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Politics & MoneyReal Estate

Why we can’t build our way out of this hot housing market

The federal government will need to step in with deficit financing for any kind of construction boom

HW+ new home build

During the previous economic expansion from 2008 to 2019, the housing market was subject to the constant refrain of build more homes. Building more homes, it was said, would solve all sorts of social problems, from making homeownership more affordable to ending homelessness.

Today we are perhaps less prone to believing that a glut of new homes is the panacea society is waiting for, but the siren call to build more homes continues to be broadcast by a host of housing pundits and social do-gooders.

The problem with this scenario is that social do-gooders don’t build homes; builders build houses, and they build homes for money, not to cure societal ills.

The previous economic expansion from 2008 to 2019 was the weakest housing recovery ever. Why? Because that period followed a housing boom and bust when inventory was overbuilt. We first had to whittle down the excess inventory and get our financial house in order (i.e., make corrections to the misguided lending standards) to have a stable, growing housing market once again — and this took time. Not to mention, demographics were more favorable for renting during some of those years. 

Because we were in recovery mode from this drag on our growth, I often said that housing starts wouldn’t start a year at 1.5 million until 2020-2024. We still have not seen housing starts begin the year at the level. We ended 2020 with just 1,380,000 starts. Even in the years 2020 to 2024, however, which are very favorable for housing, I don’t see a credit sales boom or construction boom brewing in the current data — nor do I expect to see either of these shortly.

Here is why.

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