June 05, 2017
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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last week held a housing forum, "A New Era of Homeownership," to mark the beginning of National Homeownership Month, as declared by President Trump in May. The social and financial benefits of homeownership for Americans and the economy was a common thread throughout the entire forum.

In his opening remarks, HUD Secretary Ben Carson emphasized the significance of homeownership, stating, "The importance of homeownership is apparent to all of us: security, certainty, safety, wealth creation, a path forward, self-sufficiency, a place to live with loved ones, to raise our families, the location of our neighborhood." Secretary Carson continued his remarks by expressing the "good news" of a steadily improving homeownership rate in the country, despite the rate remaining at a near historic low. In the second quarter of last year, the national homeownership rate, 62.9 percent, was at its lowest point in over fifty years. Carson announced that the current homeownership rate is 63.6 percent, saying "These figures represent more than paper, facts, titles, and mortgages. We can see the hopes and dreams, the aspirations and excitement of homeownership."

Carson's remarks were followed by a briefing on current trends in the housing market from Kevin Kane, HUD's Chief Housing Market Analyst. Kane suggested that the national homeownership rate may continue to increase. Kane also noted that, in the first quarter of 2017, the number of new owner households exceeded the number of new rental households for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2006.

The event concluded with a panel discussion featuring prominent housing industry leaders and experts. The panel was moderated by CNBC Real Estate Reporter Diana Olick, who was joined by Joel Kan, Associate Vice President of Industry Surveys and Forecasts at the Mortgage Bankers Association; Christie Peale, Executive Director of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods; Jon Spader, Senior Research Associate at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies; and Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of Research at the National Association of Realtors®.

The panel covered a wide variety of topics on homeownership, ranging from the importance of continued government funding for programs such as CDBG and HOME to the current state of the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the prospects for housing finance reform. Peale praised the CDBG and HOME programs as vital tools in facilitating the public-private partnerships that enable more individuals to become homeowners. She also stated that housing industry advocates are "fighting fiercely" to preserve funding for CDBG and HOME.

The panel largely agreed with Secretary Carson's assertion that homeownership remained a fundamental part of the "American Dream." They suggested that the low homeownership rate has been caused by the low supply of affordable homes available to first-time home buyers and stringent credit terms, rather than a generational shift away from the desire to own a home.