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Why so Few Renters are Buying Homes

by Peter Thomas Ricci

Many wonder why renters are not buying homes at a higher rate, but when one analyzes the numbers, it makes perfect sense.

rent-burden-furmon-center-homeownership-housing-recovery-income-inequality

First, there was the notable study from John Burns Real Estate Consulting, which found that only 14.7 percent of renters in 2014’s fourth quarter made the jump to homeownership, down from 25 percent in 2004.

Next, there was Freddie Mac’s renting survey, which found that among renters who have seen their housing costs increase, 70 percent have not bought a house because they’re financially unable to do so, and 51 percent have no plans to buy a home.

And now, there is the Furman Center’s “Renting in America’s Largest Cities” report, an exhaustive look at the nation’s affordability crisis that plainly shows what those financial problems were that Freddie Mac’s survey alluded to.

First, here are the share of moderate income households that are severely rent burdened, meaning they devote more than half of their monthly income to rent:

Rent-Burdened-Housholds-Moderate

With the notable exception of Dallas and Houston (where housing costs remain low relative to other large cities), at least one out of every five middle-income households is severely rent burdened in the nation’s largest metro areas – and in the majority of those metro areas, the share of burdened households has risen since 2006, sometimes by notable amounts.

Things are even more dire among low-income households:

Rent-Burdened-Housholds-Low

Even Dallas and Houston, at that income level, bring severe burdens to renters; in Boston, where low-income renters are the best off, nearly 60 percent are still severely rent burdened.

Both of those charts drive home a simple point: a huge share of Americans face considerable housing burdens, the kind that make even the smallest of households expenses difficult to justify. Amongst such a crisis of affordability, how are such renters – think of the 29.2 percent of middle-class renters here in Chicago – able to afford a down payment on a house? Such are the questions we’ll have to ask as housing moves towards a stable, sustainable recovery.

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