Low-Income Homeownership Boom Goes Bust
Question: Is homeownership a social blessing that should be encouraged with subsidies and public policy?
Answer: According to politicians and the voters who elect them, the answer has been "Yes."
For example, we've had tax subsidies, lending subsidies and a concerted set of government policies to move low-income people out of rental units and into homeownership. The government's goal was to lift the homeownership rate from 64.2% to 67.5% of households, and that goal was achieved. It all sounds good to help low-income groups achieve the "American dream of homeownerhsip," but we are now in a "payback" period for misguided policies that encouraged low-income renters with low-quality credit to buy homes with low down payments and sub-prime loans, often with adjustable rates.
And have higher rates of homeownership actually benefited low-income groups? Apparently not as much as we once thought. From today's Wall Street Journal article "Payback":
Of low-income households from a nationally representative sample who became homeowners between 1977 and 1993, fully 36% returned to renting in two years, and 53% in five years. Suggesting their sojourn among the homeowning was not a happy one, few returned to homeownership in later years.
Even among those who held on to their homes for 10 years, the average price-appreciation gain was 30% -- less than if their money had been invested in Treasury bills. This meager capital gain was about half that enjoyed by middle-income homeowners.
A typical low-income household might spend half the family income on mortgage costs, leaving less money for a rainy day or investing in education. Their less-marketable homes apparently also tended to tie them down, making them less likely to relocate for a job.
And the mortgage-interest deduction, won't turn a house into a paying proposition for those with little income to shelter.
Bottom line: Homeownership likely has had an exceedingly poor payoff for millions of low-income purchasers, perhaps even blighting the prospects of what might otherwise be upwardly mobile families.