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‘The most challenging home buying market we’ve ever seen’

‘The Most Challenging Home Buying Market We’ve Ever Seen’
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Jun 14, 2024 View in browser

By Peder Schaefer

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A view of San Francisco's famed Painted Ladies Victorian houses. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

STICKER SHOCK — By nearly every metric, it’s never been more expensive to buy a home in America.

The average sale price for a home in 2024 is a record high $513,100, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage is near 7 percent and the ratio of the median single-family home sale price to household income — a good proxy for tracking nationwide home affordability — is 7.68 to 1, an all-time record.

Naturally, Housing concerns loom large in the race for the White House: An April Michigan Ross/Financial Times poll showed that 27 percent of Americans assess housing costs as one of their top three economic issues as they make their vote for president, ranking higher than government spending, the national debt, wages or even interest rates.

Younger voters are especially energized around housing issues, the poll showed, with 31 percent of all voters 18-44 marking it as a top economic issue, tied with gas prices and wages.

Yet so far, neither national Republicans nor Democrats have made housing central to their political platform — even while their state-level counterparts on both sides of the aisle pursue policies to alleviate the situation.

And while some typical economic indicators point to a strong economy, housing costs spiking across the country paint a different picture — that of a country in which freedom is curtailed by a lack of housing.

“This is the most challenging home buying market we’ve ever seen, in terms of affordability, interest rates and the lack of inventory of homes we have across the country,” said Alexander Hermann, a senior research associate for the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University who has built a model to geographically track where and when housing price to income ratios have spiked most.

“It can really limit people’s choices,” he added. “Not just your ability to move, but also if you can move, where.”

For decades homeownership has been a point of pride, a key step on the path to the American Dream and a goal within reach for the average American. According to research on median home sale price to median household income ratios done by Hermann, most metros across the country had sale price to income ratios under three to one throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a golden period for American homeownership.

But recent years have created a completely different picture, as home prices ballooned across the country in the wake of the pandemic and incomes struggled to keep up. On top of that, rising interest rates — which price-to-income ratios don’t take into account — have made buying a home even more difficult for most Americans. Today, the national sale price to median household income ratio is closer to eight to one, and some metro areas on the West Coast sport a ratio that’s over 10 to one.

While Hermann said that increasing interest rates had leveled off home prices somewhat, bringing the home price to income ratio down in recent years, overall home affordability has fallen remarkably in recent decades — and the increases aren’t located just in the urban coastal areas where much of the news coverage of the housing crisis has focused.

During the pandemic, rural areas actually saw some of the greatest increases in housing prices as remote workers flocked to more space, especially in the Mountain West. That means Americans can’t necessarily count on a move away from metro areas to find cheaper housing.

At the state-level at least, elected officials and policymakers in both parties are trying to address the housing crisis. Both Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte in Montana and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in California have gotten behind remarkably similar housing platforms — mostly easing restrictions on housing supply by changing zoning controls or allowing for the construction of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, on properties.

And while housing issues have typically been understood as the purview of local and state governments, where most zoning authority is located, Brian Connolly, an assistant professor of business law at the University of Michigan, said there is much more the federal government could do to incentivize states to increase supply — if national politicians wanted to take up the issue.

Connolly said that if he were advising President Joe Biden or Donald Trump on creating a national federal housing policy, he’d propose a “Housing New Deal” with a focus on increasing supply. That would mean providing grant money to local governments to ease regulatory and zoning barriers to new construction, expanding existing housing voucher programs and increasing tax credits to developers to incentivize the construction of more affordable housing. (Private housing starts — that is, when excavation begins for a new unit of housing — have stayed flat when compared to the 1960s, even though the population of the U.S. has nearly doubled in the same time period.)

Connolly said that the rapid price increases, nationwide scope of the challenge and early attempts at policy fixes by the states is a sign the issue is ripe to bring to the national stage.

“I think there might be a little bit of discomfort with the federal government taking a bigger role in housing,” he said. “But it does seem like there is space for one of the major parties to take on housing as an issue to focus on.”

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Reach out with news, tips and ideas at [email protected]. Or contact tonight’s author at [email protected].


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What'd I Miss?

— Supreme Court nixes ban on bump stocks for guns: The Supreme Court has overturned a Trump administration rule that sought to ban so-called bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to be fired like fully automatic machine guns. In a 6-3 decision today that split the justices along ideological lines, the court said the definition federal regulators sought to adopt went beyond the words Congress wrote into law nearly nine decades ago. In a ruling replete with diagrams of firing mechanisms, Justice Clarence Thomas said bump stock devices don’t convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones, but simply reduce the time between shots.

— House Republicans narrowly pass defense bill loaded with culture war issues: The House narrowly cleared defense policy legislation today after Republicans tacked on divisive provisions restricting abortion access, medical treatment for transgender troops and efforts to combat climate change. Speaker Mike Johnson’s move to permit culture war amendments to the annual National Defense Authorization Act turned a widely bipartisan bill into a measure supported almost entirely by Republicans. The tactic represented a gamble for Johnson, who could have pushed to pass a more bipartisan version with the help of Democrats, but instead catered to a sliver of his right flank.

— GOP lawsuits could wipe out Biden’s education agenda: A cascade of lawsuits from Republican states could dismantle much of President Joe Biden’s education agenda months before the election. Dozens of states are targeting the president’s new student loan repayment plan and expanded sex discrimination protections in schools — signature White House policies aimed at younger voters. The challenges threaten to unravel Biden’s few major education successes after a bungled federal aid rollout and legal setbacks to debt relief. Republican attorneys general accuse the president of overstepping his legal authority and attempting to buy votes with a more generous student loan repayment plan, known as SAVE. They also say Biden is forcing their states to enact policies on gender identity that their constituents don’t support. Some landed their first victory on Thursday when a judge agreed to block the administration’s gender identity protections in their states.


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Nightly Road to 2024

MUDDLED MESSAGE — Donald Trump on Thursday told Republicans to talk more about abortion. But earlier this week, at a gathering of staunchly anti-abortion Southern Baptists, Trump didn’t mention the word — opting instead to talk of defending “innocent life.” The contrast is indicative of how Republicans have often struggled to find a coherent message on the issue — eager to placate their base without alienating the middle. The former president’s remarks capped a tumultuous week that showed just how much reproductive rights remain an electoral millstone for Republicans.

UNIMPRESSED — Former President Donald Trump failed to impress everyone in a room full of top CEOs Thursday at the Business Roundtable’s quarterly meeting, multiple attendees told CNBC. “Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said one CEO who was in the room, according to a person who heard the executive speaking. The CEO also said Trump did not explain how he planned to accomplish any of his policy proposals, that person said. Among the topics on which Trump offered scant details were how he would reduce taxes and cut back on business regulations.

CHASING THE YOUTH VOTE — Former President Donald Trump made an unexpected campaign stop Thursday, appearing on controversial YouTuber and professional wrestler Logan Paul’s “Impaulsive” podcast, reports NBC News. During the episode, which contained a roughly 45-minute interview, Trump urged young voters like Paul’s followers to vote for him over President Joe Biden, who he said had a “less than 1% chance” of joining Paul’s podcast. Paul has extended an invitation to Biden to come on the show, too.

DEBATE PREP — Former President Donald Trump’s aides often downplay his preparations for events like debates. But Trump used part of his Thursday afternoon in Washington to participate in what passes for debate prep in his world — a policy session with Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Eric Schmitt of Missouri, reports the New York Times. The session, which also included members of Trump’s staff, was held at the Republican National Committee headquarters near Capitol Hill, the area where Trump had held other meetings with lawmakers earlier in the day.


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French President Emmanuel Macron is welcomed by Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni upon arrival at the Borgo Egnazia resort for the G7 summit hosted by Italy. | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

NO LOVE LOST — French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni traded barbs at the G7 summit in southern Italy in the wake of a European election that left the Italian prime minister strengthened and Macron’s camp weakened.

Meloni accused the French president of using the G7 forum for electioneering when Macron criticized Italy for reportedly watering down language on abortion rights in the draft statement.

“I believe it is profoundly wrong, in difficult times like these, to campaign using a precious forum like the G7,” Meloni said on Thursday evening according to Italian media.

According to several diplomats, granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, Meloni requested removal of a reference to “safe and legal” abortion in the final statement, instead settling on referring to a previous G7 statement.

On Thursday, Macron needled Meloni over abortion rights on the sidelines of talks, telling reporters he “regretted” removal of the abortion language. “You don’t have the same sensibilities in your country,” Macron told an Italian journalist. “France has a vision of equality between women and men, but it’s not a vision shared by all the political spectrum.”

Macron hinted at the French election, saying that the clash on women’s rights takes place at a time “when French voters are asking themselves questions.”

LOOSENING RESTRICTIONS — European allies are ramping up pressure on the Biden administration to further loosen restrictions on Ukraine’s use of U.S. weapons to strike inside Russia, arguing that the limits still in place hurt Kyiv’s ability to defend itself. Publicly, the U.S. administration says it has not changed its policy, which currently restricts the use of U.S.-provided weapons to Ukrainian soil and the immediate region across the border from the besieged city of Kharkiv. But U.S. officials acknowledge that at multiple points in the conflict, Washington has been reluctant to give Ukraine something it wants — only to give in at the last minute.


JOIN US ON 6/13 FOR A TALK ON THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CARE: As Congress and the White House work to strengthen health care affordability and access, innovative technologies and treatments are increasingly important for patient health and lower costs. What barriers are appearing as new tech emerges? Is the Medicare payment process keeping up with new technologies and procedures? Join us on June 13 as POLITICO convenes a panel of lawmakers, officials and experts to discuss what policy solutions could expand access to innovative therapies and tech. REGISTER HERE.

Nightly Number

€1 billion

The amount of money in tourism ($1.07 billion) that Germany will bring in thanks to foreign visitors there for the Euro 2024 soccer tournament. That will boost the country’s economic output by around 0.1 percent in the second quarter, according to the study conducted by the Ifo Institute in Munich.


PEST PREVENTION — In the United Kingdom, animals like wild boars, pigeons and gray squirrels cost the country millions of dollars (or pounds) a year by destroying property and natural resources. The situation has been made worse by their expansion in population. So, wildlife experts are trying something new — using contraceptive tools on these animals. If they can keep their populations in check, the theory goes, the natural environment will be more pleasant and they’ll save some money. The new pilot program is also attempting to be a humane alternative to practices like culling, in which many of these animals were simply killed on the spot. Early signs show that it’s working — and there’s interest in expansion. Phoebe Weston reports on the idea for The Guardian.

Parting Image

On this date in 1987: Anti-government protesters staged a sit-in strike in the center of Seoul, South Korea. They scattered in panic as tear gas grenades hurled by police exploded. Police repeatedly broke up demonstrations in the city center. | AP

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‘The most challenging home buying market we’ve ever seen’