After their holiday recess, the Rental Policy Working Group– which includes representatives from HUD, the USDA, the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury– released a comprehensive report designed to use findings to better streamline Federal rental policy. This goal has been high on the FHA’s list of priorities and a favorite refrain of Senators like Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Bob Corker (R-TN) since last session, and now we’re seeing some commitment from other agencies to streamline procedures in order to cut wasteful spending and eliminate hurdles to the housing market.
The report contains policy proposals from each office outlining the steps they’ll take to ensure consistency in enforcement and regulation. For example, the IRS seeks to address inconsistent income reporting guidelines across different states by creating common forms for income verification; HUD takes the lead on Energy Efficiency requirements and benefits along with the EPA, Treasury and USDA by applying common standards to federally funded but state administered programs like LIHTC.
The common thread to all of the proposals is better communication between agencies and a framework that emphasizes efficiency. Not only do the programs save state and local housing agencies money, but they also eliminate development hurdles and, in many cases, stand to stimulate the housing market by making development more affordable.
Good news from the Washington Post– it looks like the housing market might be coming back, just in time for the new year.
The housing market has been lagging behind the rest of the economy recently, but has been experiencing gradually increasing gains, bumping all the way up to a 9.3% gain in construction rates in the month of November. And it’s not just new construction either: Homeowners are making a record number of household improvements and additions, according to BuildFax, which assembles a residential remodeling index via local building permit information nationwide. Two things seem to be happening lately: First, people are increasingly encouraged to purchase new housing, at rates that show some sign of bouncing back; and second, current homeowners and those who can’t afford new units are improving on existing ones. BuildFax points out that the majority of these improvements aren’t large-scale reconstruction projects, but are minor “comfort” constructions, and that the average cost is also falling. In keeping up with recent growth trends, the West is leading the remodeling market growth with a 52.4% gain. But as far as housing starts, the Northeast is the leader with a 23% gain, while the Midwest fell by 18%. The West was somewhere in the middle with a 23% gain. This doesn’t necessarily discount the rapid growth that’s happening in the West since the Northeast (specifically states like Massachusetts and New York) benefits numerically from having one of the most historically stable housing markets in the nation.
It’s expensive for cities to maintain buildings– and it’s getting pricier to take care of vacant units as well. According to a report released by the Government Accountability Office in November, the number of vacant properties has increased by 51 percent nationwide between 2000 and 2010. Cities like Detroit can attribute their mounting vacant properties to population declines, while rising unemployment and foreclosure rates are the culprits in other places. While these properties sit in legal limbo, neither banks nor former owners are responsible for their upkeep, leaving thousands of homes in some cities open to blight, crime and neglect. Local governments aren’t the only ones paying for these properties either– the FHA and other GSEs are reaching in their coffers and contributing federal dollars to maintaining and demolishing vacant properties. Besides paying to maintain the units, cities also lose money from decreased property tax revenue from the units.
In order to combat the enormous costs associated with these vacant properties, officials in Chicago proposed a solution: Expanding the definition of “property owner” to include banks and other mortgage holders would make the city able to hold someone accountable. And those “someones” would be levied hefty fees: $500 to register a property and as much as $1000 a day for additional upkeep. But as Tuesday’s Atlantic Cities reports, the FHFA filed suit in federal court to block Chicago from getting them to pay the fines in their capacity as conservator of foreclosed properties. As this suit is unlikely to favor the City of Chicago, it puts Mayor Rahm and company in yet another dicey situation. Just who is responsible for these homes? And who will step in to pay the price?
Another Senator has entered potentially GSE-eliminating legislation into the ring.
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)– a former real estate broker– introduced a bill to Congress with the goal of starting a new Mortgage Finance Agency after the dissolution of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The bill is built on the premise that the private housing market activity is key to financial recovery, and that transparency is an important element in insuring the financial security of the housing market to taxpayers and homeowners.
The plan establishes a transitional agency that will guarantee qualifying mortgages for ten years, after which, the agency will turn into a for-profit entity. In the interim, lenders will be required to pay “guarantee fees” to cover insurance on the financing, which will be paid into a Catastrophic Fund. After the switch to privatization, this Fund, which is part of the Treasury Department, will be available in case of a major emergency– ostensibly to avoid situations like the federal receivership that has been politically plaguing the beleaguered Fannie and Freddie for a number of years. Another component of Isakson’s bill that might entice taxpayer support is reimbursing Americans for Fannie and Freddie’s bailout through allocating funds from the sale of the Mortgage Finance Agency to pay off national debt.
In the face of additional scrutiny on the agency’s financials, on December 2nd, a report released by Barclay’s Capital revealed that the FHA isn’t likely to follow in Fannie Mae’s footsteps of helping borrowers lower monthly mortgage payments.
As the Obama Administration pushes more government programs to get Americans out of sticky mortgage situations, the FHA is still behind the national rate of borrowing, with average interest rates for an FHA loan around 5.8%. And though the agency helped two million borrowers get home loans over the past fiscal year, their Fund still has a 50% chance of falling drastically. The FHA is likely to do everything in its power in the near future to secure capital– they can’t afford to drop down to rock-bottom rates or loosen rules like Fannie and Freddie.
The Federal Housing Financing Agency is looking to unload some of the distressed homes they’ve acquired to lessen housing inventories across the nation– they sent out an open call for policy recommendations this August in hopes of finding solutions that will lessen government burden and boost the bottom line.
According to Forbes, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada are have metropolitan areas with the most government owned housing. These states stand to gain the most from the kinds of proposals that the FHFA is seeking, but how much of an impact will it have in other states? Trulia’s Chief Economist Jed Kolko says the short answer is “not much.” While neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by sagging home sales will likely directly benefit from relinquishing government-owned housing to the private sector for rental conversions, the majority of families and individuals who are seeking rental housing elsewhere won’t reap any benefits whatsoever because moderate- and low-income renters are typically located in central cities, while many foreclosures are on the fringes or in suburban rings. This means that those houses, once in the private market, might face the same problems finding tenants. Not only that, because of loopholes in government seizure regulations in states like Florida, the number of foreclosed properties in legal limbo creates a lag time in their entering the marketplace. In order to help in a place with those issues, the state government might first need to look into altering their processes before federal housing policy can intervene in a meaningful way.
Photo Printed Under Creative Commons License from Sam Beebe/Ecotrust
The Wall Street Journal has an interactive feature examining the housing market conditions in 27 metropolitan areas around the United States. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers, compiled by WSJ from LPS Applied Analytics and Zillow.com.
Florida’s market hasn’t been doing so well from Q1 2007 to the third quarter of this year. Four cities in the state– Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa– have seen rising past due loans along with rapidly declining home values. Over 20% of the loans in these areas are at least thirty days past due or in foreclosure.
Declining Prices, Declining Inventories
Nationwide, the number of distressed property sales have had an impact on home value estimates, as banks typically lower prices dramatically in order to sell properties quickly. In this way, housing stock inventory and home prices are intertwined. Declining inventories mean that the supply and demand gap is narrowing– people are buying houses again. Miami, Phoenix and Orlando are all showing signs of a recovering market. Las Vegas’ market has been among the slowest to rebound, with only 7% of its inventory decreasing from a year ago.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that among the cities with stable housing prices, two areas– Washington, D.C. and Boston– also have the lowest unemployment rates in the study. Nashville, Raleigh and Manhattan have also shown less than a 3% price change in home values in the past year.
Thanksgiving is over, and December is fast approaching– which means that the deadline for Congress to renew the Federal Budget is nearly upon us.
In the wake of the supercommittee’s failure to produce substantive national budget cuts, both sides of the aisle will likely be scrambling to come up with legislation to cut spending. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) continues on his campaign to cut funding to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac– with the goal of eliminating the agencies altogether within ten years– with an op-ed in The Washington Post. In it, he essentially claims that the federal housing agencies have been so woefully mismanaged that there is little choice but to end funding to them altogether. The argument is that government-sponsored enterprises undermine the private market’s ability to manage risk and thus can create the kind of quagmire that led to the housing crisis of 2008.
However, Business Insider calls Corker’s contentions into question. Citing an investigation by Moody’s from 2006, they charge that the true culprits in catalyzing the housing market downturn were the very private institutions like Citigroup and Lehman Brothers, which profited from securitizing risky mortgages. While BI doesn’t absolve Fannie and Freddie completely– after all, they did fail to act to prevent the mortgage collapse– they adamantly stand by the assertion that the GSE market shouldn’t be looked at as villains, primarily because they provide a service that so many Americans still need.
Corker’s Residential Mortgage Market Privatization and Standardization Act (a summary of which can be found here) was introduced in early November and it hasn’t yet passed either house. As Congress gears up for a hotly contested December, it will be interesting to see how the bill fares, and whether the millions of Americans who rely on government-backed mortgage support will hang in the balance.
Looks like another state is joining Maine in scrambling for solutions to address statewide affordable housing shortages.
Today’s Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts is experiencing increased demand in below-market rate housing because of the recession, yet a state law that requires at least ten percent of a community’s housing to be affordable is not being met. Over the last five years, rates have lowered across the state– particularly in suburbs surrounding Boston– and the stock continues to drop. Only 9.1 percent of housing statewide is designated as affordable, down from 9.3 percent in 2006.
Overall, the Bay State’s housing market is in trouble. A 7.3 percent unemployment rate in the state combined with a risk-averse consumer base has contributed to the state’s housing woes. According to S&P/Case-Schiller figures, values have dipped nearly 20 percent since March 2009, and they continue to fluctuate with no clear sign of stabilization ahead.
Changing demographics and a fluctuating economy are leading a new housing trend: Building for multigenerational families.
The 2010 Census shows a 28 percent increase in the number of households that comprise three generations since 2000. Some have attributed this change to the economy, which has led young people to move into their parents’ houses as they wait for solid career choices; another driving factor in the trend are “Gateway cities”– those near the Mexican border with immigrants who are likely to live intergenerationally. Living with extended families allows people to pool personal financial resources, lowering monthly bills and even using in-laws as free childcare.
Homebuilders are listening to this demand, increasing the multigenerational new home category by 30 percent from 2000 to 2010, Bloomberg reports. And though overall demand isn’t increasing as a result of the categorical boom, the new push toward multigenerational housing is likely to stimulate interest in new housing options that will appeal to American homebuyers in the midst of more economically austere times. KB Home, PulteGroup, Inc and Lennar Corp are all offering housing models with kitchenettes, additional master bedroom suites, separate entrances and multiple washer/dryers.
This October, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo homebuilder confidence index rose from 17 to 20 this month– the highest confidence rating since May 2010, pointing to signs that construction is on its way to stabilization. Multigenerational housing is slightly more expensive than traditional housing, but it offers the consumer more peace of mind. “These days, we don’t feel so good about showing off like that. If you have a relative who’s been unemployed for a year, it doesn’t feel the same. So you buy a house that has quarters for your mother and that feels better,” Yale University economics professor and co-creator of the S&P/Case-Schiller home price indexes Robert Schiller told Bloomberg.