Mind the Gap - Issues in Overcoming the Information, Income, Wealth, and Supply Gaps Facing Potential Buyers of Affordable Homes

  • Description

While the overall homeownership rate in the United States is at an all-time high, the gap between the ownership rates of low-income and higher-income households remains wide. In addition, homeownership rates in urban, low-income and minority communities lag behind. Lower-income families are constrained a lack of information about how to buy a home, by their inability to provide sufficient, stable income streams for debt service, by their lack of initial equity, and by their inability to find an home of adequate quality in a desirable location. This paper explores each of these constraints, or gaps, and potential solutions for each. We find addressing each of these gaps involves trade-offs, yet targeting the appropriate strategy for particular markets and populations may be able to help families become home owners. Information gaps are best addressed by programs that provide home buyer counseling and education. Federal funding and incentives for such programs have been declining throughout the last decade, however. Unless new homebuyers are well-prepared and supported, none of the sophisticated development and financial strategies will be successful. Income and wealth gaps are closely linked; bridging a wealth gap for a buyer, for example, may increase the buyer's income gap. While there are several strategies that seek to bridge these twin barriers, the most promising among them is the second mortgage. The supply gap is most pressing in faster-growing coastal cities, but is becoming a more significant constraint to homeownership nationally. Unfortunately, reliance on filtering and other traditional mechanisms for creating affordable homeownership opportunities has not proven effective in recent years. Serious consideration should be paid to new production programs and policies that can enhance the supply of affordable owner-occupied units in targeted areas. Overall, a menu of strategies exists, each being appropriate for targeted households in a given housing market context. More attention needs to be focused on this menu, rather than a one-size fits all strategy.