Remember the housing crisis?
Its immediate effect was the financial ruin of millions of lives, and a United States economy flirting with Armageddon. Its lasting impacts have been profound and far-reaching. By last year, seven years from the eye of the storm, more than one in three of us believed it had ended. (It may surprise some to learn that almost two out of three of us thought the opposite). That was more of us than the year earlier, and the year earlier than that. Then, this past year, things changed.
Now, fewer of us think all that's left of recent memory's worst housing crisis is tail-lights. A drop of six percentage points--to 29% of Americans who feel the housing crisis is a past and resolved issue--took place in the past 12 months.
What's up with that?
Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe we are still in the middle of the housing crisis (44%) or the worst is yet to come (19%). The proportion of Americans who believe the crisis is over had been steadily increasing, from 20% in 2013 to 25% in 2014 to 35% in 2015, before trending down this year. While this decline in optimism about the end of the housing crisis prevails across most segments of the public, it is especially pronounced among renters (-12-point difference from 2015), those 65 and older (-12), those with a four-year college or more education (-10), African Americans (-10), Hispanics (-13), city dwellers (-13), and those living in the Northeast (-10).
Now, the role of consumer confidence, sentiment, the willingness and the wherewithal among households playing their part as lead actors in the economy is well-known to be a core indicator of where things are headed in housing. That's why it's discouraging to read the following in the MacArthur analysis:
A significant majority (81%) continues to believe that housing affordability is a problem in America today, with six in ten characterizing it as a serious problem. A majority of adults (57%) say that housing affordability is a problem in the area in which they live, with two in five (39%) calling it a serious problem.
It's ironic and interesting that what some people see as an important sign of housing's healing--home price recovery--many regard as a continuing example of a housing crisis. That attainable, affordable homes are so scarce serves as a clear sign the crisis goes on.
MacArthur's analysis spotlights another noteworthy part of the conversation, a role for policy and governments in solutions. For example:
Americans are optimistic that the problem of affordable housing is solvable and are solidly behind a variety of policy proposals to address these challenges. They do not believe, however, that the problem is receiving the attention it needs or deserves. Nearly two-thirds of adults (63%) believe actions can be taken to solve problems of housing affordability, and a significant majority (76%) believes it is very (60%) or fairly important (16%) for their elected leaders in Washington to do so. The view that affordable housing should be a priority among policymakers is strong across the political spectrum – from most Democrats (88% say it is very/fairly important for leaders to act) to three-fourths of Independents (75%) to a solid majority of Republicans (62%). Homeowners (71%) and renters (86%) also agree. Yet 63% of adults say this issue has not received enough attention from the 2016 presidential candidates, including half of Republicans (49%), two-thirds of Independents (66%), and three-quarters of Democrats (74%).
Our view, which may be biased, is that policy can and will do very little about housing's solvable challenges. Not that organizations like the National Association of Home Builders and their leaders aren't doing everything in their power to influence policy-making in a positive direction. They are.
Still, people on Main Street--the ones who account for two of every three dollars spent in the economy--are ultimately the arbiters of positive impact on their own sentiment. What was lost and damaged is trust, as property value became almost meaningless because everybody could have lots of it. Time, and being trustworthy, is all that can heal that huge, lasting wound.
Two steps forward, one step back.