course, most Americans still live in suburbs, sprawled out with single family homes connected by streets and freeways to shopping centers where the grocery store is located.  We buy a house in the suburb, buy a car to get around and that’s about all the thought we put into it.

We need to start thinking beyond the present urban map and transportation model centered on the single passenger car.  How about electric scooters?  They are shareable, we setup a logon on our smartphone, pick up a scooter left by a previous user and head on our way. Just leave the scooter there on the sidewalk when we arrive for the next person to use it.  In a minute or two, they are riding and are off on their trip.  Bikes are being shared in cities all over the U.S. with some bikes motorized to handle longer trips.

A short trip in a car on average costs about $8 one way, while an electric assisted bike costs just $2 per trip. There are cargo bikes available as well that can handle larger loads.  Of course, weather is an issue as these sharable scooter and bike solutions are growing popular in the Southwest and West.  Public transit, a bus or subway maybe the answer for rainy or snowy days.

Uber and Lyft are rethinking their business models to include electric scooters, and bikes. A customer logs on to their app for all personal transportation needs is their vision. They already offer shareable rides at a discount. Instead of buying a car, people are living closer to work and shopping in densely populated cities where owning a car is actually a costly liability.

New sharable transportation models combined with driverless cars would not only change transportation but our city maps as well.  Urban planners are already building denser housing near transportation hubs, providing bike lanes off away from parked cars and more bike pathways used exclusively by bikers.  The economic consequences are significant, the new car and used car markets would begin to shrink,  financing and insurance businesses for auto loans would decline.  New businesses using sharable transportation system would spring up for delivery, assisted transportation for doctor appoints or dropping off kids a practice.

Most importantly, using sharable transportation vehicles, bikes and scooters would make a significant impact to reduce carbon gases across the planet.  We may be able to finally, get ahead of the climate change curve and return our planet to more livable temperatures

Thinking creatively to solve our major problems like Climate One does in conversation mode with all points of view represented is refreshing.  The dialog during this seminar was focused on ‘can do’  and ‘make it happen’ while being sensitive to safety issues, city regulators and other businesses.  If we could have more of this civil solution oriented tone in our national dialog we could solve the big problems in front of us, as we always have the past two hundred and forty years.

Housing Has Not Recovered From the Great Recession

Image: 15146affordablehousing.weebly.com

As a percentage of GDP housing has not recovered from 2008.  Particularly, in two key categories: (1)  Furniture, Repairs & Maintenance and (2) Construction.  Additionally we know that appliance sales have been lagging as well due to tariffs and price versus worker wages being stagnant.

Sources: BEA, John Burns Real Estate, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 10/18/18

Housing has not recovered from the Great Recession downturn from sub-prime mortgages and loose lending practices.  As part of the recovery, banks were made whole with billions of TARP funds, but homeowners who tried to write down their principal loss on their homes to reduce mortgage payments were not allowed in court.  Banks paid a small pittance of $50 million in homeowner relief that was distributed in a hazard manner.  Millions of homeowners lost their homes and more importantly lost their equity.  They could not replace their homes when the economy turned around, they had to take ‘make do’ jobs when they did finally find a job and are now left with little wealth to retire on except for Social Security.

Young prospective home buyers face a daunting affordability crisis as the inventory of affordable homes is low as builders focus on wealthy buyers, who buy high margin homes.

Sources: Scotiabank Economics, NAR, Haver Analytics, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 10/17/18

In all regions of the country affordability continues to fall after reaching a peak in 2012.  Mortgage rates are at the highest level since the Great Recession, the inventory of middle class housing continues to decline and the commitment to homeownership is waning.  We hear more and more about how ‘renting is really ok’ – for who?  The wealthy landlords who continue to raise rents while raking in the cash.  What about families who want yards for their kids to play in, or to gain ‘sweat equity’ by upgrading the home they live in or landscaping the yard.  It is clear just looking at most neighborhood which homes are owned and maintained and which ones are rentals owned by an off premise landlord.

Next Steps:

Dropping the national commitment to home ownership is not the solution to the problem.  We need to ensure that the 80 % who do the heavy lifting in the economy can afford to buy a home on their incomes.  Corporations need to be increasing wages for workers at least as fast as their executives and more to ‘catch up’ to the raises and stock plans of the executive team receiving high compensation from stock and stock buybacks.

Reducing student debt, now at $1.5 trillion is critical so that prospective home buyers do not have student debt right at time they are starting families and purchasing a home.  We have proposed a far reaching program building on existing student debt forgiveness programs to more comprehensive service for debt forgiveness programs.

Builders need incentives to build lower margin homes middle class homes in new developments.  Local and state governments need to take on the charter of ensuring that affordable housing is a priority for zoning near commercial and business centers.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac need to be committed to focusing on first time buyers and lower income prospective buyers innovating ways to get them into homes while at the same time being financially responsible.  The Federal government needs to provide more funding for the two housing agencies to bring down rates to an affordable level.  Working in cooperation with groups like Operation Hope, banks need to make a new effort to make mid and lower income buyers financially literate and help them move into homes.  Think what a huge difference it would make for our cities and rural communities if people owned their homes and made improvements to their home and yards.

High Tech Behemoths Run State and Local Politics

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: youtube.com

Recently the high technology power houses like Google, Facebook, Uber and Amazon have appeared in the news related to national issues privacy, Russia hacking, driver contractors and conservative viewpoint censorship.  There is an even more troubling trend; major high tech corporations are controlling key decisions, policies and direction of development for many major American cities and states. Amazon is throwing its weight around the U.S. in search of a 2nd corporate headquarters.

Source: LA Times – 1/19/18

Amazon has already received millions of dollars in tax subsidies and compensation  for locating warehouses in some regions. The Governor of Maryland has offered a $5 billion package of transportation and tax breaks to the company to locate in Maryland, while Newark and New Jersey have offered a $7 billion package of subsidies.  Amazon has been adept at Seattle politics as well, when the city unanimously passed a $275 per employee tax on businesses to pay for homeless shelters and affordable housing. Amazon along with local businesses pushed back and the measure was repealed.

Apple purchased a site previously owned by Hewlett – Packard for its Apple Park spaceship headquarters.  The Cupertino city council was delighted with the plan to put 14,000 employees on the site, doubling the number of workers at the large parcel.  After the headquarters building was built the local council realized that the traffic congestion around the site and the city was going to be a major problem. The city then proposed a per employee tax to gain revenue of $10 million versus the present tax structure based on square footage would have netted only $800, 000. The proposed funding would have been allocated to buses, road widening, express lanes and other traffic flow enhancements. Apple and other businesses protested so the proposal was tabled until the 2020 election.

Uber has gone into cities all over the country from its base in San Francisco without authorization, creating major competition to local taxi companies.  Cab companies in most cities purchase a medallion from the city at great expense, some in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to license them to provide ride services in the city.  Uber has run into opposition in some major cities like New York, where the number of cars is capped.

Google has quietly purchased hundreds of acres of land in downtown San Jose, until newspaper stories began to spot light the land purchases.  The high tech behemoth plans on deploying up to 20,000 employees around the city hub and train station.  Planning for a huge employee center near public transportation makes sense, but local businesses and housing near purchased lots are under pressure to sell to make room for the corporate plan.  Local housing groups are concerned about the availability of affordable housing and small business.

Next steps

Our concern is that major corporations, their planning departments and executives have so much power that local elected leaders have little clout to push back on building or development that may not be in the interest of the local community.  As local government struggles to gain revenues lost to an Internet based economy, and stiff opposition from local citizens to raising taxes causes local city government power to decline.

Local leaders will need to rethink their base of power in the city, seeking alliances with local businesses while building a base of economic support for city services.  Cities and states often interested in luring businesses to their local regions spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the process maybe missing the point of their charter.  Building necessary infrastructure, affordable housing, fast transportation systems, healthcare for those not covered and safe streets are their mandate from local citizens. It is a challenging time for local and state governments, yet they need to take up the mantle and assert the policies and programs they were elected to implement.  Plus, corporations need to take responsibility for their actions and how they affect building the common good of the community.

Declining Mobility Limits Millennials Careers, Economy

 

Image: dailymail.co.uk

More millennials are living with their parents than ever before due to lack of income, availability of housing and marriage later in life.  Moves by people under age 35 are continuing to decline.  Seniors are moving a bit more but overall they are staying put in their homes for retirement, as the cost to move to a new home is soaring.  Home prices have increased on average by 6.7 % per year over the past five years, skewed toward large square foot homes for upper income buyers.

Source: Trulia – 1/31/2018

Overall Americans are not moving like they used to in the 1990s, and before the Great Recession. In 2017, 34.9 million Americans moved to new residences, translating to a household mobility rate of 10.9%, which is the lowest rate in the last 50 years since the Census Bureau has been tracking this statistic. Lack of mobility is showing up in total household formations including rental units, new and existing home figures.  For all of 2017 there were only 400,000 household units formed, notice this is a similar pace to the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Source: Federal Reserve of St. Louis, 1/2018

The mobility that is taking place is from major cities to major cities or coast to coast.  We noted in our post on Heartland Economics that one of the issues that faces many rural regions in the South and Midwest is lack of new jobs, digital infrastructure, health and education services.  When young people in these regions cannot receive the education they need to build a career where there are jobs in the cities they stay where they are in low wage jobs with few prospects of advancement. The opioid epidemic is worst in rural regions in the country where a sense of hopelessness has set in for many people.  While in the last quarter some of these regions have seen an increase in jobs, this increase in economic activity is likely to be a passing surge from a very low economic base to begin with that will not last without long term investment.

Next Steps:

Why should we be concerned with lack of workforce mobility?  Because, when people do not move to take on new jobs, or start families or get away from home, home purchases decline, furniture sales drop, appliance sales fall and the overall economic life blood of our economy stagnates. What do we need to do?  Raise wages for workers to a decent level in each metro and rural region of the country, so people can build a nest egg and make a down payment on a home.  Rental unit pricing needs to be addressed in a way that is fair to the multiunit owner while holding down rental costs. The most recent Tax Bill passed in December of 2017 eliminated the provision for tax deductions by employers or workers for unreimbursed moving expenses.  This provision needs to be reinstated to drive the costs of moving down.  Interest on first mortgages should be made tax deductible for all regions of the country with a special emphasis on low income first time buyers. In rural regions we recommend special tax zones be established to offer incentives for investors to setup businesses there, with partnerships with local universities to build incubators for startups much along the model pioneered in Silicon Valley yet tuned to the needs of the region.  The size of our workforce is declining, we have young people staying at home so we need to address the issue of lack of mobility head on to provide the  life opportunities to our young people that earlier generations enjoyed.

The Elite Makes U.S. A Land of Renters

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: marketplace.org

Household formations have been trending down over the past 30 years from its peak reached after a continual increase since 1955.  More than a quarter of possible home buyers are unemployed, underemployed, saddled with student debt or living at home with their parents making home buying a challenge. The other possible household formation group is making such low income they are forced into renting as the only budgetary alternative.

Source: Real Investment Advice – 7/13/18

The housing market has shifted drastically toward high end homes for the wealthy, not first time buyers, and multi-unit rental units for investment.  As investors look outside the stock market for high returns rental units have been an excellent income stream with income streams totaling $800 billion per year.

So, while wages for the 80% in income, non – supervisory workers have been stagnant; profits, stock buybacks, executive salaries and other financial gimmicks have provided the top 10 % with 90 % of national income since 2008.  In effect, we have become a nation of renters due to two factors: wages being held down, and inflated assets benefiting the rich.

Source: Real Investment Advice – 7/13/18

Corporate executives do not make their stock price and profit targets by raising wages resulting in reduced profits.  Wages as a cost cut immediately into profits, which a CEO wants to stay clear of having to explain to the Board or shareholders.  Does it really make sense that workers are not getting wage increases in a job market with the lowest unemployment rate in 10 years? Until workers get enough countervailing power in wage negotiations worker wages are likely to stay stagnant. No, executives are allocating profits, offshore and tax cut funds to benefit themselves and shareholders while workers are left out of the economic feast.

Next steps:

We have outlined multiple reasons for lack of wage increases in earlier posts, the bottom line is executives don’t want to give raises beyond inflation.  Proposals like Senator Cory Booker’s Worker’s Dividend Act to share stock buyback dollars with workers is a good start, yet the sustainable solution lies in corporate governance, where activities shareholders required management to give workers their fair share of profits; for example if executives receive a 5 % cut of the profits workers should receive the same 5 % as well.

To give first time home buyers a boost, we need to reduce student loan debt by re financing their rates to the rates that the Federal Reserve offers bank.  After all we are ‘banking in the future’ of our young people.  Where possible student debt could be forgiven for domestic service corps work or working with corporations who hire graduates to reduce their loans as part of the offer package.  Government mortgage  agencies need to support first time buyers with reduced down payment requirements and other incentives.  To incentivize home builders set asides of homes for first time buyers need to be established to create inventory from which a first time buyer can select their home.

Increasing household formations should be a top priority for policy makers and the wealthy alike.  When household formations are moving ahead, furniture, appliances, home improvement hardware, and thousands of product and services are purchased. Plus, when people own a home they have a piece in the future of their neighborhood, schools and community which will increase property values for all.

Millennials Buried in Student Debt Can’t Buy Homes!

 

Student debt has soared to $1.4 trillion in the last month according to the Federal Reserve.  Now millennials are faced with a combination of soaring student debt and high home prices are giving up on owning a home.

Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of New York, US Census Bureau, New York Times – 5/29/18

In 2003, 42 % of people under age 35 owned a home now only 35 % own a home.  The dream of owning a home is slipping away as our society allows the rich continue to enjoy huge tax reductions in the most recent tax bill, with continuous lack of state funding for colleges and universities and then a paucity of forgiveness programs for graduates.  The lack of household formations, now at a low point since the Great Recession means that durable orders will fall and sure enough durables (ie. appliances, furniture, cars) orders have fallen recently.  As millennials and working class are squeezed between stagnant wages and rents, college debt, car loan payments, and credit card payments:

Source: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/29/18

Next Steps:

We saw this problem getting worse in our blog last April and suggested several solutions related to student debt forgiveness and interest reduction programs:

As part of the spending bill that Congress passed last month, $350 million was allocated for a fix it forgiveness program for some types of student loans.  Senator Elizabeth Warren has been surveying the issue and individuals trying to take advantage of the provisions where she found that it was quite complex, answers were in complete from the Department of Education and work still needed to be done to setup the process. She found many firefighters and teachers having a difficult time getting into the program.  Prior to passage of the spending bill Senators Whitehouse and Kaine wrote a bill to setup a student debt forgiveness program and get it funded, their bill set the stage for Democrats to push for provisions of the bill to be included in the omnibus spending bill.

This solution is still not enough compared to the huge issue of $1.49 trillion outstanding placing an anchor of debt on our young people when they need to be investing in starting their families and careers and buying homes. In blog of February 16th in our archives, we review an idea to cancel all student debt.  We like the idea moving forward, yet recommend that forgiveness be done in stages, by reducing interest rates, offering Heartland Service, providing a universal national service option and corporate sponsorship of an internship by the student.”

Our ideas stand today, as they did six weeks ago as Congress, the Elite and Corporate Nation States continue to ignore the fact that we are not doing right by our young people entering the economy and starting their careers.

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.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén