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More than Half of U.S. Adults Cannot Afford Their House

by Peter Thomas Ricci

A new survey from the MacArthur Foundation is generating substantial waves, and for good reason – its findings are quite surprising.

Here’s a stat you wouldn’t expect to see: in the past three years, 52 percent of U.S. adults have had to make at least one sacrifice in order to cover their rent or mortgage.

That was the finding of the second annual How Housing Matters Survey, a national study from the MacArthur Foundation that suggests several disquieting facts about today’s housing needs and struggles.

How Housing Matters Survey – Trouble in Paradise?

In addition to its finding on homeowner/renter sacrifice, the How Housing Matters Survey also uncovered many other startling details, among them:

Demographic Divergence – Though more than half of U.S. adults have made sacrifices to cover their housing expenses, not all demographics have sacrificed at similar levels. For instance, though 49 percent of Caucasians reporting making sacrifices, that compared with 63 percent of African Americans and 64 percent of Hispanics.

Renting/Owning Contrasts – Renters, at 56 percent, were more likely to experience housing instability than homeowners (47 percent).

The 30 Percent Threshold – For renters and owners paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, sacrifices are even more common, with 62 percent of owners and 74 percent of renters making such concessions. Among those consumers, 27 percent stopped saving for retirement; 23 percent cut back on healthcare expenses; and 23 percent accumulated credit card debt.

Skepticism Remains with Homeownership – A full 43 percent of respondents no longer believe that homeownership is “an excellent long-term investment and one of the best ways for people to build wealth and assets,” and 54 percent reported that owning a home is now less appealing than it once was.

Homeownership Less Appealing – Fifty-four percent of adults believe that owning has become less appealing in today’s economic climate, while 51 percent believe that renting has become more appealing. Similarly, 64 percent think that it’s less likely for a homeowner to build equity and wealth in a home today, as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago.

Renters can Live the Dream, Too – Interestingly, though 70 recent of renters aspire to own a home, 58 percent still belied that “renters can be just as successful as owners at achieving the American Dream.”

I’m From the Government, and I’m Here to Help – Sixty-one percent of respondents believe that the government can do  “a great deal” or “a fair amount” to solve the problem of housing affordability, with 70 percent of renters and 57 percent of owners expressing that sentiment. Interestingly, 47 percent favored eliminating the mortgage interest deduction for second homes and luxury properties.

We’ll report on more of the survey’s findings in the coming days, but until then, we’ll draw a clear conclusion – uncertainty remains in today’s housing market, and because of that fact, it’s important that agents keep that in mind when meeting with new clients and working through the buying and selling process.

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