Generation Rent Unable to Break the Grip of Unregulated Financing

UK rent signs

New Orleans  A headline in the papers claimed that the level of homeownership inched forward enough to hit the 2014 mark for the highest percentage since the 2008 Great Recession. Funny how a figure like that has so quickly become almost meaningless in this continuing period of housing shortage and soaring home prices in what seems an almost endless credit desert.

In Britain, we worked closely with an organization called Generation Rent. When I first heard the name of the group several years ago, it seemed strange to me, but it didn’t long in organizing all around the United Kingdom for me to get it. The notion of potential homeownership in the United Kingdom was virtually unthinkable for a whole generation of low and moderate income families, so their generation would be renting for sure. The United States seems to be knocking on the same housing door with our own generation rent these days.

A former Ohio-based tenant organizer, Spencer Wells, has come to the same conclusion in a recent column in Non-Profit Quarterly, saying,

There’s an emerging social movement in US cities that’s sometimes characterized as the Renter Nation. This movement brings together young urban renters, childless boomers choosing an urban lifestyle, and former homeowners who have been displaced into single-family rentals by the Great Recession. These “new renters” are adding fuel (and political power) to the struggle of low-income households in inner-city subsidized developments.

Renter Nation, Generation Rent, six of one, half-dozen of another, this speaks to the building housing crisis already holding much of the nation in its grip. The social movement isn’t here yet, as Wells says, but the demand is huge.

Squeezing renters even more is the inability to access conventional mortgage loans to move into homeownership. Admittedly, the housing market in New York City is sui generis, one of a kind, but a recent report by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) nails the growing power of non-bank lenders, unregulated by the Community Reinvestment Act:

…non-bank lenders are taking over an increasing portion of lending on 1-4 family homes, particularly to borrowers of color and low- and moderate-income (LMI) borrowers. Lenders in HMDA are categorized as banks, credit unions, and non-bank lenders, which are mortgage companies that do not take deposits from customers or businesses. We define non-bank lenders as non-depository lenders that are not owned by or affiliated with a bank or credit union.

 

  • In 2016, 30% of all home purchase loans were originated by non-bank lenders, up from 23% in 2012. The percentage of non-bank lenders was 50% for refinance loans in 2016, up from 23% in 2012.
  • Non-bank lenders made 30% of home purchase loans to LMI borrowers and 58% of refinance loans to LMI borrowers. They also accounted for 31% of home purchase loans and 61% of refinance loans in LMI neighborhoods.
  • 25% of home purchase loans to White borrowers were made by non-bank lenders versus 59% and 50% of the loans to Black and Hispanic borrows, respectively. Similar disparities appear for refinance loans.

Much of the disparities to LMI borrowers and borrowers of color relates to the higher concentration of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans to these populations and the decline in FHA lending by the largest banks. There certainly remain questions about qualified borrowers possibly being steered to FHA loans, which are more expensive than conventional loans. But, the overall concern this trend raises is that non-bank lenders are far less regulated than their bank-chartered peers, nor are they covered by the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). In the run up to the 2007 economic crisis, the majority of dangerous sub-prime loans were made by non-bank lenders chasing relatively high rates of return for their investors and basing their businesses on relatively costly sources of capital.

Am I worried? Oh yeah, totally!

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Please enjoy

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s You Got to Run

Remington with Amy Jack’s Dallas till I Die

Wild Belle’s Hurricane

Thanks to KABF.

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Assembling the Facts on the Ground about Land Contracts in Detroit

Oakland   The back of the envelope figures from three days on the doors, based on reports logged into the database by our teams in Detroit, indicate that of more than 125 doors hit, half of the properties are abandoned. That’s not good for neighborhoods, the City of Detroit, or the future prospects of building viable communities there. We increasingly began to question how good this level of abandonment of land contract and rent-to-own properties is even for the companies that specialize in this seamy side of the housing market in urban areas.

As a business model that fits snugly in the category of what a reporter for the New York Times termed the dominant modern “flagrant exploitation economy,” the companies operating within this most predatory segment of the housing and rental market face challenges. By process of elimination of usual factors, an economist speculating on principal cause of the 2008 real estate collapse is now arguing that there was an irrational psychology that almost spread virally that vast sums were to be had by “flipping” real estate, which like the tulip craze in Holland and so many other bubbles of the previous centuries, led to the unsustainable inflation of prices until the crash. Detroit Property Exchange is still pushing that myth in lower income communities with its signs that urge potential customers to call 888-FLIP to connect with the company.

Certainly the lease and contract documents starting from “as is” and including the company’s rights to evict the “buyer” immediately for even a single missed payment at any point in the term of the agreement, lead one to believe that these companies are making their money by flipping the contracts from one “sucker” to another, as an on-line Detroit magazine called the Bridge, writing about our campaign described the buyers. We are not convinced that theory translates into facts on the ground from our doorknocking. Additionally, Professor Josh Akers shared with us an overview of research he and a colleague are soon publishing on land contracts in Detroit over the 10-year period from 2005 to 2015. The largest dozen contract sellers were involved in almost 7500 acquisitions, which was less than 10% of the over 80,000 properties in Detroit that had been acquired through tax auctions or REO’s from various governmental foreclosures. In that period contract sellers had gone through eviction procedures for about 1 out of every 3 properties, but evictions with specific properties acquired by all buyers involved eviction procedures at the ratio of 1 out of every 4 properties, which is not a world of difference. Over a 10-year period that doesn’t translate into a constant churn, likely because there is tepid demands that these practices have inevitably created in these neighborhoods.

Because there is not a robust market for these properties from stories the Home Savers Campaign is hearing on the doors, it seems that tenants wanting or willing to stay in these properties are able to negotiate a fair amount of forbearance even when missing payments because the sellers realize there isn’t a line waiting to open the door behind them. It also explains stories we have heard from several buyers where they are able to negotiate shorter terms when they are willing to take over the properties.

One reason may be the fact that many of these companies are not forwarding payments made by the buyers to resolve tax payments nor are they disclosing past liens on the properties. Lawsuits like those filed against Harbour Properties and Vision Property Management in Cincinnati to collect back taxes, fines, and penalties for their properties in that jurisdiction reveal a business model of nonpayment that seems to typify this part of the industry. That’s a ticking time bomb for the tenant-buyer for sure, especially given the rigid collection and delinquency procedures of Wayne County, and we have heard cases falling into this bad basket every day in Detroit, but it also seems to be leading to shorter term contracts and more negotiating opportunities if the campaign could engage the parties successfully.

We’re finding the handles, but we are not convinced yet that people want to grab them, given that many still see themselves as renters, rather than potential owners. That’s the puzzle we still need to find, even as we are understanding more and more about the market and these companies exploiting it.

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