Harvard Housing Report Sees Affordability Improve
Despite federal intervention in the housing market and credit freeze that might not have had the desired effect thus far, certain signs of stabilization appear to be thawing, according to a new housing report. "While it is too soon to tell whether housing markets will stabilize in 2009, conditions that could support a recovery are taking shape," like increased housing affordability and more balanced housing supply and demand, according to a housing report by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. The federal government's initiatives to redevelop public housing, to provide an $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit and a federal refinance and modification program are "less generous" than the stimulus sen in 1974, despite its intentions to prevent foreclosures, the report notes. The stimulus assistance hardly touches the billions of dollars in new mortgage debt taken out in the last few years as homeowners facing job loss or financial hardship struggled to stay current on consumer debt like credit cards. The Harvard report notes an estimate by the Federal Reserve that consumers used $874bn in home equity cashed out between 2001 and 2007 to pay down non-mortgage debt, consolidating consumer debt onto their mortgages. The report also noted mortgage debt cannot be discharged through personal bankruptcy, although instances of personal bankruptcy practically doubled from 600,000 in 1006 to 1.1m in 2008. Saddled with mortgages worth significantly more than their homes and facing rising unemployment levels, homeowners have a trying road ahead, according to the report's conclusion. And the economy faces other pressures ahead as home-owning demographic groups rise in years to come. The Harvard report poses several projections of population growth, with net immigration rising from 1.1m as seen in '05 to 1.5m in 2020 in the highest estimate range. The report's lower series of projections sees half that pace. Immigrants and US minorities account for a broad sector of housing demand. Minorities will lead 73% of household growth in coming years, the report projects. Additionally household growth from 2010 to 2020 could either total as much as 14.8m or remain closer to 12.5m (close to the rate seen in '95 to '05), according to the report. All of the additional housing demand might further alleviate the strain on the housing market, the report notes, or the portion of low-income minorities and immigrants could add to the affordability crisis going forward. Write to Diana Golobay.