Sunday, May 29, 2016

The American Affordable Housting Crisis: Solutions for Affordable Housing

Solutions for the US Affordable Housing Crisis

Image Urban Institute
This heat map of the availability of affordable housing comes from City Labs and the Urban Institute. It illustrates the affordable housing crisis in the USA. Sadly, there isn't one county in the country with enough housing for everybody. Of course, this coast-to-coast problem is much worse in some places than in others. Side-by-side maps on the City Labs page illustrates that the problem has only gotten worse since 2000.

In Travis County, TX, for example:

  • The area has about 7,000 units that offer affordable and safe housing for low-income families. 
  • The issue here is that there are almost 50,000 families that need this kind of housing, 
Of course, Austin and Travis County aren't even the worst examples of ares where housing costs too much for many families. Urban areas in California and around New York City tend to top that list. Also, the problems for the very poor are echoed further up the economic ladder when middle income families may have to find housing, but it may not be considered adequate for their needs. 

Increased Rental Rates Aggravates the Problem 

In the past, I discussed some reasons why more Americans were renting instead of buying their homes than every before. The increase in renters crosses all ages and income groups. Both boomers and millennials are turning to renting because of the costs of maintaining a home, trouble getting a mortgage, or an urge to downsize. While more apartments get built and single-family homes get converted to rental units, supply hasn't kept up with demand.

Various government agencies do subsidize housing for the poor, elderly, and disabled. The crisis would be much worse without housing assistance, according to studies by the Urban Institute. Indeed, the country has become a nation or renters, and the owners have become large investment institutions. However, if you looked at the lively discussion on the City Labs site, you would see that many people express some good reasons why subsidies aren't a total solution to the problem.

Alternative Affordable Housing Solutions 

You'll get no argument here about the fact that shelter is NOT a want; it is a need. However, renting an apartment for an individual or family is not the only solution and may not even be the best one for some folks. This is true for people who are truly economically disadvantages or simply don't care to spend a high percentage of their income on housing. That's really the point for most families; they need to come up with a realistic housing solution that works for them. For some people and families, the right choice for a home may be on the road less traveled.

The Frugal Pig touched on this topic with an interesting post called "Alternative Affordable Housing Ideas." Solutions included co-living, portable housing, non-traditional rentals, and more. The article also contains links to resources help with housing subsidies and public housing for those who want to research that route.

Long-Term, Reliable Housing Solutions 

In the long run, the only solution will be finding a way to get the supply to keep up with the demand. Landlords have their own issues to deal with because of increasing property tax, insurance, and maintenance costs, so affordable housing has to include reasonable compensation too.

If you have any thoughts on the problem or more solutions, be sure to let me and other readers know in the comments!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why Are More Americans Renting Homes?

Over the last 10 years, the rental market has boomed. It seems like the old American dream of home ownership has lost its glamour for people across many age groups and incomes. Of course, people with lower incomes have made up the largest part of growth, but even people with incomes over $100,000 are choosing to rent in greater numbers than they used to. 

Who Does the Rental Boom Help? 

The increase in rentals and decline in homeownership has been great news for property owners, of course. All across the country, rental costs are spiking every year. At the same time, the largest property markets have almost all enjoyed average occupancy rates over 95%, a rate that is usually considered full occupancy.

A few different factors are probably contributing to the increase in renting:

  • Baby boomers: As this generates ages, they are choosing to rent in order to downsize and enjoy more access to services.  Of course, boomers downsize homes to save money too.
  • Millennial generation: This generation is finding that wages aren't that high, and it is harder to qualify for a mortgage than it used to be. 
  • Attitudes: After the Great Recession, people may not feel as if real estate is the reliable investment that it used to be thought of. 
  • Mortgages: Another result of the housing bust was much tougher mortgage rules. 
Of course, this trend has increased rental rates so much in some areas that it has impacted affordability. Even though rates have been increasing each year, this issue might begin to cap increases within the next few years. Property investors really need to understand the market and buy or build rental properties that are likely to be priced so that a good population of local people can actually afford them. 

Many investors have been building high-end rentals to serve a high-income market. However, this is not as much of a sure thing as investing in more modest properties that people with lower incomes can afford.