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When it came to colleges, Harvard wasn’t on my list. It had something to do with brains and finances and the like. But I am smart enough to know that when the Ivy League school publishes something or has its name attached to a report it’s worthy of a look.
The school’s State of the Nation housing report for 2012 caught my eye, and it’s got some interesting reflections and projections regarding our business. And since it is 42 pages long, here’s a Cliffs Notes version of some highlights:
After several false starts, there is reason to believe 2012 will mark the beginning of a true housing market recovery. Sustained employment growth is the key, providing the stimulus for stronger household growth and bringing relief to distressed homeowners.
Emerson Hall at Harvard University
Declines in the national homeownership rate accelerated in 2011 as more households opted — or were forced by foreclosure — to rent. The national homeownership rate dipped to 66.1 percent, down 0.7 of a percentage point from a year earlier and 2.9 percentage points from the 2004 peak. Despite the drop in rates for all age groups under 65, however, the overall rate stands well above the 64 percent prevailing in the 1980s and first half of the 1990s.
Assuming the economic recovery is sustained in the next few years, the growth and aging of the population alone — including the entrance of the echo boomers into adulthood — should support the addition of about 1 million new households per year over the next decade.
With moderate gains in multifamily construction, improving sales of existing homes and modest increases in single-family starts, housing should make a stronger contribution to economic growth in 2012 than it has in years.
With the economy steadily adding more jobs, home sales picking up and new home inventories at record lows, the single-family market may also be reviving. Still, the weakness in existing home prices, the large backlog of foreclosures and the tight lending environment are restraining the recovery.
After hitting a record low of 306,000 in 2011, sales of new homes early in 2012 were 16.7 percent above year-earlier levels. While the increase occurred from record lows, new home sales appear to be staging a recovery that, for the first time in this cycle, does not depend on the temporary stimulus of federal homebuyer tax credits.
Despite factors restraining the recovery, other trends — including steady employment growth, depleted inventories of for-sale homes and a surge in sales and construction activity — make the housing market outlook significantly brighter than a year ago.
Once the recovery gains further momentum, demographic forces should lift the rate of household growth—and, in turn, the demand for housing. Over the longer term, the large echo-boom generation will drive much of this demand, increasing the diversity of the nation’s households.
Only 21 percent of household growth was in the city cores of the nation’s 100 largest metros, compared with about 38 percent in suburbs and 41 percent in exurbs.
The plunge in housing values was particularly hard on low-income and minority households, both because prices in the low-end market fell the most and because home equity accounted for a large share of minority household wealth when the bubble burst.
The oldest of the echo boomers, who turned 25 in 2010, are beginning to form their own households. This large contingent will be the primary driver of new household formations over the next two decades.
The U.S. homeownership rate fell another 0.8 of a percentage point in 2011, the largest drop in seven consecutive years of decline. At 65.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012, the national rate stood at its lowest level since the first quarter of 1997.
Renter household growth surged in 2011, spurred by the decline in homeownership rates across most age groups. With vacancy rates falling and rents on the rise, returns on rental property investments are improving and multifamily construction is making a comeback in many markets. The aging of the echo-boom generation into young adulthood favors strong rental demand for years to come.
Information indicates that 890,000 foreclosures were completed in 2011, down from 1.1 million in 2010. But the wave of home losses is by no means over, with upwards of 2 million homes still in some stage of foreclosure in early 2012.
Federal and state governments face tough fiscal choices to address the urgent needs of its citizens. Expanding the supply of safe, decent housing that is affordable to the growing numbers of low-income Americans is one of those critical needs — not only to ensure quality of life but to repair the social fabric of entire communities damaged by the recession. Now is not the time to cut back on housing programs that have had demonstrated success in providing a springboard to opportunity for many of the nation’s most vulnerable households.
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