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Housing Perspectives

Research, trends, and perspective from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

Our Top 10 Blog Posts of the Year

The pandemic, GSE reform, and persistent affordability concerns: in case you missed them, our top ten(ish) blogs of 2020 examined both new and ongoing housing challenges in the US.

1. The New Proposed Capital Rule for Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae: Ten Quick Reactions

In the spring, our senior fellow Don Layton examined the new capital rule proposed by FHFA and determined that it was strategically backward-looking and inappropriately driven by ideology. When the final rule was published last month, Don concluded that it lacks credibility and its capital requirement is far too high but this may not matter when the Biden administration replaces the rule. His series of blogs on America’s Housing Finance System in the Pandemic were also among our most popular of the year.

2. To Rebuild America’s Post-Pandemic Economy, We Need to Rethink Housing

In July, our senior fellow Michael Stegman wrote that the economic pain caused by the pandemic calls for unprecedented government action and presents an opportunity to reconsider whether the economy can work better for more people. He also acknowledged that the pandemic has made clear how systemic racism in housing can endanger people’s lives.

3. Making Apartments More Affordable Starts with Understanding the Costs of Building Them

Policymakers and researchers have identified a number of barriers to building more affordable housing. This piece co-authored by former Gramlich fellow Hannah Hoyt and Jenny Schuetz of the Brookings Institution was the first in a series that explored how improved design and construction decisions could reduce the cost of building affordable multifamily housing.

4. A Triple Pandemic? The Economic Impacts of COVID-19 Disproportionately Affect Black and Hispanic Households

During the pandemic, Black and Hispanic households have been more likely to lose income and have difficulty making rent or mortgage payments, according to our postdoctoral fellow Sharon Cornelissen and senior research analyst Alex Hermann. Federal, state, and local policies, they suggested, should pay special attention to vulnerable groups and put measures in place to prevent further economic stress.

5. How Much Assistance Would It Take to Help Renters Affected by COVID-19?

In the first five weeks of the pandemic, 26.2 million people filed unemployment claims, and our research associate Whitney Airgood-Obrycki estimated that assistance for renters with at-risk wages could range from $274 million up to a staggering $7.5 billion. Whitney also penned popular blogs about delayed housing construction and the rental market slowdown due to COVID, as well as ten surprising facts from our America’s Rental Housing report.

6. Past Recessions Might Offer Lessons on the Impact of COVID-19 on Housing Markets

Early in the pandemic, Alex Hermann observed that demand for housing could soften due to growing unemployment and declining incomes. While the housing market, in fact, bounced back later in the year, the shortage of for-sale homes on the market he predicted continues to affect overall sales. Alex’s blog with Whitney Airgood-Obrycki about rent shortfalls in small buildings was also among our most-read this year.

7. Affordability Challenges for Low-Income Homeowners Have Intensified During the Pandemic

While the share of homeowners that were cost-burdened (spending more than 30 percent of their income for housing) fell significantly in the decade before the pandemic, there were only slight declines for low-income homeowners, according to research analyst Raheem Hanifa, in his first blog for the Center. These longer-term trends are especially worrisome because low-income households are far more likely to have lost jobs or had their work curtailed since the pandemic began.

8. The Number of People Living Alone in Their 80s and 90s Is Set to Soar

According to senior research associate Jennifer Molinsky, over the next 20 years, the number of Americans in their 80s and 90s living alone will dramatically increase. And because those living alone at older ages can have greater needs for support in the home as well as fewer resources than similarly-aged couples, this growth has implications for families and policymakers alike. In the coming decades, all levels of government will need to address the needs of older adults living alone, particularly those who require in-home services and who live in places where social connections are made more challenging by limited transportation options.

9. How This Recession Is Expected to Affect Home Improvement Spending

Two months into the pandemic, Kermit Baker, director of our Remodeling Futures program, observed that, after almost a decade of sustained increases in remodeling spending, the industry appeared to be entering a significant downturn. However, he noted that the magnitude of a downturn would depend on the changing mix of home improvement projects, and homeowner motivations for undertaking projects. Indeed, according to our latest Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity, as the year continued, US remodeling expanded, with many homeowners tackling projects to adapt their space for work, school, and leisure.

10. Housing Could Help Lead the Post-COVID Economic Recovery

In the spring, senior research associate Dan McCue observed that housing has often led the economy out of recessions, because they prompt declining interest rates, which in turn lowers borrowing costs for both homebuyers and builders, making homebuying more attractive. And as interest rates continued to drop throughout 2020, Dan’s prediction was borne out with single-family construction up 22 percent from a year earlier and demand far outpacing supply. And while many in the US continue to struggle with the economic fallout from the pandemic, those who have maintained their employment will likely continue to fuel strong demand for housing well into 2021.