Financial pressures might have pushed more Americans toward renting and lower rates of homeownership but that does not mean attitudes have shifted away from homeownership. From an overview of housing ten years after the burst housing bubble:
“There’s a remarkably high preference for homeownership that shows up in every survey of renters,” says Chris Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. “Ninety percent or so of renters still want to become homeowners. Certainly, young people are moving into homeownership more slowly, but that’s because of a host of reasons such as marrying and having children later, a reduced ability to save since the recession and that it’s harder to get a loan. It’s not because of a fundamental change in attitude.”
Let’s assume this desire for owning a home continues for at least a few years – and this is a consistent desire across multiple decades already. What might this lead to? Two different paths:
- The economy improves to the point where those who want to buy a home are able to. This may be difficult to imagine given the availability of high-paying jobs plus the return of housing prices to 2000s levels. Yet, homeownership has been higher in the past and might be again in the future as this is what Americans want. Historically, the federal government has helped Americans reach this goal.
- A changing economy plus high housing prices mean relatively few of those who want to own a home will be able to. Younger adults become frustrated by their inability to purchase a home, particularly compared to previous generations. They take out that frustration in various ways, perhaps including higher levels of stress or taking it to the polls (though I argue it will be difficult to have a national conversation about housing and proposals to address housing are often unpopular).
The homeownership rate will be very interesting to watch in the next ten to twenty years. While Americans promoted homeownership for over a century now, there is no guarantee it has to continue into the future if conditions make it very difficult for average residents to buy a house.
Even though I was inexplicably slow in reading sociologist Brian McCabe’s No Place Like Home: Wealth, Community & the Politics of Homeownership, I am glad I finally had the chance. My thoughts on the book:
- Few sociologists have explained the development and ongoing importance of homeownership in American life. McCabe does this well in a succinct book. The important topics are all covered – the development of the idea of homeownership, government polices promoting homeownership, the shift from homes as dwellings and anchors of communities to investments, possible changes to the future of homeownership – and a new argument is advanced. I could see handing this book to undergraduates and feeling good knowing that they will see good sociological work in an accessible book.
- The best contribution of this book, in my opinion, is the analysis of survey data regarding how homeowners and renters contribute to communities. Americans have argued for decades that homeownership leads to more civically involved citizens. McCabe shows this is not as clear-cut as often presented. The homeowners can even exercise their civic involvement in such ways that limit the participation of others (usually those with fewer resources). More civic involvement does not necessarily lead to the greater good.
- Another worthwhile idea in this book is the concept of tenure segregation. While residential segregation is well-studied by sociologists, the difference in locations between owners and renters merits further study. I suspect the differences between wealthier homeowners and less wealthy renters is stark but the interesting stuff may come between owners and renters with more comparable incomes or who are living in relatively integrated places. For example, I recently looked at a Zillow map of west Los Angeles and was intrigued by all of the units for rent for expensive prices. How different are neighborhoods with renters and owners at similar income levels compared to places where renters and owners are more different?
- The brevity of the book also comes at a cost. Other texts cover similar topics at much more depth but also require more time and patience. (The first book that came to mind involving homeownership and the development of the single-family home: John Archer’s Architecture and Suburbia). Also, the current cases used to illustrate the arguments of this book are brief. They may arise for a few paragraphs but have relatively little depth. (This blog has also featured the opposition to affordable housing in Winnetka.) Using more case studies, whether tracking a single case in more depth throughout the chapters or utilizing a metropolitan region where different communities illustrate various concepts in the book, would help flesh out how these issues work on the ground. Of course, such depth would require more research time and more pages.
On the whole, this sociology book is a concise and engaging introduction to the issues surrounding homeownership in the United States. As Americans think about the future of housing (even if it does not become a national political issue), this book offers much to ponder.
Political efforts will put the idea of rent control in front of some Chicago voters in the coming months:
Real and tangible, indeed, for the Lift the Ban coalition, a bloc of community groups that has been leading a two-year campaign against Illinois’ ban on rent control. The group is pushing for a repeal of the state’s 1997 Rent Control Preemption Act, a law that prohibits municipalities from enacting any form of regulation on residential or commercial rent prices.
“Because of the preemption act, it’s essentially illegal for any municipality to explore the idea of regulation,” said Jawanza Malone, Lift the Ban leader and executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “It just doesn’t make sense. The food we eat is regulated; there are environmental protections. Why is it that rent isn’t regulated? We’re just advocating for economic well-being for all of our communities.”…
The coalition’s efforts have already resulted in a question about rent regulation slated for the March primary ballot in nine wards and about 100 precincts around Chicago, Malone said. Couple that with state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, introducing a bill to the state House last year repealing the rent control ban and Democratic gubernatorial candidates J.B. Pritzker and Daniel Biss expressing support of a repeal and you have a number of people optimistic about the repeal coming to fruition…
But rent regulation is not a tool that economists and realty professionals want to pull out of the tool kit. In fact, Brian Bernardoni, senior director of government affairs and public policy for the Chicago Association of Realtors, likens it to “throwing a hand grenade on your lawn to get rid of dandelions.”
The issue of affordable housing needs to be addressed in some way in the Chicago region. If there are plenty of people opposed to rent control – and I assume at least a few business leaders will fight against the idea – what alternatives will they propose? At the least, perhaps a public discussion of rent control will push other parties to put some other ideas on the table.
I know the various problems in Illinois are vast but it would be great to hear a business leader or a government official step up soon and say that they had plans to build thousands of affordable housing units. I do not know how this could be done but could this not lead to a significant improvement for residents as well as positive public perception to whoever makes this happen?
Here is a new business model: buy a lot of foreclosed homes after a housing bubble bursts, plan to rent out many of the properties, and watch the money flow in.
Though Blackstone is unlikely to sell much or even any of its stake in an IPO, the stock market debut will test investors’ interest in the idea that the rental-home business can be institutionalized as apartments, shopping centers and office towers were before.
Blackstone and others investors believed that the housing collapse presented a rare opportunity to acquire homes for less than it cost to build them. Millions of foreclosures created a market large enough to justify investing in large systems to manage and maintain sprawling portfolios of rental homes…
To generate the revenue growth that shareholders will demand, they must pace rent hikes to avoid spooking tenants into becoming home buyers themselves. And now that foreclosure rates have returned to normal levels and prices have rebounded, they could find it difficult to add new houses at attractive prices.
They also must convince investors that huge home-rental companies are viable long-term businesses, not just massive portfolios of properties that need to be sold off.
I imagine there will be some particular parties (not just investors) interested in how this works out:
- Nearby residents. What happens if this leads to significantly more renters of homes in certain places? Americans tend to view renters more negatively than homeowners – though this might change in the future if the country shifts to fewer homeowners. How well will Blackstone do with having quality renters and following up with issues?
- Communities. Having renters is probably preferable to having vacant homes. But, they might have similar concerns as nearby residents as well as other interests in how Blackstone uses the properties.
- Advocates for affordable housing. There was some concern a few years ago that having large firms like this purchase cheap homes could limit lower priced housing. The lower end of the housing market could use more stock but investors may need to pursue higher rents in order to generate profits.
- Renters and homebuyers. What kind of rents will Blackstone charge? Will they eventually sell these properties and at what price? What kind of landlords will they be.
Additionally, I wonder what would happen if this does not prove to be a viable business plan. Are there others who would be interested in purchasing these properties? What if foreclosure proceedings begin with an institutional investor?
The State of the Nation’s Housing 2016 was released last week and there are a number of unfortunate historic points highlighted in the executive summary:
But at 1.1. million units, new home construction was still running near historic lows last year. A key factor holding back housing starts is the sustained falloff in household growth…
The US homeownership rate has tumbled to its lowest level in nearly a half-century. The decade-long declines are especially large among the age groups in the prime first-time homebuying years…
Just as exits from homeownership have been high, transitions to owning have been low. Tight mortgage credit is one explanation…And given that the homeownership rate tends to move in tandem with incomes, the 18 percent drop in real incomes among 25-34 year olds and the 9 percent decline among 35-44 year olds between 2000 and 2014 no doubt played a part as well…
On the renter side, the number of cost-burdened households rose by 3.6 million from 2008 to 2014, to 21.3 million. Even more troubling, the number with severe burdens (paying more than 50 percent of income for housing) jumped by 2.1 million to a record 11.4 million…While nearly universal among lowest-income households, cost burdens are rapidly spreading among moderate-income households as well, especially in higher cost coastal markets.
The conclusion suggests stability – homeownership should stabilize with increased household formation – as the effects of the housing bubble continue to fade. However, the glory years of housing seem to be far off as housing costs plague many Americans and the housing industry concentrates on higher end units.
As the economic crisis slowly fades into history, the question remains: is American housing transformed for decades (lower rates of homeownership, more high-cost renting, fewer housing starts)?
One writer suggests Americans have bought into the lie that houses are good investments:
Would it surprise you to know that if there are two equally expensive houses—one for rent, one to buy—the person who buys will pay 40 percent to 50 percent more each month? That’s what happens when you factor in property taxes, insurance, maintenance fees and assorted fees like repairs—which almost nobody does…
The truth is, most of what we’ve been raised to believe about owning a house simply isn’t true…
Run the numbers. Yale economist Robert Shiller found that from 1890 to 1990, the return on residential real estate was just about zero after inflation.
This trend toward seeing homes as a good return on investment is a recent development. Perhaps it hints at the commodification – and a need to see a potential return on investment – of everything.
But, if owning a home is not a great investment, why do Americans still privilege homeownership? Here are some historic reasons:
- Land is valuable. In the past, people needed land to some degree to survive. Think of all those tenant farmers in the Middle Ages who always had to pay someone else. Or think of sharecroppers in the United States. Land equaled food or the ability to run a business on your property. Additionally, having your own piece of property meant that you could get away from others as well as the government. It is that the home is your castle thing.
- Owning a home is a sign of material prosperity. When you are a homeowner, you have made it enough to be able to own and maintain your own property. In other words, you have the resources to waste it. This is the realization of the American Dream as George W. Bush once put it.
- Additionally, homeownership is a sign of dedication to your local community. Renters are assumed to be lower-income, transient, and not committed to civic organizations. Homeowners have a stake in their community because they (1) will be there for an extended time and (2) want to protect their property values (though this is also a more recent development).
- Combining #2 and #3, homeownership was assumed to keep people invested in capitalism as opposed to socialism. Again, if you own your own property, you want to see it do well rather than hand it over to an outside manager (the state or a landlord).
A new study of the 11 biggest American cities finds that an increasing number of suburbanites rent:
About 29 percent of suburbanites living outside the nation’s 11 most populous cities were renters in 2014, up from 23 percent in 2006, according to a report released Tuesday by New York University’s Furman Center real estate think tank and the bank Capital One.
The finances of home ownership since the mortgage meltdown might be a lead reason for the change, but the cost of renting also is rising in most of the biggest metropolitan areas, the study found…
Traditionally, suburbs have not been very open to renters, particularly when it comes to apartments. The stereotypes of renters are that they care less about the community, they are more transient, and that their dwellings drive down housing values. But, two major things changed that could contribute to the effects of the economic crisis:
- What if more new renters are renting single-family homes rather than apartments? The same stereotypes regarding renters might still apply but these renters are not as easy to spot and look like they are living the suburban dream of homeownership. Plus, isn’t having renters in single-family home preferable to all the vacant homes due to foreclosures?
- There are more suburbs than people often think that don’t look like wealthy bedroom communities. In other words, these renters might be clustered in particular communities where housing is cheaper and apartments are more plentiful but renting in wealthier suburbs may not have changed much.
It will be interesting to see how suburban communities respond to the uptick in renters. New regulations? Reconsideration of how renters should be viewed?