Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Can We Fix the Housing Shortage?

 The Mortgage Corner

Calculated Risk

Existing-home sales of single-family, condos and apartments were down slightly from their recent highs for a number of reasons. This is while demand for housing is skyrocketing with home prices up 20 percent year-over-year, but there just isn’t enough inventory, especially at the low, affordable end where young adults can buy a home or condominium, and builders are scrambling to catch up.

The Calculated Risk graph shows that last year during the pandemic existing-home sales reached the highest sales rate since 2006 and the pre-Great Recession housing bubble. So the worry is how to fulfill the exploding housing needs of Americans after the pandemic has caused a record number of homeless and at least 10 million homeowners behind on their mortgage payment.

The National Association of Realtors reported in May:

Total existing-home sales,1, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, dropped 0.9% from April to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.80 million in May. Sales in total climbed year-over-year, up 44.6% from a year ago (4.01 million in May 2020).

"Home sales fell moderately in May and are now approaching pre-pandemic activity," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "Lack of inventory continues to be the overwhelming factor holding back home sales, but falling affordability is simply squeezing some first-time buyers out of the market.”

So how will we provide enough homes to fill the rising demand for housing—not only to house those that can afford to buy, or rent, but for the homeless?

Housing economists predict that partly due to the pandemic, America is short some 5 million housing units, including rental housing.

Forbes Magazine summarizes a compendium of reports from WSJ and others that there would be 5.5 million more housing units today, if as many were built since 2000 as were built for baby boomers from 1968 to 2000.

“To make up the shortage, the NAR report says the U.S. would have to build 2.1 million homes each year for a decade—more than it built each year during the housing boom of the mid-2000s,” says Forbes.

That could be a problem with last month’s residential housing starts increasing 3.6 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of (just) 1.57 million units off a downwardly revised April reading, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.


This is third highest, per the St. Louis Fed’s single-family starts since 1960, which shows the record for starts was 1.8 million in January 2006 at the beginning of the housing bubble, and the last time interest rates were lower than the inflation rate, as they are today with the Fed’s various quantitative easing purchases of treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities.

The May reading of 1.57 million starts is the number of housing units builders would begin if development kept this pace for the next 12 months, says the National Association of Home Builders. Within this overall number, single-family starts increased 4.2 percent to a 1.10 million seasonally adjusted annual rate. The multifamily sector, which includes apartment buildings and condos, increased 2.4 percent to a 474,000 pace.

So how can we increase production? “[W]e’ll need to do something dramatic to close this gap,” said Yun in a press release. The association proposed increasing the housing supply by creating or expanding tax credits, loans or grants for builders who renovate or build new housing in low-income areas and who convert old malls and factories into homes. They also asked for incentives for cities to allow denser zoning, an approach that President Biden included in his infrastructure proposal, Reuters reported.

The White says the President’s infrastructure plan proposal invests $213 billion “to produce, preserve, and retrofit more than two million affordable and sustainable places to live. It pairs this investment with an innovative new approach to eliminate state and local exclusionary zoning laws, which drive up the cost of construction and keep families from moving to neighborhoods with more opportunities for them and their kids.”

So it's now up to the Senate to reach a final agreement on the bill, which will determine if we can even begin to cure the housing shortage.

Harlan Green © 2021

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