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Archive for December, 2005

Housing is is more affordable despite contrary opinions

From the New York Times (registration required:

Despite a widespread sense that real estate has never been more expensive, families in the vast majority of the country can still buy a house for a smaller share of their income than they could have a generation ago.

A sharp fall in mortgage rates since the early 1980’s, a decline in mortgage fees and a rise in incomes have more than made up for rising house prices in almost every place outside of New York, Washington, Miami and along the coast in California. These often-overlooked changes are a major reason that most economists do not expect a broad drop in prices in 2006, even though many once-booming markets on the coasts have started weakening.

The long-term decline in housing costs also helps explain why the homeownership rate remains near a record of almost 69 percent, up from 65 percent a decade ago.

Actually, it would be interesting to compare square-footage-per-occupant with the percentage of income needed to pay for a home. Homes are a lot larger than they used to be, with fewer full time residents. Anyone who pays attention to reality and not the news media knows that virtually everything is better and cheaper–expressed in work-effort-expended-to-obtain–than it was twenty years ago, and there is no reason I can think of that housing should be any different.

But-but-but!–the “affordable housing” campaigners will exclaim–home-ownership in the Phoenix-area is below the national average! This is true. The national average is 69%, where the Valley of the Sun trundles along at a lowly–wait for it–68%. If you subtract our incompletely-documented residents, we are well above the national average.

But-but-but! People in Phoenix pay more than the national average for housing, expressed as a percentage of their income! This is also a case where subtracting the hard-working folks who live under the radar yields radically different results.

“Affordable housing” is a scam. There is no one with a decent income, good credit and well-managed debt who cannot purchase a home in the Valley. We prove this thousands of times a month. Creating a vast new government program to give the illusion of ownership to people who do not qualify for home-ownership will do no good, but it will do a lot of harm:

  • People who do have good financial habits will be penalized; some or all of the homes they might otherwise have purchased will be expropriated
  • People who have bad financial habits will receive unearned rewards in the form of housing they do not deserve and very probably will not respect or maintain; the experience of HUD housing subsidies makes this very plain
  • The “owners” of so-called “affordable housing” will not be able to sell their homes at market value, realizing the appreciation, since, if this were permitted, the inventory of “affordable housing” would vanish in short order
  • Since they will not have the right of unfettered disposal, the “owners” of so-called “affordable housing” will be, essentially, tenants-at-sufferance, further contributing to their indifference to their “property”

The booster-doggling do-gooders will get the warm fuzzies for having done something, but what they will have done will be far worse than having done nothing. We have 150 years’ experience with these silly welfare schemes, and we know beyond all doubt that their end consequence is to make people with character poorer while making their supposed beneficiaries poorer in character.

Home-ownership is the badge of the Middle Class, the backbone of America. But it is not a Cargo Cult. Behaving wisely leads to home-ownership, but “owning” a government-subsidized “affordable” home will not cause people to behave wisely. A thoughtful people could reasonably expect the contrary–informed by past experience if not by cold reason.

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