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Introduction

You just don't see this in other cities.

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I presume that eventually, rents will rise high enough to trigger even more building at the low end, putting a stop to excessive rent inflation. But, it hasn't happened yet.

Idiosyncratic Ruby: Big Data Without End

Though, multi-unit starts are very strong. To the extent that investors will build new stock, it will tend to be multi-unit. Again, all hail Zillow. The national story here is that rent affordability has been high though it has moderated recently but that mortgage affordability has never been better. There has never been more reason to loosen lending standards. This is basically why the low tier of most cities is lagging in price and supply with rising rents, because we have financial gatekeepers preventing potential low-tier buyers from closing this financial arbitrage gap.

Price is not the moderating factor keeping mortgage expenses so low. But, note what the Nashville story is here. It has traditionally been an exceptionally affordable city, in terms of rent.

But during the housing boom and after, that gap has closed, and Nashville isn't particularly affordable any more. Zillow only has rent data from , but here is a graph comparing aggregate median rent levels in each zip code in Nashville from to The x-axis measures the starting median rent and the y-axis measures how much rent has increased in that zip code since then.

More affordable areas have experienced rising rents much higher than more expensive areas. So, the median rent affordability measure above really splits a divide between top-tier areas where rent affordability has remained low and low-tier areas where it has moved up more. As we can see, the typical pattern holds. This is basically the same effect that was happening in places like LA before the financial crisis. The trend line in this graph would have moved up. The trendline hasn't moved at all, yet this doesn't make housing more affordable.

This is one of many reasons why the focus on affordability should be on rent, not price. Rent is the coherent source of information for that question. I have concluded that the relative rise in low-tier prices in cities like LA during the bubble was unrelated to loose lending markets. That is a tough argument to make, because it coincided with loose lending markets, and it just seems to make sense that loose lending would create new buyer demand that might push prices up.

But, here, in Nashville, we can see the same effect, and here, the effect coincides with tight lending.


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Tight lending standards have created the same context in the rest of the country that supply constraints in Closed Access cities had created before the crisis. Any positive economic developments will create a side effect of pushing up the cost of living for families with the lowest incomes.

Idiosyncratic Whisk

Eventually, I presume, Nashville will hit a rent level that pushes prices high enough to induce enough investor building to level off rent inflation. There will be a new normal, where the level of rents will be higher for low-tier tenants relative to where they used to be, but once we hit that level, the rate of change in rents should level out. There is no rule here that points us to the correct place. Maybe access to mortgages should be tightly regulated and housing should be more expensive than it used to be for low-tier tenants.

An advantage of that market norm would be lower rates of mortgage defaults, etc. It would be a safer equilibrium with less volatility and less punctuated distress. But, the cost of that safety comes at the expense of low-tier tenants.

Idiosyncratic Whisk

They replace less punctuated distress with more chronic distress. And, if prices are going to be depressed by limiting access to capital, then that means, mathematically, that we are enforcing a system of inflated returns to those who happen to have capital. Again, maybe that's ok. We just need to be honest about the implications of these lending norms. If this is the new normal, then most cities have a few decades to look forward to that look like Nashville today. Economic success will mostly simply mean rising cost of living for households with lower incomes.

This will be blamed on all sorts of supposed problems with laissez-faire markets, but most of it lays at the feet of a national consensus that has supported an extreme regime shift meant to make real estate markets less volatile. Supporting an economic structure that benefits all Americans will require coming to terms with the pros and cons of that consensus.

Follow up. Monday, July 1, The next post in my Mercatus series on housing affordability. F or households 45 to 54 years in age, the homeownership rate in , when the Census Bureau started tracking it annually, was It bottomed out at By , it was down to Rental expenses as a proportion of incomes Figure 1 , belie the conventional wisdom.

The rental value of owned homes was more stable as a portion of owner income than the rental value of rented homes from the late s to the mids. In other words, if there was an increase in relative spending on housing, it was among renters.


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  8. The rental value of homeowners was rising in line with their incomes. There is no sign of marginal homebuyers being induced into homeownership and overconsumption. Sorry I'm a few days late on this. CPI shelter inflation is at about 3. The non-shelter core components are now down to 1. Inflation isn't that great of a short-term signal. But, the period leading up to that, in and , had a similar character - high shelter inflation and low non-shelter core inflation. Yet, when that signal appeared in , it reversed in spite of Fed postures that continued to signal tightening.

    It appears as though the Fed is looking to reverse course, which is very good news. A couple rate reductions is prudent at this point.

    Unfortunately, that is likely to meet the howls of those who claim a low target interest rate inflates prices in capital markets. But, it seems the FOMC has become more immune to that, which is great. I have been suggesting that long bond positions would be profitable, and expecting that an inertial Fed would create marginal buying opportunities in other assets as that opportunity played out. If the Fed gets ahead of things here, maybe they will curb any pullbacks in equity markets or housing markets. I'm happy to see that tactical opportunity disappear if it means the Fed doesn't encourage unnecessary contractions.

    In fact, maybe that would make those opportunities even more fruitful, without waiting on a pullback, if the economic expansion is allowed to continue, chipping away at risk aversion. But, the story remains. Inflation is very low. To the extent that real wage growth continues to disappoint, this is largely a structural supply issue that creates a transfer from tenants to real estate owners, which is measured as inflation. Labels: Monetary policy.

    I have a blog series on housing affordability that is slowly rolling out 1 per week at The Bridge. I find discussions about housing affordability to be frequently frustrating. One reason is that homeownership is generally treated as if it is a wholly different type of consumption than tenancy is. This is odd, because in national accounts, the BEA treats tenancy the same for both owners and renters. I find it useful to disaggregate our economic activities regarding shelter so that every home has an owner, a financier, and a tenant, regardless of whether those agents are all different or are all the same individual.

    There is certainly a risk that comes from becoming an owner-occupier and taking ownership of a single large asset that can frequently be much larger in size than your total net worth. On the other hand, there is also value that comes from getting rid of the principal-agent problems that come from having various stakeholders who all have competing interests on a single asset.

    For owner-occupiers, those conflicts are erased, which seems to lead analysts to act as if these three different relationships to a property disappear when those agency conflicts disappear. This process has led me to new points of view regarding these issues, and I hope you find something to think about in each post, also.

    From monetary policy to credit policy to regulations on local development, responses to the housing bubble have consistently and explicitly aimed for less residential investment, fewer buyers, and fewer homes. Limiting the supply of homes has had a predictable effect of increasing rents. Affordability in terms of rent was not. Understanding the difference between these two measures will be an important factor in correcting the policy errors that led to the crisis and creating better, more equitable, more stable economic outcomes in the future.

    I argue in my book, Shut Out , that the housing collapse and the financial crisis were not inevitable. In fact, their very purpose was mistaken. The fundamental measure for housing affordability is rent, not price. And, trying to bring down prices instead of bringing down rents inevitably will fail on its own terms.

    In the long run, prices will be determined by rents anyway. The resulting higher prices convey that information: owning a home is more valuable now, because it can be done with less hassle. Landlords would be less necessary because transaction costs would be a smaller problem, making homeownership more valuable. Only focusing on price might tempt one to suggest that transaction cost-reducing innovation should be avoided because it would only increase prices.

    It is this yield that is most important to marginal potential owners, not capital gains It may be more accurate to think of that excess yield as a form of patronage. A lucrative wage available to those with access to ownership. The wage is earned by performing the duties and taking the risks of a landlord. Upon becoming the owner, the wage remains, but the duties of the job can be shirked. There is no problem tenant to evict.

    No vacancies to fill. No complaints to manage. Good news on the monetary policy front.

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