Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wait... What? Ten Surprising Findings from the 2017 State of the Nation’s Housing Report

by Daniel McCue
Senior Research Associate

Every year, when we release our State of the Nation’s Housing report, we’re asked some variation of the question: “What surprised you in this year’s report?” Given all the time and effort that goes analyzing the data and writing the report, we are so close to it that little surprises us by the time of publication. Nevertheless, here are 10 findings in this year’s report that were new and maybe even a bit surprising:

1. For-sale inventories dropped even lower over the past year.   

For the fourth year in a row, the inventory of homes for sale across the US not only failed to recover, but dropped yet again. At the end of 2016 there were an historically low 1.65 million homes for sale nationwide, which at the current sales rate was just 3.6 months of supply - almost half of the 6.0 months level that is considered a balanced market.

2. Fewer homes were built over the last 10 years than any 10-year period in recent history.

Even with the recent recovery in both single-family and multifamily construction, markets nationwide are still feeling the effects of the deep and extended decline in housing construction. Over the past 10 years, just 9 million new housing units were completed and added to the housing stock. This was the lowest 10-year period on records dating back to the 1970s, and far below the 14 and 15 million units averaged over the 1980s and 1990s.

3. Single-family construction grew at a faster pace than multifamily construction.

The slow recovery in single-family construction picked up its pace in 2016. For the first time since the Great Recession, the rate of growth in single-family construction outpaced multifamily construction.

4. Smaller homes may be coming back.
Behind the growth in single-family construction, and as a new development in 2016, construction of smaller homes is back on the rise. The median square footage of newly completed single-family homes declined slightly, due to increase in construction of smaller-sized homes (less than 1,800 sqft).
5. Rental markets are still strong.  

Although there are signs of moderation, the slowdown in multifamily rental markets appears to be limited, so far, to a small number of markets. Indeed, last year, multifamily construction levels were still on the rise in most of the country, rents declined in just 10 of the 100 markets, multifamily loan originations and lending volumes both hit new record highs, and rental vacancy rates were at a 30-year low.

6. Long-term, metro-area home price trends show surprisingly wide variations.

Home prices have rebounded widely across the nation. In 2016, prices were up in 97 of 100 metros, and 41 metros had regained their nominal peak price levels from the mid-2000s. Over the longer period of time, however, the combined impact of the boom and bust has resulted in significant differences in home price appreciation across the country. In some metros (particularly on the coasts) real home prices have grown by 50 percent or more since 2000, while prices in 16 of the top 100 metros (mainly in the Midwest and South) were below 2000 levels, after adjusting for inflation.

7. The 12-year decline in the US homeownership rate may be nearing an end.

Homeownership rates flattened last year and the number of homeowners increased for the first time since 2006, suggesting trends in homeownership may be strengthening. In addition, first-time homebuyers accounted for a higher share of sales in 2016 than the year before. Still, lending remained skewed to highest credit score borrowers.

8. The homeownership gap between whites and African-Americans widened to its largest disparity since WWII.

The post-2004 decline in homeownership has been especially severe for African-Americans and has pushed black homeownership rates to fully 29.7 percentage points lower than that for whites. Comparing census data going back to WWII, the white-black difference in homeownership rates has never been wider.

9. More than half of all poor now live in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Poverty is growing, concentrating, and suburbanizing all at the same time. Overall, the total number of people living in poverty in the US increased by nearly 14 million in 2000-2015. Moreover, 54 percent of the nation’s poor live in high-poverty neighborhoods (those with poverty rates over 20 percent).

10. Poverty is growing across metros and in rural areas.

Poverty has been on the rise throughout cities, suburbs, and rural areas. Indeed, while the number of poor living in high-poverty tracts in dense, urban areas grew by 46 percent between 2000 and 2015, the number of poor living in high-poverty tracts in moderate- and lower density suburban areas more than doubled.

Read the full State of the Nation’s Housing report on our website.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Growing Demand and Tight Supply are Lifting Home Prices and Rents, Fueling Concerns about Housing Affordability

A decade after the onset of the Great Recession, the national housing market has, by many measures, returned to normal, according to the 2017 State of the Nation’s Housing report, being released today by live webcast from the National League of Cities. Housing demand, home prices, and construction volumes are all on the rise, and the number of distressed homeowners has fallen sharply. However, along with strengthening demand, extremely tight supplies of both for-sale and for-rent homes are pushing up housing costs and adding to ongoing concerns about affordability (map + data tables). At last count in 2015, the report notes, nearly 19 million US households paid more than half of their incomes for housing (map + data tables).

National home prices hit an important milestone in 2016, finally surpassing the pre-recession peak. Drawing on newly available metro-level data, the Harvard researchers found that nominal prices in real prices were up last year in 97 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. At the same time, though, the longer-term gains varied widely across the country, with some markets experiencing home price appreciation of more than 50 percent since 2000, while others posted only modest gains or even declines. These differences have added to the already substantial gap between home prices in the nation’s most and least expensive housing markets (map).

“While the recovery in home prices reflects a welcome pickup in demand, it is also being driven by very tight supply,” says Chris Herbert, the Center’s managing director. Even after seven straight years of  construction growth, the US added less new housing over the last decade than in any other ten-year period going back to at least the 1970s. The rebound in single-family construction has been particularly weak. According to Herbert, “Any excess housing that may have been built during the boom years has been absorbed, and a stronger supply response is going to be needed to keep pace with demand—particularly for moderately priced homes.”

Meanwhile, the national homeownership rate appears to be leveling off. Last year’s growth in homeowners was the largest increase since 2006, and early indications are that homebuying activity continued to gain traction in 2017. “Although the homeownership rate did edge down again in 2016, the decline was the smallest in years. We may be finding the bottom,” says Daniel McCue, a senior research associate at the Center.

Affordability is, of course, key. The report finds that, on average, 45 percent of renters in the nation’s metro areas could afford the monthly payments on a median-priced home in their market area. But in several high-cost metros of the Pacific Coast, Florida, and the Northeast, that share is under 25 percent. Among other factors, the future of US homeownership depends on broadening the access to mortgage financing, which remains restricted primarily to those with pristine credit.

Despite a strong rebound in multifamily construction in recent years, the rental vacancy rate hit a 30-year low in 2016. As a result, rent increases continued to outpace inflation in most markets last year. Although rent growth did slow in a few large metros—notably San Francisco and New York—there is little evidence that additions to rental supply are outstripping demand. In contrast, with most new construction at the high end and ongoing losses at the low end (interactive chart), there is a growing mismatch between the rental stock and growing demand from low- and moderate-income households.

Income growth did, however, pick up last year, reducing the number of US households paying more than 30 percent of income for housing—the standard measure of affordability—for the fifth straight year. But coming on the heels of substantial increases during the housing boom and bust, the number of households with housing cost burdens remains much higher today than at the start of last decade. Moreover, almost all of the improvement has been on the owner side. “The problem is most acute for renters. More than 11 million renter households paid more than half their incomes for housing in 2015, leaving little room to pay for life’s other necessities,” says Herbert.

Looking at the decade ahead, the report notes that as the members of the millennial generation move into their late 20s and early 30s, the demand for both rental housing and entry-level homeownership is set to soar. The most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the nation’s history, these young households will propel demand for a broad range of housing in cities, suburbs, and beyond. The baby-boom generation will also continue to play a strong role in housing markets, driving up investment in both existing and new homes to meet their changing needs as they age. “Meeting this growing and diverse demand will require concerted efforts by the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to expand the range of housing options available,” says McCue.

Live Webcast Today @ Noon ET

Tune into today's live webcast from the National League of Cities in Washington, DC, featuring:

Kriston Capps, Staff Writer, CityLab (panel moderator)
Chris Herbert, Managing Director, Joint Center for Housing Studies
Robert C. Kettler, Chairman & CEO, Kettler
Terri Ludwig, President & CEO, Enterprise Community Partners
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, City of Baltimore, Maryland

Tweet questions & join the conversation on Twitter with #harvardhousingreport

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Would More Coordination Between Service Providers Help Address Youth Homelessness in Greater Boston?

by David Luberoff
Senior Associate Director
On a January night in 2015, 180,760 youth and young adults experienced homelessness, according to counts completed in communities across the country.

While the federal government aims to prevent and end youth homelessness by 2020, achieving that goal is challenging because many organizations that serve youth and young adults experiencing homelessness are small nonprofit organizations with small staffs and limited funding. As a result, providers often operate in silos, which not only leads to an inefficient use of limited resources but also makes it challenging to evaluate the community’s progress in ending youth and young adult homelessness.

In “Toward Developing a Regional Coordinated Entry System for Youth and Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness in Greater Boston” – a paper that received this year's Joint Center’s prize for the best student paper on housing – Elizabeth Ruth Wilson, who just received her Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), examines how Y2Y Harvard Square, a student-run shelter for young adults, could address some of these problems. Written as a Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE), HKS’ equivalent of a master’s thesis, the paper focuses on whether Y2Y, which was Wilson’s client, could improve services by working with other providers to develop a “regional coordinated entry system.”

The PAE draws on published materials, interviews, and site visits and includes case studies of five areas around the country that are planning and/or implementing coordinated entry systems designed to help providers better coordinate and improve intakes, assessments, and referrals for youth who are experiencing homelessness. Wilson found that while developing such systems can be challenging, their benefits generally outweigh their costs. In addition, after assessing three options for creating a coordinated regional system in Greater Boston, she recommended developing a system in Greater Boston modeled on the approach used in Portland/Multnomah County, Oregon, which has an entirely separate coordinated entry system that brings together four key youth and young adult providers. A similar system in Greater Boston, Wilson argued, could help improve and streamline the work of the three key entities that serve youth experiencing homelessness in Greater Boston: Y2Y, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and Youth on Fire.

While Wilson believes creating such a system in Greater Boston “would benefit clients, providers, and the community,” she also notes doing so may be challenging “because Y2Y, Bridge, and Youth on Fire have limited capacity, use two different information systems, and have different funding requirements.” To overcome those challenges, she proposed short-term strategies for improving Y2Y’s capacity and collaboration with other providers. These efforts, she noted, can lay the foundation for transitioning to a regional coordinated entry system in the future. She also recommended that Y2Y, which is run by volunteers, hire paid, full-time managers, create an advisory board, and build a real-time analytics dashboard. In addition, Wilson suggested that Y2Y work with other providers to begin developing standardized procedures for client identification, intake, and referrals and a shared evaluation process. While these recommendations would be a major improvement, Wilson notes they “will not be sufficient to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness.” Rather, she contends, they need to be pursued in conjunction with other efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing in Greater Boston and provide resources to assist and support those at risk of experiencing homelessness. Together, she says, “[those activities] will help ensure all youth and young adults in the [Greater Boston] community have a permanent place to call home.”

Download a copy of Elizabeth Ruth Wilson’s award-winning PAE.

The photos for this post were provided by Facing Homelessness, a nonprofit that works to reduce stigma associated with homelessness and encourages people to Just Say Hello to people they encounter who are in need, instead of just passing by. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Cincinnati Event Focuses on Lessons from the PRO Neighborhoods Initiative

by Matthew Arck
Associate Analyst
The challenges—and the unexpected benefits—of collaboration among community development financial institutions (CDFIs) were the subject of a recent gathering in Cincinnati that focused on the experiences of CDFIs that have received funding from the Partnerships for Raising Opportunities in Neighborhoods (PRO Neighborhoods) program, a five-year, $125 million competitive initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase.

Kicking off the event, Karen Keogh, Head of Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, welcomed civic and non-profit leaders, along with the directors of the award-winning CDFIs to a renovated union hall in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, commenting that the neighborhood, which many of the attendees had a personal hand in revitalizing, was “like Brooklyn, but cooler.” In her remarks, Keogh described JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic efforts, focused on workforce readiness, small business growth, consumer financial health, and supporting communities and neighborhoods. Part of this last area of focus, the PRO Neighborhoods initiative encourages CDFIs to take on specific community development challenges.

At the event, Alexander von Hoffman, a Joint Center Senior Research Fellow who is examining the initiative’s methods and achievements, and Colleen Briggs, Executive Director of Community Innovation at JPMorgan Chase, discussed findings of the Joint Center’s research on the work of the PRO Neighborhoods recipients. Dr. von Hoffman noted that, according to a Progress Report released last fall, the entities funded by the first seven PRO Neighborhood awards have made $240 million in loans and leveraged another $350 million in additional funding. This funding has helped create 2,400 jobs and produced or preserved 1,600 units of affordable housing. 

These efforts, von Hoffman said, spanned a wide array of programs, partnerships, and places. They ranged from groups like ROC USA, which took its model of helping the residents of manufactured houses purchase their mobile-home parks into new states, to collaborations between diverse programs in specific areas, such as PRO Oakland, which makes loans to small businesses, nonprofit groups, and low-income housing developers along International Boulevard and in downtown Oakland, California. Carrying out complex collaborations in diverse locales, von Hoffman explained, has taught the PRO Neighborhoods group leaders that to succeed they must be flexible, sensitive to markets, and communicate regularly with their partners.

L-R: Charlie Corrigan (Vice President, JPMorgan Chase) moderates as Joe Neri (CEO, IFF) and Jeanne Golliher (CEO, Cincinnati Development Fund) discuss lessons from their CDFI collaboration, the Midwest Nonprofit Lenders Alliance. 

Successful partnerships require strong relationships, added Jeanne Golliher and Joe Neri, the CEOs of Cincinnati Development Fund (CDF) and IFF, two CDFIs that were part of the Midwest Nonprofit Lenders Alliance (MNLA), one of seven entities funded in 2014 via a pilot program that became the PRO Neighborhoods initiative. They explained that MNLA, which is the subject of a recent Joint Center case study, brought together CDF’s local knowledge and IFF’s underwriting expertise to provide long-term facility loans to nonprofits in the Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, metro areas. (These included several projects in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.) Recounting the “courtship” that led to the CDF and IFF collaboration, Neri and Golliher described how clear communication and commitment to shared values and social goals turned “love at first sight” into a strong and fruitful “marriage.” Neri, for example, noted that Golliher’s passion for the people of Cincinnati ultimately led IFF to provide funding for a homeless shelter that was outside their organizations’ planned collaboration.

In formal and informal discussions at the event, leaders of other entities that have been funded by the PRO Neighborhoods program echoed Golliher and Neri’s remarks. Several participants noted that getting on the same page and hashing out details at the beginning of a collaboration can easily take a full year. This means that potential partners must be patient and probably should build “ramp-up” time into their plans. Extending the relationship metaphor that Neri and Golliher had used, several people also cautioned against “shotgun marriages” between CDFIs who come together only to secure funding from grants. While such partnerships may initially seem like a good idea, poorly thought out collaborations often end in heartbreak, they warned. On the other hand, some participants noted, well-thought out collaborations often go beyond their original scope and foster a sense of commonality and common purpose that led to better engagement with local officials and civic leaders. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fiduciary Landlords: Life Insurers and Large-Scale Housing in New York City

JCHS Meyer Fellow
For a brief window between the late 1930s and the late 1940s, life insurance companies built approximately 50,000 middle-income rental apartments across the United States. Most were racially-segregated, market-rate projects in semi-suburban locations. Others were central city redevelopment projects, built with the powers of eminent domain and offering below-market-rate rentals. Stuyvesant Town, an 8,755-unit apartment complex in New York City developed by Met Life, is perhaps the most famous of these projects (Figure 1) but there were many others, including Lake Meadows in Chicago (developed by New York Life), Hancock Village in Boston (developed by John Hancock Mutual Life), and the Chellis-Austin Homes in Newark (developed by Prudential).

As corporate entities with access to vast institutional funds, insurers achieved considerable economies of scale in construction, financing, and operation, and accepted longer, lower yields than conventional real estate developers. As such, policymakers hoped that life insurers and other fiduciary institutions, such as savings banks, would play a key role in building and operating large-scale, low-cost urban housing and in modernizing the postwar city more generally. By the early 1950s, however, a combination of disappointing financial returns and bruising controversies over discriminatory leasing drove insurers from the housing field.

The 789-unit Hancock Village, which straddles the Boston-Brookline border, was built in 1946 by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company. Source: “Greater Boston Housing Development Charted,” Christian Science Monitor, 01/05/1946.

While the volume of life insurance housing soon paled in the face of the postwar suburban boom — built for much the same demographic and often financed by life insurance dollars — insurers’ brief venture into multifamily development represents a significant and understudied episode in the history of affordable housing. With Stuyvesant Town currently enjoying an unexpected renaissance as both high-class investment and public policy touchstone, the time is ripe for a reevaluation of the substantial, if controversial, legacy of life insurance housing.

In a new Joint Center working paper, I provide an overview of the “rise and fall” of life insurance housing in the postwar period, with a focus on New York City, where the majority of insurance-sponsored apartments were located. The paper is part of my larger dissertation project, which examines the political and economic forces that drove various entities — including life insurance companies, labor unions, public authorities, and for-profit developers — to build some of the world’s largest middle-income housing projects in New York in the mid 20th century, as well as the factors that abruptly terminated this “large-scale approach” in the mid-1970s.

In the paper, I argue that when it came to middle-income urban housing, the 1940s represented a moment of unusual convergence between corporate need and municipal interest. While incentives were aligned, thousands of relatively low-cost apartments were built in America’s most expensive housing markets. These apartments proved a panacea for white families who earned too much for public housing but not enough to purchase suburban homes. As soon as civic and corporate needs began to diverge, however, insurance capital moved beyond city limits to suburban jurisdictions offering higher returns with fewer political obstacles. In the context of today’s continued shortage of affordable housing — particularly for middle-income renters in high-cost cities like Boston and New York — the story can be read as both missed opportunity and cautionary tale.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Renovation Spending Continues to Grow, But More Slowly

by Abbe Will
Research Analyst
Strong gains in home remodeling and repair activity are expected to ease moving into next year, according to our latest Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) released today. The LIRA projects that annual growth in home improvement and repair expenditure this year will remain above its long-term trend of 5 percent, but will decline steadily from 7.3 percent in the first quarter to 6.1 percent by the first quarter of 2018.

Homeowners are continuing to spend more on improvements as house prices strengthen in most parts of the country. Yet, recent slowdowns in home sales activity and remodeling permitting suggests improvement spending gains will lose some steam over the course of the year.

The remodeling market is approaching a cyclical slowdown after several years of steady recovery. While the rate of growth is starting to trend down, national remodeling expenditures by homeowners are projected to reach almost $320 billion by early next year.

For more information about the LIRA, including how it is calculated, visit the JCHS website.

Monday, March 27, 2017

What Impact Do Changing Interest Rates Have on Mortgage Demand?

by Stephanie Lo
JCHS Meyer Fellow
Could the post-Great Recession drop in housing demand have been driven in part by an increase in mortgage credit spreads across borrowers? In a new Joint Center working paper that uses proprietary data on the spread of mortgage rates across borrowers with different credit, I find that mortgage demand does react to mortgage interest rates in economically and statistically significant ways. 

This finding is significant because little is known about the extent to which changes in interest rates affect the demand for mortgages. Measuring this effect is difficult because both interest rates and the demand for mortgages are driven by macroeconomic factors. For example, after the financial crisis in the late 2000s, interest rates fell as the Federal Reserve attempted to stimulate the economy, but the demand for mortgages also fell because individuals faced adverse macroeconomic conditions. A naive estimate would suggest that over this period, lower interest rates drove lower housing demand, which is clearly not correct.

My study uses Loan Level Price Adjustments (LLPAs) to address this issue.  Instituted by FHFA in November 2007, LLPAs are additional fees paid upfront by the lender to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The fees are higher for loans with higher loan-to-value ratios and borrowers with lower credit scores, and feature discrete cutoffs at certain credit scores, as measured at mortgage origination. Put simply, a borrower with a 700 credit score will face the same LLPA as a borrower with a 701 credit score, but will benefit from a discretely lower LLPA than a borrower with a 699 credit score.

Using administrative mortgage rate data, I find that LLPAs are completely passed through to borrowers, so while lenders receive the same mortgage rate across credit scores, borrowers just below a credit-score cutoff pay a higher mortgage rate than those just above that cutoff point (Figure 1). I further show that borrowers across these credit scores are virtually identical, and for high credit scores, lenders do not differentially screen across these cutoffs. This allows me to apply a regression-discontinuity design to examine how mortgage demand changes for borrowers just above and below several credit score cutoff points—660, 680, 700, and 720—where the interest rates offered to borrowers change. 

Notes: Rates are for conforming 30-year FRM. The numbers shown reflect the mean across the entire baseline sample for the exact FICO score shown, on the weekly level, from October 2008 to December 2014. Higher FICO scores tend to benefit from lower mortgage rates due to lower upfront payments induced by LLPAs. Source: Optimal Blue and Fannie Mae; Author’s calculations.

The results show that borrowers respond to changes in interest rates in economically and statistically significant ways (Figure 2). I estimate that a 25 basis point cut in interest rates results in a 50 percent increase in the likelihood of a potential borrower to demand a loan. In a given month, this increases the number of mortgage originations from about 100 per 100,000 individuals to 140 per 100,000 individuals. I also find that a 25 percent basis point cut in interest rates results in an increase in loan size of approximately $15,000, or about 10 percent of the average origination volume.

Notes: The mortgage rate series comes from the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Rates survey. Mortgage originations data is calculated as the total recorded origination amount for purchase mortgages by year, using the proprietary McDash LLC data.

These estimates help to explain the post-crisis drop in mortgage demand from low-income and low-credit borrowers. A back-of-the-envelope calculation using my estimates suggests that, had 680-719 FICO borrowers been subject to the same LLPA as 720 FICO borrowers, this group would have generated $15 billion more in mortgage demand over six years, which would have been a 33 percent increase in mortgage lending to this group alone. More generally, my estimates suggest that borrowers were very sensitive to mortgage rates after the crisis, implying that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to lower interest rates, which in turn lowered mortgage rates, may have been very effective in bolstering the housing market.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Boston Mayor Gives Annual Dunlop Lecture

by David Luberoff
Senior Associate Director
In a more two-decade career that began in the construction trades and now brings him into a host of debates about federal policies, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh says he’s “learned a lot about housing: how it gets built, the role it plays in working people’s lives, and the role it plays in community development.”

Walsh, who gave the Joint Center’s 17th Annual John T. Dunlop Lecture on March 20th before more than 300 people at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, hailed the fact that, in positions that included serving as dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and as U.S. Secretary of Labor, John Dunlop “spent his career bringing together academics, government officials, workers, and labor leaders to better understand our shared challenges.” Such collaboration, “is something we could use more of today,” noted Walsh, who added, “I’ve found that kind of dialogue and collaboration to be invaluable throughout my career,” particularly when it comes to housing.

Walsh, who emerged from a crowded field to win Boston’s mayoral race in 2013, said that upon taking office, “one of the first things I confronted was what more and more people were calling a housing crisis. Rents and home prices were rising beyond middle-class, working-class, and low-income people’s budgets.”  Addressing those challenges, he said, not only required setting and achieving ambitious goals, such as building more than 50,000 additional housing units by 2030, but also doing so in ways that go beyond “simply matching housing units to the population, or meeting market-driven demand.”

Rather, he said, “the challenge is to embrace our success as a city while retaining the core values that got us here. Those values center on inclusiveness, on opportunity, on social and economic diversity. We are a community that welcomes all and leaves no one behind. These aren’t just ideals. They are pragmatic needs.” The mayor, who also spoke about city initiatives to provide more housing, reduce homelessness, and address evictions, added that those efforts further highlight “the role of housing not just in community development but also in human development.”

Turning to current debates about the federal budget and other federal policies, Walsh said the Trump administration’s recent budget proposals and other federal initiatives are “an effort to end the system of federal partnerships that date to the New Deal and Great Society commitments of the 1930s [and] the 1960s.”  Left unchecked, he said, such policies would exacerbate the already significant problem of economic inequality in Boston.  Therefore, he added, he and other mayors are actively trying “to educate people on the impacts of inequality, and advocate for solutions” such as “health care; paid family leave and affordable daycare; strong labor laws and fair tax laws; financial regulation; [and] infrastructure investments.”

While these are daunting challenges, the mayor said, “I’m still counseling confidence” because the work the city has done and continues to do puts Boston “in a good position to respond to this moment. Even if the funding arrangements we’ve built seem threatened, the relationships we’ve built are strong. They will produce new solutions and new ideas. They will bring new partners to the table.”  Those partners, he concluded, hopefully will include the many graduate and undergraduate students who attended the lecture. “We are going to need you in the years ahead,” said the mayor.

Watch Mayor Marty Walsh deliver the 2017 Dunlop Lecture.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Remodeling Activity Projected to Grow in Most Metropolitan Areas

by Elizabeth La Jeunesse
Research Analyst
Spending on home improvements is expected to increase this year in 43 of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, according to our latest report about the home improvement industry, Demographic Change and the Remodeling Outlook. The report projects that, on average, home improvement spending in 2017 in these metro areas will be 6.8 percent higher than it was in 2016, slightly more than the projected 6.1 increase nationwide. 

However, as an interactive map released in conjunction with the report shows, the growth rates will vary widely. About a third of major metro areas are expected to see strong growth of 10 percent or more, while a similar number should see declines or slow growth of under 3 percent.

Some of the largest increases, in percentage terms, are expected to occur in several Midwestern metropolitan areas such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee, where there is a consistent demand for housing and prices are not as high as in other parts of the country.

Double-digit gains in home improvement expenditures are also expected in New England’s three largest metro areas—Boston, Hartford, and Providence—where home sales have been strong. While average per-owner spending in other metropolitan areas on the East Coast has been relatively high in recent years, total spending in several of those areas is expected to increase slowly in the next year. The report projects that spending will grow by less than one percent in New York, the nation’s largest metro area, and by less than four percent in the Washington, DC area.

Home improvement spending is also expected to pick up significantly in several fast-growing, Southern metropolitan areas where homebuilding activity has revived and more households are forming, such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Orlando. In contrast, spending will grow modestly or may even decline in Southern metro areas with oil-dependent economies such as Dallas, Houston, and Oklahoma City.

On the West Coast, the report projects a significant increase in spending on home improvements in the Sacramento metro area, where house prices recovered more slowly from the Great Recession than in other parts of the state. In contrast, spending is expected to increase only modestly or decline slightly in the Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose, where leading indicators suggest housing markets may be approaching their cyclical peaks. In metro areas across the Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions, growth rates are also expected to vary widely, from a low of just under 2 percent in the Las Vegas metro to a high of nearly 10 percent in the Salt Lake City area.

These projections are based on two measures of housing demand—single-family starts and growth in existing home sales—that are strong leading indicators of national remodeling activity. The results broadly support our expectation that home improvement expenditures in certain high-cost markets may soon reach a cyclical peak, while spending will increase in markets where house prices are lower but are increasing steadily.

The report also finds that the national market for home improvements is somewhat more concentrated in the nation’s 15 largest metropolitan areas, which account for about 29 percent of the nation’s homeowners. Illustratively, according to estimates from the 2015 American Housing Survey, average per-owner improvement spending in the same 15 metro areas was $3,500, or more than 30 percent greater than average spending by homeowners outside of these areas. As a result, aggregate spending by homeowners in the same 15 areas totaled over $80 billion, or nearly 37 percent of the total spending by all owners on home improvements nationally.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Continued Growth of Multigenerational Living

by Shannon Rieger
Research Assistant
A substantial number and share of older Americans are living in “multigenerational” households, according to our analysis of recently released 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) one-year population estimates. In total, 20.3 percent of all non-institutionalized adults aged 65 and over – about 9.4 million people – live in multigenerational households that include at least two generations of adults (individuals over the age of 25). The ACS data also show large differences in the prevalence and composition of multigenerational homes by age, race, and ethnicity.

The new data not only reflect the fact that there are a growing number of older Americans, but also that the share of older Americans living in multigenerational homes has been growing steadily since the 1980s. These trends are likely to continue as baby boomers age. Importantly, multigenerational living might allow some older Americans to enjoy a higher quality of life while aging in place, as an overwhelming majority of people want to do. At the same time, for some families of limited means, multigenerational living may be a financial necessity rather than a desirable living situation. Regardless of why they are choosing multigenerational living arrangements, providing families with education and support to suitably modify their homes could help these arrangements be as safe, effective, and beneficial as possible.

Who Lives in Multigenerational Homes?

About two-thirds of the 9.4 million older adults living in multigenerational homes live in households that have exactly two adult generations (usually parents and adult children aged 25 or older). The rest are in three-or-more-generation households that typically include grandparents, adult children, and grandchildren.

Trends in multigenerational living also change with age (Figure 1). The share of people living in multigenerational settings is highest for individuals in their late 20s (mostly due to adult children still living at home), then drops for those in their 30s as young adults move out and form their own households. The share rises again for people in their early 40s until peaking at about 23 percent for people in their late 50s. This “sandwich” age group includes people who are living with their adult children, those who are living with their aging parents, who often need daily support and care, and those living with both their children and aging parents.
Notes: Multigenerational households are those with least two adult generations aged 25 or older or that include grandchildren, adult children, and grandparents. Householders and parents are considered “adults” regardless of age. Other household members include extended family members (e.g. aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews) and unrelated individuals. Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates. 

Because adult children move out and elderly parents pass away, the share of people living in multigenerational households declines for people who are in their 60s and early 70s. However, the share rises steadily for older adults in their mid-70s, who often are starting to face more daunting health and financial challenges. Among the oldest age groups (aged 85 and over), 27 percent – about 1.5 million people – lived in multigenerational households in 2015.

In addition to differences in age, people of color and foreign-born individuals are far more likely to live in multigenerational settings than non-Hispanic whites and people born in the United States (Figure 2). More than 25 percent of native-born blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/others aged 65 and over live in multigenerational homes, as do more than 45 percent of foreign-born in all three of these groups. In contrast, 15 percent of native-born non-Hispanic whites of the same age, and just over 20 percent of foreign-born non-Hispanic whites, live in multigenerational households. 

Notes: Whites, blacks, and Asians/others are non-Hispanic. Hispanics may be of any race. Multigenerational households are those with least two adult generations aged 25 or older or that include grandchildren, adult children, and grandparents. Householders and parents are considered “adults” regardless of age.
Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates. 

A sizeable subset of these multigenerational homes include at least three generations: usually grandparents, adult children, and grandchildren living together under the same roof. Roughly ten percent of native-born blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/others aged 65 or over live in such households, along with around 25 percent of foreign-born older adults in each group. Among non-Hispanic whites, just under 4 percent of older native-born adults and 7 percent of the foreign-born live with three or more generations.

Looking forward, projected growth and demographic shifts in the older population seem likely to increase the number of multigenerational households and the share of people living in those households. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent population projections estimate that by 2035, about 79 million Americans will be age 65 or older, an increase of more than 30 million people in just two decades. This growth is due to the fact that the baby boom generation is getting older and because with increases in longevity more people will live well into their 80s, 90s, and beyond.  In fact, the Census Bureau projects the number of “oldest old” adults aged 85 and over to double over the next two decades.

The racial and ethnic composition of the older population will also shift markedly over the next several decades. The non-Hispanic white share of the 65-and-over population is projected to drop nearly ten percentage points to 69 percent by 2035, while the black, Hispanic, and Asian shares will rise, respectively, by 20 percent, 67 percent, and 39 percent (Figure 3). Census Bureau projections estimate that the foreign-born share of the 65 and over population will also continue to increase, growing from 13 percent in 2015 to 19 percent in 2035. Though the direction of future residential preferences among the older population is uncertain, the sheer magnitude of growth in the older population and the fact that much of the growth will be among the very old, people of color, and the foreign born suggests there will be substantial growth in multigenerational households in the coming years. 

Notes: Whites, blacks, and Asians/others are non-Hispanic. Hispanics may be of any race.   
Source: JCHS tabulations of US Census Bureau, 2014 Population Projections. 

Impacts on Housing and Services

As this growth occurs, it will be important to consider how new and existing housing stock might be designed or modified to best meet the needs of multigenerational households. Universal design features including single-floor living, zero-step entrances, and hallways and doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, or strollers can make homes more accessible for older adults with mobility limitations as well as for their young grandchildren. Flexible layouts that can change as family needs evolve, as well as the addition of semi-private spaces for each generation (such as in-law suites with separate entrances, multiple master bedrooms or kitchens, and accessory dwelling units), can also help make the housing stock better suited for multigenerational households.

While multigenerational living works well for many households, it is important to note that it is not necessarily a desirable option for every family. Rather, multigenerational living may be a financial necessity rather than an attractive housing option not only for families with lower incomes but also for moderate-income families living in higher-cost areas. Further, sharing a home with multiple generations can be challenging, particularly if the house is small, has inadequate amenities, or there are unclear or unrealistic expectations about responsibilities for both finances and personal care. Finally, informal help from family members may not be an adequate replacement for professional care, particularly for aging adults with serious health conditions. Providing families with guidance about how to live successfully in multigenerational settings, and, perhaps, with financial assistance to make home upgrades and modifications, will therefore be critical if multigenerational living is going to be an appealing, comfortable option for families of all means. While designing and carrying out such policies and programs will be challenging, such efforts have the potential to provide a more appealing and cost-effective housing option for older Americans and their families.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Urbanization and Growth in India

by Sonali Mathur
Research Assistant
“Urbanization as a Growth Strategy for India” was the focus of a panel discussion on Saturday, February 6 at the India Conference at Harvard University, the largest student-run conference focusing on India held in the United States. (The Joint Center was one of the event’s co-sponsors.) As one of the most populous countries in the world, the policy decisions and investment choices that are made in India will have a resonance beyond its borders in terms of environmental impact and quality of life for one of the largest and fastest growing markets in the world. Panelists at the conference, who noted that India’s urban population is expected to grow significantly in coming decades, focused on a variety of topics including the role that urban areas can play in the country’s economy and the many challenges to achieving that goal.

Shirish Sankhe, Director of the Mumbai office of McKinsey & Co. opened by citing the 2010 McKinsey Global Institute report, India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth, which estimates that India’s working age population will grow by nearly 270 million people by 2030 (from about 800 million to over 1 billion). The growth will be urban, he said, noting that by 2030 at least 10 of India’s 29 states will be more than 50 percent urbanized.  (Currently, only two relatively small states are urbanized.) Moreover, McKinsey projects a five-fold increase in GDP.

Accommodating this growth will be a major challenge, he conceded, because 25 percent of the urban population of India lives in slums and the country only invests $17 per capita per year in infrastructure, about an eighth of what McKinsey estimated was needed. Illustratively, because the country has underinvested in transportation, the share of people using public transportation is estimated to have dropped in recent years from 50 percent to 30 percent. Moreover, there is a significant lack of public understanding about administrative practices and the role of various organizations involved in city and state governance, which not only makes public participation challenging but complicates the entire planning process.

Photo courtesy of The India Conference

Prathima Manohar, an architect and founder of The Urban Vision, an urbanism “think do-tank;” asserted that another key challenge is that the leaders of India’s cities seem to be fixated on strategies that more developed parts of the world are moving away from, such as auto-centric development and over-consumption of resources. Despite the creative brilliance and skilled human capital in India’s cities, she added, there is a lack of civic and recreational space that would improve residents’ quality of life. However, she also said there are an increasing number of grassroots organizations working to improve urban environments. She also predicts that the success of these smaller enterprises will be paramount to improving livability of the cities.

Brotin Banerjee, CEO of Tata Housing, noted that the lack of affordable housing options is a problem that has plagued Indian cities for decades. Given the scale of the problem, he said it would take efforts from various sectors in order to make a difference. Tata Housing is spearheading this effort from the private sector, by investing in construction that provides homeownership options for the low- and middle-income urban residents. The challenge in doing this, he added, is devising models that are scalable and profitable, particularly when new projects must also provide supportive infrastructure such as water and sewer connections as well as roadways, which are typically the public sector’s responsibility.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, the panelists agreed that given the scale and interdependence of the urban problems in India, the prevalent expectation that the public sector should solve all the urban problems is unreasonable and likely detrimental. Instead, they agreed that there needs to be – and there seems to be – growing coordination between the public and private sector, and there is a significant role for grassroots organizations to play.

In discussions moderated by Bish Sanyal, Ford International Professor of Urban Development and Planning and Director of the Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies at MIT, the panelists highlighted a host of approaches and practices that, in their opinion, seem to be working. Shirish Sankhe noted that funding allocation methods based on competitive grounds, like the one being used for development of ‘smart cities,’ seems to be a successful model. These are small to medium size cities competing for federal fund to spur infrastructure development and the selection is based on certain predefined design criteria.

Along similar lines, he noted, there is a movement towards a performance management system of city governance. In this approach, India’s cities are ranked on various criteria which then puts pressure on the elected officials to perform and be more accountable to the public. Highlighting some of the positives surrounding the development of “greenfield” sites, he added that anticipation of transportation needs and how those are likely to evolve over time has become an integral part of planning. In the context of building more affordable housing, Brotin Banerjee noted that some of the policy solutions in recent times have revolved around making construction and green construction more cost effective by providing flexibility around height limitations and FAR regulations. He also added that perhaps the best form of public-private partnership would be talent sharing.

In response to questions from the audience about the segregation patterns that have or could emerge based on racial and cultural lines, the panelists agreed that Indian cities need to move away from identity based politics in order to avoid increased segregation and to build more inclusive cities.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New Report: Aging Homeowners Drive Growth in Remodeling as Millennials Begin to Gain Footing

Homeowner spending on remodeling is expected to see healthy growth through 2025, according to Demographic Change and the Remodeling Outlook, the latest biennial report in our Improving America’s Housing series. Demographically based projections suggest that older owners will account for the majority of spending gains over the coming years as they adapt their homes to changing accessibility needs. Although slower to move into homeownership than previous generations, millennials are poised to enter the remodeling market in greater force, buying up older, more affordable homes in need of renovations.

The residential remodeling market includes spending on improvements and repairs by both homeowners and rental property owners, and reached an all-time high of $340 billion in 2015, surpassing the prior peak in 2007. [See our Interactive Infographic.] Spending by owners on improvements is expected to increase 2.0 percent per year on average through 2025 after adjusting for inflation, just below the pace of growth posted over the past two decades, and about on par with expected growth in the broader economy.

The large baby boom generation has led home improvement spending for the past twenty years, and its influence shows no signs of waning. Older homeowners will continue to dominate the remodeling market, as they make investments to age in place safely and comfortably. Expenditures by homeowners age 55 and over are expected to grow by nearly 33 percent by 2025, accounting for more than three-quarters of total gains over the decade. The share of market spending by homeowners age 55 and over is projected to reach 56 percent by 2025, up from only 31 percent in 2005.

Gen-Xers are now in their prime remodeling years, and while some are still recovering from home equity losses after the housing crash, many in this generation will undertake discretionary projects deferred during the downturn. And as younger households move into homeownership, they will supplement the already thriving improvement market.

Try the Interactive Infographic
“With national house prices rising sufficiently to help owners rebuild home equity lost during the downturn, and with both household incomes and existing home sales on the rise, we expect to see continued growth in the home improvement market,” says Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Even though increasing house prices are encouraging homeowners to reinvest in their homes, they also are raising housing affordability concerns among younger buyers. Climbing mortgage interest rates and rising house prices not only make homeownership more difficult for younger households, but leave those who are able to buy with fewer resources to make improvements and repairs. And while high rents may provide an incentive to buy homes, they also make it difficult for first-time buyers to save for a downpayment.

Some demographic trends are also presenting challenges to a healthier remodeling market outlook. A disproportionate share of growth over the coming decade will be among older owners, minority owners, and households without young children; groups that traditionally spend less on home improvements.

“Despite these challenges, the remodeling industry should see numerous growth opportunities over the next decade,” says Chris Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies. “Strong demand for rental housing has opened up that segment to a new wave of capital investment, and the shortage of affordable housing in much of the country makes the stock of older homes an attractive option for buyers willing to in invest in upgrades.”

Finally, as a new generation of homeowners enters the remodeling market, specialty niches focused on energy-efficiency, environmental sustainability, and healthy homes are likely to see significant growth. Home automation—encompassing everything from entertainment systems to home energy management, lighting, appliance control, and security—is also emerging as a strong growth market, particularly among younger households.

Looking ahead, there are several opportunities for further growth in the remodeling industry. The retiring baby boom generation is already boosting demand for accessibility improvements that will enable owners to remain safely in their homes as they age. Additionally, growing environmental awareness holds out promise that sustainable home improvements and energy-efficienct upgrades will continue to be among the fastest growing market segments.

Read the full report, try the Interactive Infographic, or join the conversation on Twitter with 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Can We Learn from Attempts to Reduce the Cost of Affordable Housing?

by Sam LaTronica
Gramlich Fellow
Midwestern CDCs trying to build affordable homes that do not require development subsidies have identified three potentially promising strategies: building smaller homes, utilizing factory-built homes, and creatively designing houses to get more out of them. In a new working paper that grows out my work as an Edward M. Gramlich Fellow in Community and Economic Development I conclude that while each technique presents opportunities for cost savings, each also comes with its own set of challenges.

The fellowship, which is co-sponsored by the Joint Center for Housing Studies and NeighborWorks® America, also expanded my horizons because for years, my conception of new “affordable housing” had been limited to the standard multifamily properties developed in larger urban areas. This was the type of affordable housing I had seen since moving to the Boston area, as well as working for an affordable advocacy organization in the San Francisco Bay Area prior to attending the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

As a Gramlich Fellow in the summer of 2015, I was exposed to a new region and new approach to affordable housing. The Midwestern CDCs, which were part of NeighborWorks® America’s national network, often had in-house general contractors and focused on building and selling affordable single-family homes, in both urban and rural areas. Given the dearth of housing subsidies, particularly subsidies for affordable housing in rural areas, these CDCs were trying to find cost-saving construction techniques that would allow them to build affordable housing without development subsidies.

The Rambler, a single-family home constructed by the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. The home is 1,092 square feet on the main floor with another 1,092 square feet of unfinished basement space that can be converted into living space or more bedrooms at a later date. This home was constructed in 2014 with an asking price of $153,900.

Through reading popular literature on home construction, analyzing building trends, conducting interviews with CDC leaders, and visiting new developments in the Midwest, it became clear that CDCs were interested in pursuing three potential cost saving techniques: building smaller homes, using factory-built homes, and creatively designing houses to get more out of them.

Smaller homes are theoretically cheaper to build because they simply require fewer materials and less construction time. Once occupied, these houses not only can be cheaper to heat or cool but also will cost less to maintain. Smaller footprints also make it possible to build these homes on smaller or irregularly shaped lots, which helps expand the options for CDCs.

However, cost savings are not always realized when buildings are smaller. Once land and other development costs are factored in, it is possible that building smaller homes will be only slightly cheaper than building larger homes on the same lot. Moreover, the marginal cost of constructing a few hundred more square feet might allow the CDC to sell the house for more money while still keeping it affordable. Some CDC leaders also worry that producing affordable homes that are much smaller than new market-rate homes would create obvious distinctions between income levels and stigmatize the people living in the new, smaller homes. Finally, while building smaller can be smart for a number of reasons, most people still want bigger homes as evidenced by the fact that average house sizes have been increasing and have recently surpassed pre-recession levels. This suggests that without a shift in the overall market, smaller homes may not be a particularly appealing option for CDCs trying to build affordable housing.

While factory-built construction techniques are not necessarily new, they are new to many CDCs. Many Midwestern CDCs are currently experimenting with (or exploring the possibility of using) both modular homes and homes made from structural insulated panels (SIPs). Factory-built homes have the benefit of being produced mostly indoors and using assembly line techniques, which can significantly reduce onsite construction time and protect against weather delays, theft, vandalism, etc. Moreover, homes built in factory-controlled settings can be tighter and more energy efficient and make more efficient usage of building materials (which should reduce their cost).

Like building smaller, however, the cost savings that are touted in popular literature are harder to realize in practice. If CDCs, architects, contractors, and subcontractors do not have enough experience working with factory-built housing, then the development process can hit major roadblocks that negate the hypothetical cost savings that would result from a shorter construction period and lower production costs. In fact, some CDCs that experimented with these techniques ended up with homes that cost far more than they would have cost using traditional stick-built techniques.

Finally, creatively designing houses can supplement the previous construction types to get the most out of new homes. This can come in many forms. Designing attached accessory dwelling units will add more units to the housing stock and can supplement the primary tenant’s income.  Co-housing development can utilize scale and reduce the per-owner development costs. Open floor plans can make smaller homes more palatable and unfinished buildouts can reduce costs while allowing families to later customize their home to meet their particular needs.

In the end, there is no silver bullet that can be used to build affordable single-family homes without a development subsidy. However, there are many techniques that, when combined, could produce significant cost savings. CDC leaders interested in pursuing these approaches should remember that the benefits of these techniques, as described in popular literature, do not always materialize in practice. Therefore, CDC leaders should learn from others who have already experimented with them. They should also establish strong relationships with architects and contractors who have experience with these techniques, so that they reduce the likelihood of delays that would drive up costs. Hopefully, by persevering and learning from others, the CDCs can increase the production of affordable homes.

Sam LaTronica, who graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2016, was a 2015 recipient of the TheEdward M. Gramlich Fellowship in Community and Economic Development, which is co-sponsored by NeighborWorks®America and the Joint Center for Housing Studies.