by Hazel Henderson with input by Patrick A. Simmons
(Updated December 2008)
The United States entered the 21st century with a booming housing sector characterized by rapidly expanding homeownership, record home sales, strong house price appreciation and vigorous housing construction. The bursting of this housing bubble led the USA and the world into the recession of 2008. The Case-Schiller Index of house prices continues to fall; foreclosures continue at record rates; and these trends have left many Americans in distress, compounded by massive job losses not fully measured by the current 6.7% unemployment rate which omits millions of workers too discouraged to seek work, which would bring the total upward toward 12%. Case-Schiller Index of house prices continues to fall; foreclosures continue at record rates; and these trends have left many Americans in distress, compounded by massive job losses not fully measured by the current 6.7% unemployment rate which omits millions of workers too discouraged to seek work, which would bring the total upward toward 12%.
The national homeownership rate reached an all-time high of 69.1 percent in 2005, up from 43.6 percent in 1940. It has since fallen back to 67.9 percent (3rd quarter 2008, US Census).
Overcrowded and physically inadequate housing, which were major concerns of housing reformers in the early 20th century are rising again, along with rates of homelessness. In 1940, 20 percent of households experienced overcrowding and 45 percent lived in housing with incomplete plumbing. By the end of the century, fewer than 3 percent of Americans experienced these housing ills. Sadly, it may take several years to regain progress in these conditions.
Affordability problems are particularly acute for homeowners, and even with collapsing prices, mortgage application rates have sagged in spite of federal efforts to lower interest rates. Renters, over 4 million of whom paid more than half of their incomes for rent in 2000, are dealing with even worse problems today. Housing affordability problems among poor households is one factor behind the half to three-quarters of a million people who are homeless at any given moment. Millions of Americans also live in urban neighborhoods plagued by poverty rates of 40 percent or more.
Just as progress has been uneven across the different types of housing problems, so too has it been uneven for different population groups. The mushrooming of suburban “McMansions” and new ex-urban developments proved unsustainable. Inequality is probably nowhere more evident than in the persistent disparities in housing outcomes across racial and ethnic groups. For example, compared with their white counterparts, African American households are about 35 percent less likely to own their homes and African American renters are about 20 percent more likely to experience severe housing problems. African Americans are more than 20 times more likely than whites to live in extremely poor city neighborhoods. Such differences in housing outcomes contribute to broader patterns of socioeconomic inequality across population groups.
One bizarre effect of the housing bust and resulting recession has been the scape-goating of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 as being to blame for sub-prime mortgages. According to Stephen Franco, a security analyst with Walden Asset Management of Boston, this is inaccurate. Rather, 75% of sub-prime mortgages made between 2004 and 2007 were made by independent banks and mortgage brokers that were not federally regulated and did not meet CRA standards.
The US housing sector will stabilize in 2009-2010, but far too many Americans of all demographic groups will still be beset by problems of excessive housing cost burdens, homelessness or living in distressed neighborhoods.