Business pages recount the winners and losers in the latest corporate shake-up. Political pundits focus on what it will take for candidates to register that elusive big win in November. The owner of the winning horse in the Belmont Stakes apologizes because her horse deprived Smarty Jones of the first Triple Crown in 25 years.

Identifying the winners and losers in everything from the Tony Awards to the latest NBA trade seems to be a national pastime. So why should it be any different in the housing industry, where the current preoccupation is with determining the winners and losers of the current housing boom.

Losers? Why, you might ask, is BUILDER writing about this topic when it's so clear that most readers have been hands-down winners? True, the most recent recession passed over the home building industry like a summer shower. And with housing starts at levels not seen since the 1970s, most of you haven't had it this good in your professional lifetimes.

But in the manufactured housing business they are still canceling office holiday parties. With low interest rates luring prized luxury renters into homeownership, there hasn't been much joy in the apartment market either, not with vacancy rates in some markets at 10-year highs and rental concessions proliferating.

Also, with the national homeownership rate standing at a record 68.3 percent, the majority of Americans are well-housed. But this oft-recited statistic masks the fact that millions of other households can't even afford a starter home, pay way too much of their income for rent, or live in overcrowded conditions.

Affordability Crisis Homeownership is actually declining among middle-income families, according to the National Housing Conference. It keeps getting harder for these working families, who make less than 120 percent of the median wage but more than the full-time equivalent of the minimum wage, to find a decent place to live near major employment centers.

As Americans who already own homes giddily swap stories of neighborhood resale prices and speculate how much their home is worth now, many first-time buyers can barely afford new homes. Home prices are rising faster than people's ability to pay for them. The latest government statistics show that between 1990 and 2001 the nation's median home price grew twice as fast as the nation's median income.

In some cases, people are buying homes that they probably shouldn't. Even as the economy gains significant steam, personal bankruptcies have reached record levels. Homes lost to foreclosure stand at a record 1.2 percent of all mortgages.

The situation, of course, is most acute for very low-income people. More than 13 million Americans now pay more than half their income for housing. Gut-wrenching newspaper stories describe how some of these families go without food just to make their rent. A record number of families, 6.1 million, live in crowded conditions, the largest number since 1960.

Our report identifies many potential solutions, including some from the two major presidential candidates. But, as always, it will take more than a head full of ideas to tackle these problems. It will take the will to buy some ground, pick up a hammer, and do something about them. And that's where the considerable muscle of the home building industry will come into play.

Boyce Thompson
Editorial Director