The National Association of Realtors hosted a policy forum recently at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. entitled American Dream Deferred: How Can We Keep Homeownership Within Reach?

The discussions brought together housing and economic experts, policymakers, and industry stakeholders to address the challenges hindering homeownership.

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The event featured keynote speaker Gary Acosta, co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP). Acosta outlined the optimism and challenges in today’s housing industry. He spoke about his firsthand experience seeing homeownership’s impact on families and communities. “We knew that children of homeowners do a little bit better in school and have fewer behavioral issues,” Acosta said. But more importantly, he emphasized, “We knew that homeownership was the gateway to the middle class here in America.”

Acosta outlined an NAHREP-produced report on Hispanic homeownership in the U.S. “Our report has shown that the Hispanic homeownership rate has increased for nine years. It’s the only ethnic demographic in the country with nine consecutive years of homeownership gains. The Urban Institute reported that 70% of net new homeowners in the country over the next 20 years will be Hispanic,” Acosta said.

Economic Headwinds

He explained that 70% is not guaranteed due to economic headwinds. “The lack of inventory in the marketplace has driven prices up and made affordability more difficult than it’s probably ever been in the history of this country,” he said.

Acosta concluded his speech by addressing the challenges the real estate industry and NAR are facing. His closing statement highlighted the hardships all first-time home buyers face and the negative repercussions that inaction on these issues will ultimately have on our economy.

Bold Legislative Solutions

Senator Todd Young of Indiana joined NAR Chief Advocacy Officer Shannon McGahn to discuss legislative solutions to affordability constraints.

“It’s a big deal. I understand you see the inflation numbers going down, but rents, mortgage rates, and prices are high, and housing stock is still down,” said Senator Young. “It’s creating not just hardship for rank-and-file families but employers as well. This is a massive constraint on our economy. It’s a constraint on matching the value people have acquired – from an economic standpoint – with companies or employers where they can deploy that value. And therefore, it’s even a constraint on our broader economic growth.”

Senator Young spoke about two bills he is an original co-sponsor – the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act (NHIA) and the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act. He shared his growing optimism about passing the NHIA, which could help address the historic shortage of affordable homes for both renters and home buyers. He also talked about his efforts to build bipartisan support for the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, saying, “We anticipate creating 1.9 million new units on account of this legislation.”

Panel I: Meeting Today’s Housing Supply Challenges

The first panel discussion focused on solutions to grow housing inventory. It was moderated by Susan Wachter, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, joined by JP Delmore, assistant vice president at the National Association of Home Builders; Doug Austin, with AVRP Studios and Yes in God’s Backyard; and Dave Snyder of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.

Delmore opened the conversation by reiterating how the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act can lower barriers to new construction. “It is one approach to attempt to solve some of the financing problems that are out there. It is a bill that has a tremendous amount of bipartisan support.”

He noted that 70% of U.S. housing is completed by builders who qualify as small businesses. “So, looking at housing development and potential tax incentives, it has to be something that’s also accessible to a small business that may have five employees,” he said.

Snyder laid out the troubling cycle occurring in property insurance, which has created an additional challenge to developing more inventory. “One of the most striking data points is that from 1980 to 2021, we had reached about seven or eight natural catastrophes that caused $1 billion in losses. In 2022, it was eighteen $1 billion losses, and in 2023, just in the first several quarters, there were twenty-four $1 billion natural catastrophe losses.”

Turning to local solutions, Austin shared about his “Yes in God’s Backyard” project, explaining, “There are about 4,600 acres of housing available in San Diego that faith-based organizations control. These people are likely to have a heart for others, and we wanted to create a way to help them provide housing on that land.”

Delmore added more legislative solutions, specifically governments speeding up zoning and the approval process. “About 25% of the cost of a new single-family house is due to regulation, and on the multifamily side, it’s nearly 41%,” stated Delmore. “That’s where the bills like what was mentioned earlier – the bill that Senator Todd Young has put forward – come in to encourage local governments to look at zoning and land use policies.”

Panel II: Realizing the American Dream for First-Time Home Buyers

The second panel on solutions to assist first-time home buyers was moderated by NAR Vice President of Policy Advocacy Bryan Greene, with Katrina Jones, Fannie Mae’s vice president of equity and impact; Michael Calhoun, Center for Responsible Lending; George Fatheree, “Bruce’s Beach” attorney and ORO Impact founder; and David Berenbaum, deputy assistant secretary for housing counseling at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Jones shared how Fannie Mae is working to make credit less of a barrier to homeownership. “We’re enabling our multifamily property owners to report on-time rent payments to the credit bureaus,” she said. “We’re now enabling access to this tool for landlords and tenants and, as of last year, about 30,000 individuals were able to establish credit that didn’t have credit before.”

Calhoun pointed out that student loan debt has burdened first-time home buyers nationwide. “We found that student debt, particularly for Black families, was one of the top obstacles to homeownership and was disqualifying the majority of the Black applicants we were seeing.” He highlighted a Biden administration income-driven repayment program that helps reduce payments for borrowers.

Greene asked Berenbaum about housing counseling and the racial dimension behind it. “The majority of the 1.3 million consumers we counseled across the nation are folks of color, whether African American, Asian American, Latino, and other groups,” Berenbaum said.

“We provide fair housing education in all of those sessions,” he continued. “But with innovation, we also have to be guarded because some of the predatory practices of the past can reemerge. And that’s where housing counseling and your role as professionals in the real estate community are critically important.”

Greene agreed. “The housing counselors and the Realtors® need to be connected at the hip on these issues,” he said.

Fatheree shared the story of the Bruce family, who purchased land in Manhattan Beach, Calif., in 1920 and created a seaside resort called Bruce’s Lodge, which welcomed Black beachgoers with open arms. Many white surrounding residents responded with hostility and racism, forcing the Bruces to shut down their businesses. The state then seized the property through eminent domain to construct a park. Fatheree helped the family reclaim the land that was rightfully theirs.

“You had a series of actors who all saw this and said this is not right,” said Fatheree. “And that’s what makes me especially excited to present and to share these stories with the folks in this room. We are on the front lines of implementing the changes we need to see. And so, my invitation to all of us is to not sit on the sidelines. When we hear these stories, and we see evidence of something that we know just ain’t right, we decide that we’re going to stand up and take action.”

Bringing it All Back Home: In Conversation

The final discussion featured Matthew Yglesias of the Slow Boring blog, and Jenny Schuetz, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Schuetz bluntly set the landscape, saying, “We’re a decade in the hole, and in some places like California, New York, and Boston, it’s more like three to four decades in the hole.” She also noted the heavy burden of localism and the limited ability to build more housing. “We are concerned about the immediate neighbors, rather than the whole city,” she explained. “We need to think about the whole economy; do workers have enough places to live?”

They also questioned whether housing can stay a bipartisan issue. “Congress has held three hearings in the last six months about inventory specifically,” said Schuetz. “I am hopeful that Congress continues to stay bipartisan on the issue of housing – something that truly affects every person in this country.”

Source: NAR