Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Housing Recovery, but Not for All Americans

by Eric Belsky
Managing Director
Driven by rising home prices and growing demand, the U.S. housing recovery is well underway, according to our latest State of the Nation’s Housing report released today. While still at historically low levels, housing construction has finally turned the corner, giving the economy a much-needed boost. But even as the recovery gains momentum, millions of homeowners are still delinquent on their mortgages or owe more than their homes are worth, and severe housing cost burdens have set a new record.

Driven by an increase of 1.1 million renter households, last year marked the second consecutive year of double digit percentage increases in multifamily construction. But the flip side of the strong rental market was the continued slide in homeownership rates. Even as historically low interest rates have helped make the monthly cost of owning a home more favorable than any time in the past 40 years, the national homeownership rate fell for the eighth straight year in 2012. The drop was especially pronounced for 25–54 year olds, whose homeownership rates were at their lowest point since recordkeeping began in 1976.

Note: White and black households are non-Hispanic; Hispanic households can be of any race.
Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, Current Population Surveys.

Tight credit is also limiting the ability of would-be homebuyers to take advantage of today’s affordable conditions and likely discouraging many from even trying.  At issue is whether, and at what cost, mortgage financing will be available to borrowers across a broad spectrum of incomes, wealth, and credit histories moving forward.

And while the recovery is good news for many, the number of Americans shelling out half or more of their incomes on housing is at an all-time high. At last count, 20.6 million households were shouldering such severe burdens, including nearly seven out of ten households with annual incomes of less than $15,000 (roughly equivalent to year-round employment at the minimum wage). But, the report notes, even as the need has never been greater, federal budget sequestration will pare down the number of households receiving rental housing assistance.

Notes: Severely cost-burdened households spend more than 50 percent of pre-tax income on housing costs.  Incomes are in constant 2011 dollars, adjusted for inflation by the CPI-U for All Items.
Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, American Community Surveys.

With rising home prices helping to revive household balance sheets and expanding residential construction adding to job growth, the housing sector is finally providing a much needed boost to the economy, but long-term vacancies are at elevated levels in a number of places, millions of owners are still struggling to make their mortgage payments, and credit conditions for homebuyers remain extremely tight. It will take time for these problems to subside. Given the profoundly positive impact that decent and affordable housing can have on the lives of individuals, families, and entire communities, efforts to address these urgent concerns as well as longstanding housing affordability challenges should be among the nation’s highest priorities.

Download the 2013 State of the Nation's Housing report.

Watch our webcast of the report's release.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Failure to Launch

by Dan McCue
Research Manager
With graduation season behind us, millions of newly minted college graduates will be returning to live in their parents’ homes. For some, it won’t be just for the summer. According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, at last count in 2011, fully 41 percent of college graduates under age 25 lived at home with their parents (Figure 1) along with 18 percent of graduates aged 25-29.

Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, 2011 1-Year ACS.

As the figure shows, many college graduates have come to be known as “boomerang children” - those who, instead of venturing out and forming their own household after graduating college, return to live with their parents.  Since the recession began, the term boomerang children has become well known, largely because the situation has become so common.

Source: JCHS tabulations of 2007 and 2011 1-year ACS.

In 2011, there were 16.5 million 18-24 year olds living with their parents and another 4.9 million aged 25-29.  Combined, that’s over 2.9 million more young adults living with their parents in 2011 compared to four years earlier, before the Great Recession. While population growth has helped lift these numbers, the increase in the share of young adults living with their parents in 2007-11 has meant that, among those aged 25-29 alone, there were nearly a million (945,000) more adults living with their parents in 2011 than there would have been had 2007 population rates held constant, while for adults aged 18-24, there were fully 1.2 million more.

Such large numbers living in what many parents and children alike would call an unsustainable situation are why boomerang children are now being looked at as a possible boon to household growth.  As these young adults start to move out of their parents’ basements, they add so-called “pent-up” demand on top of normal household growth. However, a pent-up demand estimate requires an assumed return to earlier “normal” rates – and what is to be considered normal is a tricky thing to determine these days.  For example, if the change in rates of adult children living with their parents in 2007-11 had not occurred, 1.5 million more adults under 30 would have been heading independent households in 2011.  Assuming no change in rates in 2000-11 would lead to even higher estimates of pent-up demand.

Although a return to 2000 or 2007 rates may or may not be in the cards, mere stabilization of current rates will help household growth rebound. Indeed, population growth among 18-29 year olds was expected to push up the overall number of households by over 400,000 in 2007-11; it was the drop in rates of headship that led to the significant declines. With no more drops in rates of household headship, and no more increases in shares of adults living with parents, then population growth can take over again and return significant household growth levels among young adults, regardless of pent up demand. This fall, data releases from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics will provide updated information that will shed light on whether or not such stabilization is starting to occur or, alternatively, if rates are heading in one direction or another.  Perhaps then we’ll be blogging about the growing number of empty-nester households. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Strong Demand for Rental Housing Driving Gains in Multifamily Construction

by Ellen Marya
Research Assistant
As the housing recovery gains momentum, one encouraging sign has been the strong return of multifamily construction. According to the Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction and Building Permits Survey, construction on 245,300 multifamily units was started in 2012, the most since 2008. (Figure 1) The surge in construction activity is only beginning to result in new supply on the market given the long lags from the time a project is conceived until construction is completed (only 166,000 units in multifamily buildings were completed in 2012, just slightly above the low point in 2011). But looking ahead, multifamily construction will continue to accelerate, as permits for over 310,000 multifamily units were issued in 2012, also the highest level since 2008. 

Source: US Census Bureau, New Residential Construction.

Gains in permitting have been widespread: three-quarters of the 100 largest metro areas accelerated their multifamily permitting in 2012. Nationwide, the multifamily rebound is outpacing improvement in the single-family market. Multifamily permitting was up over 51 percent between 2011 and 2012, more than twice the gain in single-family permits and the third consecutive double-digit increase. The rapid recovery in the multifamily sector has led to speculation that some markets may be in danger of overbuilding. But while recent gains are dramatic, a longer-term view of both supply and demand indicates that such concerns are likely overblown—at least for now.

Current increases in multifamily permitting are from historically low levels. From a peak of over 473,000 units in 2005, multifamily permits decreased by more than 70 percent to 142,000 in 2009, the fewest in 25 years. In the context of these drastic swings, permitting is just beginning to return to levels in line with long-term averages. Nationwide, in 2012, nearly 81,000 fewer multifamily units were permitted than the average annual level from 2000 to 2009. Permitting in 34 of the 100 largest metros did top average levels from the 2000s in 2012, including seven of the top ten highest permitting areas (Figure 2).

Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, New Residential Construction.

This boost in supply is occurring in conjunction with rapidly growing demand for rentals. Nearly 93 percent of multifamily units completed in 2012 were rentals, the highest level in decades. According to the Housing Vacancy Survey, the number of renter households increased by over 1.1 million between 2011 and 2012, marking the eighth straight year of renter growth. Rentership was especially strong in each of the top ten highest permitting areas, where growth in renter households outpaced overall household growth between 2010 and 2011, the most recent years with metro-level data available from the American Community Survey. In total, these ten metros added 154,000 households between 2010 and 2011, but the number of renter households increased by nearly 268,000.

Additional signs indicate strong rental markets in these highest permitting areas. According to MPF Research, vacancy rates in professionally-managed apartment complexes were near or under 5 percent in eight of these markets as of the fourth quarter of 2012. Monthly rents in the ten markets were up an average of 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 from the same quarter a year earlier, compared to 3.0 percent nationwide. As construction timelines for multifamily buildings often span several years, market conditions will continue to develop during the lag between permitting and completion of new units. However, generally tight markets and enduring renter growth suggest that the robust return of multifamily construction currently represents a response to rising demand, rather than the formation of a new bubble.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Are More Older Americans Retiring with Mortgage Debt?

by Irene Lew
Research Assistant
As the first wave of baby boomers prepare for retirement, it would be easy to assume that they’ve paid off their mortgage and credit card debt. However, data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) shows that older Americans today are grappling with mounting debt levels, even into their retirement years.  Among households aged 55 to 64, total median household debt jumped from $42,654 in 2000 to $70,000 in 2011—a 64 percent increase—while households aged 65 and over are now carrying more than twice the amount of household debt they were carrying a decade ago.  Even more surprisingly, older Americans had a larger increase in total median household debt than younger households, with the amount of total median household debt among householders under the age of 35 growing by a relatively modest 13 percent between 2000 and 2011.

Note: Percent changes are based on 2011 dollars.
Source: US Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), 1996 and 2008 Panels. 

The increase in debt among older Americans has been driven by a spike in the number of households who hold secured debt, which includes mortgages and home equity loans, even into their retirement years. According to data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, the share of households aged 65 and over with mortgage debt has nearly doubled over the past 20 years, from 21 percent in 1989 to 40 percent in 2010; among households aged 55-64 during the same time period, the share grew from 46 percent of households in 1989 to 69 percent in 2010. Just between 2001 and 2010, there was a 10 percent increase in the share of households aged 55-64 with mortgage debt and a 14 percent increase in the share of households aged 65 and over with mortgage debt.

Source: JCHS tabulations of Survey of Consumer Finances. 

It’s not just that more seniors are carrying mortgage debt; they are also saddled with much higher mortgage debt than they were carrying 20 years ago.  Although the median mortgage debt of all homeowners who are still carrying mortgage debt has increased from nearly $54,000 in 1989 to $109,000 in 2010, among homeowners aged 65 and over there was a 76 percent increase in the median amount of mortgage debt, from $15,180 in 1989 to $63,000 in 2010 (after adjusting to 2010 dollars).

While the dramatic rise in the share of older Americans with mortgage debt is partly the result of easily-accessible credit before the Great Recession (when many Americans took out home equity loans, extended mortgage terms, or refinanced their homes and took out cash), there is also evidence that older households were not spared from the Great Recession. A 2011 AARP study points out that, post-recession, a larger share of older homeowners with mortgages, particularly those with incomes below $23,000, are paying 30 percent or more of their income for housing costs. In fact, 96 percent of homeowners aged 50 and older with mortgages, who have incomes under $23,000, pay 30 percent or more of their income for housing.

Furthermore, a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) indicates that more senior households are taking out reverse mortgages. According to the report, 70 percent of reverse mortgage borrowers in 2010 opted to take the full amount of the loan as a lump sum at closing, up from just 2 percent of borrowers in 2008. While data is not available on how they use these funds, this dramatic increase raises concerns about whether borrowers will have sufficient financial resources to cover their expenses later in life.