A policy forum hosted by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) and the Urban Institute last week titled, “Financing the Future,” added more details, more insights and more urgency to the interconnected crises of housing affordability, inequality, financing and supply.
With panels including representatives of major trade organizations, advocacy groups, policymakers and journalists, the event took a broad view of the difficult, associated factors that have collided to create one of least affordable and most unpredictable housing markets in decades.
“Every family deserves to have the opportunity to reap the benefits of homeownership—from building generational wealth to building memories for years to come,” said NAR Vice President of Advocacy Kaki Lybbert.
As consumers grow more pessimistic about the broader housing market, policymakers and experts are warning that these issues are more than pandemic-era blips. With years of underbuilding preceding the current crunch and decades of weak wage growth, making homeownership accessible will take a concerted effort.
James Wylie, associate director of the Office of Fair Lending Oversight at the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) sat for a keynote interview, joining many other panelists in highlighting the need to combat racial inequities that have persisted through landmark federal laws and grassroots efforts, continued to push families of color further from the American dream.
“REALTORS® play an important role in building a more sustainable and equitable housing system,” Wylie said. “By helping homebuyers, particularly those in underserved areas and in communities of color, understand what counseling services and resources are available to them, we can work together to help close the equity gap.”
Now and then
The forum was divided around two panels—the first honing in on issues with how the system functions today, and the second shining light on some possible solutions.
As far as the problems today, Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said that the system is “inherently unfair” for people of color, focusing on how financing and credit ratings create inequalities.
“Consumers of color have to go into a biased system and landscape of unfairness in order to gain access,” she said.
“The dramatic increases in the cost of housing and financing force us to reevaluate the products and services required to provide needed housing, especially for those long denied these opportunities,” said Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending.
Wendy Penn, associate vice president of affordable housing initiatives for the Mortgage Bankers Association, singled out a lack of trust underserved communities have for the whole system, born from centuries of unequal treatment and explicit discrtimination.
It remains a challenge for many families to hold onto their homes even if they have been able to purchase one, she explained. Continuing bias in the appraisal industry has undervalued homes in majority Black and hispanic areas.
“We can’t just get into homes; we have to keep them there,” Penn said.
In the second panel, Michael Neal, principal research associate at the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center said that targeted policies could make a difference in closing the homeownership gap.
“By exploring the benefits of new homeownership strategies targeted specifically at historically marginalized families and building in resiliency against key systemic risks, we can advance a housing market that works for everyone,” he said.
As extreme weather, building costs, increased need for skilled labor and inventory limitations threaten to remain long-term roadblocks, Lybbert highlighted NAR’s support and lobbying for more inclusive policies, including the “3by30” plan to add 3 million more Black homeowners by 2030.
“Our commitment to opening the door to more homeowners is ongoing and growing,” Lybbert said.