Noting that the Bush Administration has established a goal of creating 5.5 million minority home owners over 10 years, Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and the federal housing commissioner during the Clinton Administration, said that “one sad reality of 2004 is the lingering disparity among income groups and by race” in homeownership rates.
“There would be three million more Afro-American home owners today if they had the same homeownership rates as whites,” Retsinas said.
Despite the sustained prosperity of the past 10-11 years and “a remarkable uptick” in homeownership rates, “we aren’t quite able to narrow” that gap, he said, and over this period the difference between white and non-white homeownership rates has been narrowed by only 1%. Much of that difference is due to age and income, but at least one-third of it is not, Retsinas said.
NAHB Immediate Past President Kent Conine said that in addition to the plight of those at the lowest income levels there is also “growing recognition that many working families and individuals cannot find adequate housing near their jobs, or at all,” and current housing programs are ineffective in addressing the problems of this “workforce” housing because of elgibility restrictions.
He cited an NAHB study last year finding that in the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas, “just one-third of homes are affordable to our local heroes — the police officers, firefighters, teachers and nurses.”
Conine complained that, “housing is not on the radar screen” because of the strength of the nation’s housing market for the past several years. “When I hear at my city council meetings that it takes a $200,000 home for the city to break even, that gives me a frustrating feeling.”
Conine said that he would be able to build a 1,000-square-foot house for $40,000, but the cost of that house would double by the time it got through the approval process.
Among the many things that the home builders are doing to create a healthier environment for housing production, Conine said, NAHB will be working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on its Affordable Communities Initiative, which was formed to work in partnership with states, localities and community interests to help them identify and reduce barriers that are driving up housing costs.
“We need a far greater public-private partnership than we have today,” said Bart Harvey, CEO of the Enterprise Foundation. “Money is not enough. We need to recast and rethink our housing policies.”
Harvey advocated inclusionary zoning, which he said has worked well in Montgomery County, MD.
“The entire community has got to get together and look at the big picture” before it can successfully embark on an effort to meet its affordable housing needs, added the symposium’s moderator, Kent Colton, a senior scholar in housing studies and the Jacob Wertheim Research Fellow for the Betterment of Industrial Relations at the Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University, and executive vice president of NAHB from 1984-1999.
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