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Housing Survey Calls for More Policy Measures to Boost Affordability

Suzanne Cosgrove
   | Financing, Market News

Home affordability
By most measures, the U.S. housing market’s rebound from its recessionary slump remains intact. Recent data continue to trend up, with CoreLogic reporting June 3 that its home price index rose by 10.5 percent in April from a year ago, although the gain was less than the 11.1 percent rise in March.

But a recent survey conducted by Washington, D.C.–based Hart Research Associates for the MacArthur Foundation suggests Americans still see housing as a sector that has room for improvement.

The overwhelming majority, 70 percent, of the survey respondents who are non-home owners said they aspire to buy a home, but fewer people surveyed saw home ownership as a path to building wealth.

“The affordability problem has to be addressed,” said Rebecca Naser, a vice president with Hart Research, in an interview. With a slow economy and stagnant wages, “the majorities feel it’s hard for middle-income families to find housing.”

The MacArthur “How Housing Matters” survey, conducted between April 8 and April 14 and released this week, found that 52 percent of the 1,355 adults queried by phone said they have had to make at least one sacrifice in order to cover their rent or mortgage.

Those tradeoffs, they said, included taking a second job or working more hours, not saving for retirement, cutting back on health care, or accumulating credit-card debt.

“The public thinks more can be done” by policymakers, said Naser. In fact, of those surveyed, 58 percent said state and local governments should be doing more on both fronts—through zoning and other measures—to ensure that there is sufficient affordable quality housing to buy and to rent in their own communities.

“On a federal level, the public wants policy that takes a balanced approach,” she said. In a survey separate question, 58 of the respondents said the federal government should invest in policies that support home ownership and 58 percent said it should provide more affordable-quality rental housing.

Despite respondents’ criticisms, Naser acknowledged this year’s survey showed a minor, but positive shift in public opinion compared with 2013.

For example, the latest survey showed 42 percent of Americans see the housing market as a problem, down from 46 percent a year ago.

“I would characterize it as a decrease in pessimism, as opposed to an increase in optimism,” Naser said. “There has been a shift in attitude, but it’s not a shift where people think we’ve emerged and are through the storm.”