If six out of 10 people said they could and would buy a new economy car because they could not afford more, would the auto industry respond by making 65% of its cars high-end luxury automobiles?
That, by one federal government measure, housing stock in the United States ticked up by a net 270,000 units (factoring in all changes to available housing inventory) during the years 2011 and 2013, is scary. That a great majority of the new units--both for-sale and for-rent--in the past five years are aimed at affluent households is also frightening. That, as the National Association of Home Builders found in its survey, less than 35% of new homes these days are at or below that watermark--$249,000--most respondents say is their limit is equally unnerving.
The scope of housing's shortage--whose most important impact is on those with less money, political clout, mobility, education, time, and other scarce resources--is well known. It touches on one of the existential issues gripping American society, culture, voters, leaders, and business strategists in the moment, which is how does The American Dream translate into reality today.
Not just from a social fairness standpoint, either. Rather, from a practical, down-to-earth, free-enterprise business and economic standpoint. Housing is nothing if not a highly-sensitive, domino-effect, interdependent business. Each part of the ecosystem serves a specific economic function, and dysfunction at any part of the spectrum usually means other parts can't sustainably
Housing's big questions of the moment--ones that materially effect whether the 2.6 million people construction officially employs, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, can make a sustainable living in the business--come down to two areas: supply constraints and demand constraints.
Here's a statement, from a real person, the ceo of one of America's largest private home building companies that capsulizes the perspective of many people and companies that have made themselves successful as home builders, developers, investors, manufacturers, etc.
"We could sell entry-level homes as fast as we could churn them out, all day long, every day ... It's building them that's the hard part."
It's a hard problem. Our audiences, whether it's the large public home builders we've learned are exploring modularized, component-based construction platforms that will help with both velocity, quality, and efficiency on job sits, or manufacturers working on materials that self-heal and structures that can re-adjust after seismic or climatic disturbances, or engineers building-information-modeling every part, process, and product from first customer interaction to delivery of the keys and title, are working day-in and day-out on the problem.
It's not just about affordability, because that term merely suggests pricing hurdles that are above the means of households to participate in the latest cycle of new housing inventory addition. It's about the sustainability of a narrative that has home and community and growth woven into its beginning, middle, and end. A narrative many of us embrace as our family, our neighborhood, our cultural story.
The scope of housing's shortage today, when it comes down to it, is part supply constraints, part demand constraints, and wholly defining of an unserved and underserved areas that the industry and business community might rightfully call "fringe" parts of the market.
What we've begun to learn--looking at the emergence of disrupters like Netflix, Airbnb, Uber, and others--is that unserved and underserved markets are often where disruption surfaces. This area--where many successful companies only see un-fertile ground for business--may be the path for entrants to come in and do some things radically different.