Thursday, July 20, 2017

Steady Gains in Remodeling Activity Moving into 2018

by Abbe Will
Research Associate
Healthy and stable growth in home improvement and repair spending is anticipated for the remainder of the year and into the first half of 2018, according to our latest Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), released today. The LIRA projects that annual increases in remodeling expenditures will soften somewhat moving forward, but still remain at or above 6.0 percent through the second quarter of 2018.

The remodeling market continues to benefit from a stronger housing market and, in particular, solid gains in house prices, which are encouraging owners to make larger investments in their homes. Yet, weak gains in home sales activity due to tight inventories in many parts of the country is constraining opportunities for more robust remodeling growth given that significant investments often occur around the time of a sale.

Even with some easing this year, the remodeling market is still expected to grow above its long-term averageOver the coming 12 months, national spending on improvements and repairs to the owner-occupied housing stock is projected to reach fully $324 billion.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Effect of Debt on Default and Consumption: Evidence from Housing Policy During the Great Recession

by Peter Ganong and
Pascal Noel, Meyer Fellows
What is the effect of mortgage debt reductions that reduce payments in the long-term but not in the short-term? In a new paper using data from a recent government mortgage modification program, we find that substantial mortgage principal reductions that left short-term payments unchanged had no effect on default or consumption for "underwater" borrowers who owed more on their home than their homes were worth.

This finding is significant because the design of mortgage modification programs was a key question facing policymakers attempting to help struggling households during the Great Recession. Policymakers faced a choice between debt reductions that focused on borrower liquidity by temporarily reducing mortgage payments or debt reductions that focused on borrower solvency by permanently forgiving mortgage debt.

This normative policy debate hinged on fundamental economic questions about the effect of long-term debt obligations on borrowers' default and consumption decisions. While a large academic literature has examined the effect debt reductions that mix both short and long-term payment reductions, little is known about the specific effects of long-term debt obligations.

To help fill this gap, we compared underwater borrowers who received two types of modifications in the federal government's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Both modification types resulted in identical payment reductions for the first five years. However, one group also received $70,000 in mortgage principal reduction, which translated into increased home equity and substantial long-term payment relief. By comparing borrowers in each of these modification types, we were able to isolate the effects of long-run debt levels holding fixed short-run payments. An important feature of the policy we studied was that borrowers remained underwater even after substantial debt forgiveness.

To compare these borrowers, we built two new datasets with information on borrower outcomes and HAMP participation. Our first dataset matched administrative data on HAMP participants to monthly consumer credit bureau records from Transunion. Our second dataset used de-identified data assembled by the JPMorgan Chase Institute (JPMCI) that included mortgage, credit card, and checking account information for borrowers who received HAMP modification from Chase.

Using an empirical strategy called a regression discontinuity design, we found that principal reduction has no effect on default. The analysis exploited a cutoff rule in a model used by mortgage servicers to assign borrowers between the two modification types. While borrowers just above the cutoff were 41 percentage points more likely to receive principal reduction than those just below the cutoff, default rates were smooth at the cutoff, which indicates that principal reduction had little effect on default (Figures 1 and 2). We also estimated that even at the upper bound of our confidence interval, the government spent $800,000 per avoided foreclosure. This is over an order of magnitude greater than estimates of the social cost of foreclosures.

Figure 1.  

Figure 2.  

In the second part of our empirical analysis, we examined the effect of principal reduction on consumption by comparing the monthly spending of the two groups of borrowers over time. We showed that these two groups of borrowers were similar before modification on a broad range of observable characteristics, and that their credit card and auto spending measures were trending similarly in the months before modification. This means that the payment reduction group could be used as a valid counterfactual control group for the principal reduction group.

We found that $70,000 in principal reduction had no significant impact on underwater borrowers' credit card or auto expenditure (Figure 3). Although the spending of both groups stabilized after modification (consistent with the idea that short-term payment reductions helped borrowers), the group that received the additional principal forgiveness showed no differential effect. Rather, we estimated for each $1 of principal reduction received by borrowers, their total spending increased by only 0.2 cents. This is an order of magnitude smaller than the consumption response for average homeowners examined in prior studies, which typically have found spending increases between 4 and 9 cents per $1 of wealth increase.

Figure 3.

The inability of underwater borrowers to borrow against the housing wealth gains from principal reduction may explain why they were far less sensitive to housing wealth changes than borrowers in other economic conditions. Typically, housing wealth gains expand borrowers' credit access--in fact, prior research has found that equity withdrawal through increased borrowing may account for the entire effect of housing wealth on spending between 2002 and 2006. But if homeowners need positive home equity in order to borrow against their house, then principal reduction that still leaves borrowers underwater or nearly underwater will fail to free up collateral that can be used to finance new consumption. This limitation helps explain why policies to lower current mortgage payments were more effective than principal reductions at increasing consumer spending during the Great Recession.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Rise of Poverty in Suburban and Outlying Areas

by Elizabeth La Jeunesse
Research Analyst
A key takeaway from our latest State of the Nation’s Housing report is that poverty is both increasing and becoming more concentrated across the country. Moreover, while a third of the poor live in high-density urban neighborhoods, the number of poor people and poor neighborhoods grew particularly rapidly in the “exurbs,” low-density neighborhoods on the fringe of the nation’s metro areas (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. The Number of People Living in Poverty Has Increased Most in Suburban and Exurban Communities

Figure 2. Much of the Growth in High-Poverty Neighborhoods Has Been in Suburban and Outlying Areas

According to the report, from 2000 to 2015, the number of people living below the federal poverty line rose by 41 percent, from about 33.8 million to 47.7 million. Additionally, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods (census tracts where the poverty rate is 20 percent or more) rose by 59 percent, and the poor population living in these areas increased by 76 percent to 25.4 million. As a result, 54 percent of the nation’s poor now live in high-poverty neighborhoods, up from 43 percent in 2000.

The growth in high-poverty neighborhoods was widespread, occurring in all but three of the nation’s largest 100 metros (Honolulu, El Paso, and McAllen, TX). Moreover, the rise of poverty was particularly rapid in the exurbs, where the number of high-poverty neighborhoods more than doubled between 2000 and 2015, and the number of poor people living in these neighborhoods grew by 164 percent, rising from 1.5 million in 2000 to 3.9 million in 2015. Such growth presumably was due to the fact that housing generally is less expensive in these areas, but the savings in housing costs are often offset by higher transportation costs and more time spent travelling to work and other activities.

Our new interactive chart shows that these changes were not uniform in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. To begin with, two-thirds of these metros underwent a rise in concentrated exurban poverty from 2000-2015. Moreover, the magnitude of the increase varied. For example, the number of high-poverty, exurban tracts increased more than tenfold in the Detroit, Greensboro, and Cape Coral, FL metros, and increased by a factor of five or more in 11 other metros, including Atlanta, Denver, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Nashville and Orlando. Other large metros where the number of high-poverty, exurban neighborhoods more than tripled included Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, St. Louis, and Tampa.

For example, in the Atlanta metro, the number of low-density, high-poverty, exurban tracts rose from only 11 in 2000 to 72 in 2015 (Figure 3). Meanwhile, in the St. Louis metro, there were 28 high-poverty, exurban neighborhoods in 2015, up from 8 such areas just 15 years earlier (Figure 4).

Figure 3. Atlanta

Figure 4. St. Louis

While poverty remains highly concentrated in dense urban areas, several large metros now have unusually large shares of high-poverty, exurban neighborhoods. In the Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville metro areas, for example, nearly a quarter or more of all high-poverty neighborhoods are located in low-density, exurban areas. Poverty’s shift to lower-density areas was especially pronounced in the Charlotte area, where 41 percent of high-poverty tracts are now situated in low-density, exurban areas, up from just 15 percent in 2000 (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Charlotte, NC

Moreover, in several smaller metros across the South – such as Columbia, SC; McAllen, TX; Greenville, SC; Jackson, MS, and Knoxville, TN – well over half of all high-poverty neighborhoods are located in low-density, outlying regions (Figure 6).

Figure 6. McAllen, TX 

Use our interactive tool to see the change in high-poverty neighborhoods in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas between 2000 and 2015.

Download Excel files for additional data on high-poverty neighborhoods. (W-1 and W-15)

Download Chapter 3 of our State of theNation’s Housing 2017 report, which contains additional discussions on the growth of poverty and the spread of high-poverty neighborhoods.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Are Home Prices Really Above Their Pre-Recession Peak?

by Alexander Hermann
Research Assistant
In 2016, national home prices not only rose for the fifth year in a row, they finally surpassed their pre-recession peak in nominal dollars, according to most national measures of home prices. However, as our new State of the Nation’s Housing report notes, when adjusted for inflation, home prices were still 9 to 16 percent below peak, depending on the measure used (Figure 1).

Figure 1. National Home Prices Now Exceed Their Previous Peak in Nominal Terms, But Not in Real Dollars

Note: Prices are adjusted for inflation using the CPI-U for All Items less shelter.
Source: JCHS tabulations of S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index data.

Moreover, as our interactive maps show, changes in home price vary widely across the country and often exhibit strong regional patterns (Figure 2).

Figure 2. How Much Have Home Prices Changed?

Our interactive maps give users the ability to view price changes in 951 markets across the country over two time periods—since 2000 and since each area’s mid-2000 peak. Viewable markets include 371 Metropolitan Statistical Areas and 31 Metropolitan Divisions (derived from 11 additional metro areas), which together contain about 85 percent of that nation’s population, as well as 549 smaller Micropolitan Statistical Areas, which are home to another nine percent of the population.

The data indicate that nominal home prices were above their mid-2000s heights in 48 percent of all markets (454 total). These markets were largely concentrated in the middle of the country, the Pacific Northwest, and Texas.

However, in real dollars, prices reached their peaks in only 138 (15 percent) of all markets. Furthermore, while prices were above peak in only 10 percent of Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Metropolitan Divisions, they topped their peak in 17 percent of the smaller micro areas, which experienced less home price volatility over the last decade.

In contrast, real prices were still 20 percent below peak in about one-third of all markets, most located in areas hardest hit by the housing crisis, including Florida and large parts of the Southwest, Northeast, and parts of the Midwest.

There were notable differences in long-term patterns in areas where real prices remained well below their pre-recession peak. In many markets on both coasts—such as Miami, Washington, DC, and Sacramento—prices have risen significantly over the last several years and, in real terms, are now well above their levels in 2000. However, because prices in these areas rose significantly during the boom years and fell so sharply during the recession, the recent gains have left prices far below what they were in the mid-2000s.

In contrast, in some Midwestern and Southern markets—such as Detroit, Chicago, and Montgomery, Alabama—prices rose only modestly in the 2000s, dropped significantly during the recession, and have grown only slightly in recent years. Consequently, real prices in these areas were not only well below their peak levels from the mid-2000s, but remained below 2000 levels in many cases.

The uneven growth in home prices over the past two decades has led to increasing differences in housing costs. Illustratively, in 2000 the inflation-adjusted median home value in the 10 most expensive metros (of the country’s 100 largest metros) was about $350,000, about three times higher than the median value of homes in the 10 least expensive metros. But between January 2000 and December 2016, real home values in the ten highest-cost housing markets rose by 64 percent to about $574,000, more than five times the value of homes in the least expensive areas, which grew by only 3 percent, to $113,000.

A broader look at home prices further highlights these stark disparities. Nationally, real home prices rose 32 percent between 2000 and 2016. But home prices in 30 percent of markets (290 total) actually declined in real terms, including 28 percent of metro and 33 percent of micro areas, most of them in the Midwest and South. In the Detroit metro area, home prices declined 26 percent, the largest decrease among large metros. Prices also fell significantly in the Cleveland (22 percent decline), Memphis (15 percent decline), and Indianapolis (13 percent decline) markets.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, between 2000 and 2016 real median home prices rose by more than 40 percent in 153 markets (16 percent), most of them on the East and West Coasts. In fact, prices doubled in twelve markets, including the Honolulu metro areas, which saw 104 percent growth. Home prices also rose considerably in the Los Angeles (97 percent), San Francisco (84 percent), Miami (73 percent), and Washington, DC (62 percent) markets. While micro areas were more likely to be past their previous peak, the lower price volatility also meant they experienced less price growth since 2000, with only 12 percent of micros exceeding 40 percent growth.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Making Collaboration Work: Four Lessons from Chicago CDFIs

by Alexander von Hoffman
and Matthew Arck
Although many in the housing and community development field are excited by the idea of collaboration between organizations, such partnerships are often easier said than done. In practice, as our new case study of a partnership in Chicago shows, effective collaboration requires the partners to be thoughtful, nimble, and flexible.

The case study analyzes the work of the Chicago CDFI Collaborative, a partnership of the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), and Neighborhood Lending Services (NLS). In 2014, the collaborative received a 3-year, $5 million grant from PRO Neighborhoods, a $125 million, 5-year grant program of JPMorgan Chase & Co. that supports community development financial institutions (CDFIs) pursuing innovative collaborations. The Chicago CDFI Collaborative used the money to restore abandoned and dilapidated housing in economically depressed neighborhoods, such as Englewood and West Woodlawn, which were particularly affected by foreclosures in the financial crisis. To do so, it provided loans and technical assistance that helped small-scale investors and owner-occupants purchase and rehabilitate one-to-four-unit buildings, which comprise nearly half of the affordable rental stock in Chicago.

The Chicago CDFI Collaborative helped a small-scale investor acquire and rehabilitate this home in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. (Photo by Nathan Hardy.)

By early 2017, the collaborative had lent nearly $25 million, acquired or financed the acquisition of 430 properties, and helped to preserve almost 600 housing units in low-income communities.  In interviews, leaders of the Chicago CDFIs identified four important lessons that emerged from their work.

1. Try new approaches

Although each member of the Chicago CDFI Collaborative is a well-established community lender, none of them had focused extensively on abandoned one-to-four-unit buildings. The new partnership enabled the officers of these groups to tackle this vexing problem on a large scale. The lesson, according to Robin Coffey, Chief Credit Officer of NLS, is that instead of “trying to play it safe” by simply expanding the volume of their current lending practices, collaborating CDFIs should imagine “how can we work together to change the way that we’re approaching something” so they can better aid residents of troubled low-income communities.

Some CDFI leaders might be wary of this approach because they perceive other CDFIs as rivals, but participants in the Chicago collaborative said that is not the case. In the CDFI field, Wendell Harris, Director of Lending Operations for CCLF, asserts, “there is so much work that needs to be done, there really is no discussion of us being competitors.”

2. Pursue many lines of attack

CDFIs must develop and carry out a multi-faceted strategy to overcome the multiple and systemic obstacles to revitalization in depressed neighborhoods. One way to do this is by targeting neighborhoods that have other revitalization programs already in place. For example, the Chicago CDFIs prioritized lending in seven neighborhoods where their organizations already were working.  Moreover, since NLS’s parent organization, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, also dispersed grants from the City of Chicago that help low- and moderate-income homeowners improve the exteriors of their homes, NLS was able to direct some of those outside grants to the same neighborhoods targeted by the Chicago CDFI Collaborative. According to Coffey, this reinforced the coalition’s revitalization efforts. When a potential buyer saw improvements being made to other buildings, the NLS leader explained, he or she would conclude that the neighborhood was “not as bad as I thought.”

In addition, the neighborhoods selected by the Chicago CDFIs were part of a larger set of neighborhoods that received funding from the City of Chicago’s Micro-Market Recovery Program, which supports a variety of revitalization efforts. Adding the PRO Neighborhoods funds to these other tools, such as financial assistance and community organizing, Coffey noted, “made it that much more effective.”

3. Communicate regularly and in-person

Leaders of the collaborating CDFIs stressed that regularly scheduled, in-person meetings were a key to their success. Monthly meetings facilitated open communication, which in turn helped create an effective, adaptive partnership. Doing so in face-to-face meetings rather than conference calls meant that the partners had fewer distractions and were more likely to focus on the work at hand.

The face-to-face meetings also helped partners discover issues sooner than they might have otherwise, and, according to Coffey, gave them a “sense of urgency” to solve the problems that emerged in their discussions. Conferring in person, Harris added, encouraged the partners to share information about their networks of people in the field as well as details about properties that were under discussion. In one meeting, for instance, CIC’s representative told the group that it had acquired a building in a particular neighborhood, and NLS’s representative suggested an owner-occupant who would likely be interested in acquiring and rehabbing it.  

4. Expect the unexpected and adapt to it

Leaders of collaborating CDFIs must be prepared to respond to unexpected conditions on the ground. Going into the venture, the partners in Chicago initially thought the best strategy was to target long-vacant homes for rehabilitation. However, Coffey recalled, “we learned really quickly that getting people into homes so that they wouldn’t become vacant” was easier for the homeowner and better for the block. The partners also discovered that, despite the robust technical assistance provided by the Chicago CDFI Collaborative, many potential owner-occupants remained doubtful they possessed the expertise necessary to rehab long-vacant properties. To adapt, NLS’s leaders broadened their strategy to include run-down buildings that were not currently vacant, but were likely to become vacant if major repairs were not done in the near future.

The members of the Chicago Collaborative also encountered unexpected difficulty when they tried to carry out their core strategy to acquire and renovate large numbers of distressed properties in close proximity. In response, they expanded their efforts beyond simply acquiring foreclosed buildings to include buying tax liens on properties and purchasing and reconverting condominiums back into single properties. Without such changes, said Andre Collins, vice-president of acquisition and disposition strategy for CIC, the Collaborative would have rehabilitated fewer properties and preserved fewer affordable units than they did.

Taken together, these practices can help collaborative efforts succeed, which, Harris says, is particularly important because “it takes a collaborative effort to make things better.”