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Renters and Owners Squeezed by the Cost Conundrum

by Houston Agent

A new study found that owner and renters are experiencing the same troubles in today's uncertain economic times.

A new Center for Housing Policy study on housing affordability puts an interesting twist on the endlessly contentious debate of renting and homeownership, looking at the topic not from the perspective of one versus the other, but with the reality that both incarnations of property have been affected by the same economic forces.

Using Census Bureau data from 2008 and 2010 on housing costs, income and local data from the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas and all 50 states, the Center found that the share of working households that spent more than half their income on housing rose substantially from 2008 to 2010 for renters and buyers. The Policy estimates that one out of every four households has experienced such difficulties.

Laura Williams, who wrote the report of the Center’s study, said that homeowners were primarily affected by falling incomes, because of job loss and payroll reductions, while renters grappled with rising rents, which has been the result of demand for rental units outpacing supply (a side-effect, as it would happen, of homeowners losing their homes to job loss).

Change in Housing Costs vs. Change in Income, 2008-2010

This chart, from the Center's report, shows the drastic changes in homeowner/renter costs from 2008 to 2010.

“More and more people are interested in renting,” Williams said. “Some prefer it because it allows them to be more mobile in a tough job market. Others are postponing purchasing a home or facing difficulties obtaining a mortgage. Given the long lead times involved in responding to increased demand with increased supply, the rental market has tightened somewhat and rents increased.”

On the homeowner side, incomes slid more than twice as much as housing costs, the study reported, with homeowner income declining even more than renter income.

Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Housing Policy, said payroll reductions, or, employers cutting hours, has severely impacted moderate-income homeowners. Yet, while the income of those homeowners has gone down, the costs of their pre-recession homes has stayed the same.

“Most of today’s homeowners bought their homes at a time when housing prices were much higher than they are today,” Lubell continued. “As a result, their housing costs have not declined nearly as much as you would expect from looking at the broader market declines in home sale prices.”

All of those details – falling incomes, job loss, rising rents, and stable housing costs – have contributed to a topsy turvy market for home affordability, where home prices continue to fall but fewer and fewer consumers are able to afford a residence.

The Center’s complete report, which features copious amounts of graphs and charts to complement the study’s findings, can be read here.

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