From numerous vantage points, the U.S. housing market has improved considerably in recent years. Home prices are rising. The number of underwater homeowners has shrunk from 12.1 million in 2011 to 4.3 million today. Delinquency rates are down. And the share of homeowners beginning foreclosure proceedings has also declined by notable levels.
Yet, the economic downturn’s reach was deep, and as the latest “State of the Nation’s Housing” report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University makes clear, the market still faces considerable challenges in 2016 and beyond.
Here are the main topics the Joint Center stressed in its report:
1. Soaring Housing Costs – The number of U.S. households that are cost burdened (meaning they devote more than 30 percent of their monthly income to housing) now totals 39.8 million, or a third of U.S. households; 16.5 percent of households face severe burdens, meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing.
2. A Rental Crisis – Housing costs are particularly acute among renters. According to the Joint Center’s report, there are 21.3 million cost-burdened renters, and more than half (11.4 million) are severely cost burdened. And although low mortgage rates have trimmed down the costs of homeownership, 25 percent of homeowners are still cost burdened.
3. House Poor – Unsurprisingly, lower-income households face the greatest housing costs, with a remarkable 72 being severely cost burdened. Things are hardly ideal, though, among higher income brackets. In the nation’s 10 largest metro areas, 75 percent of renter households earning between $30,000 and $44,999 are cost burdened, while 50 percent of households earning $45,000 to $74,999 are similarly burdened.
4. Myriad Consequences – As the Joint Center details, there have been numerous consequences to the U.S.’ slow burning housing crisis, among them: cost-burdened households have to cut back on other spending to cover housing expenses; those cuts are especially painful for the severely cost burdened, who on average have just $500 left over to cover other expenses; with such little funds, low-income households spend 41 percent less on food and 74 percent less on healthcare; to keep housing costs down, low-income households move further away from job centers, and as a result, spend nearly three times as much on transportation costs as other households; and finally, because of the aforementioned costs, evictions are on the rise, and 9 percent of low-income renters expect eviction over the next two months (Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond details the eviction epidemic in his new book Evicted).
5. Affordable Housing Shortage – Further exacerbating the housing cost crisis is the relative lack of affordable housing. From 1993 to 2013, the number of federally assisted renters rose by just 532,000, although the number of low-income households eligible for such assistance soared by 3.8 million. As a result, waiting times for public housing in most cities stretch into the years (in San Diego, for instance, the wait is seven years).
6. Concentrated Poverty – Finally, all the aforementioned trends have worked to segregate America’s poor communities, even as the number of people living in such communities has skyrocketed. As the Joint Center notes, from 2000 to 2014, the number of people living in areas with poverty rates of 40 percent or higher rose from 6.5 million to 13.7 million. Also contributing to the concentration is the nature of public housing, which was historically built in low-income, high-poverty, racially segregated areas; today, 35 percent of public housing units are in census tracts with poverty rates of at least 40 percent, and another 42 percent of units are in tracts with poverty rates of 20 to 39 percent.
It is easy to view such statistics as outside of the typical real estate agent’s scope of business; after all, most of the aforementioned facts deal with renters, and even among the relatively few agents who work in leasing, their business is primarily devoted to Class A apartments in high-income areas.
But even if high housing cost burdens are not immediately affecting your business, consider this final statistic – according to the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, from 1970 to 2012, the share of families living in middle-income neighborhoods plummeted by 24 percentage points, while the share of families living in low- and high-income neighborhoods increased by 11 and 13 percentage points, respectively. These are sweeping economic trends that are radically reshaping the country’s housing markets, and as those changes continue, they will inevitably impact the businesses of agents, brokers, and other real estate professionals.