Tag Archives: Fannie Mae

ACKMAN: The US government is perpetrating ‘the most illegal act of scale’ with Fannie and Freddie

Bill Ackman

Bill Ackman, the founder of Pershing Square Capital

by Julia La Roche.

Hedge fund titan Bill Ackman, the founder of $19 billion Pershing Square Capital Management, slammed the US government on Tuesday night for keeping all of the profits from mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Ackman called it “the most illegal act of scale” he has ever seen the US government do.

Ackman spoke on Tuesday evening during a panel at Columbia University for the launch of Bethany McLean’s new book “Shaky Ground.” McLean and former Fannie Mae CEO Frank Raines were also panelists. Ackman, however, did most of the talking.

During the financial crisis, Fannie and Freddie needed massive bailouts and were taken over by the government. It’s been seven years since the financial crisis and the companies are still in a state of conservatorship. Today, the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) make billions in profits, all of which goes directly to the Treasury.

Ackman, the largest shareholder of Fannie and Freddie, and other investors are suing the US government for taking property for public use without just compensation.

“And there is no way they will not be allowed to stand, from a legal point of view. And the reason for that is if the US government can step in and take 100% of profits of a corporation forever, then we are in a Stalinist state and no private property is safe — and take your money out of every financial institution, put it into gold or bitcoin and just get the hell out because we’re done, maybe the clothes on your back, but other than that nothing is safe,” he said.

A stands outside Fannie Mae headquarters in Washington February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

            A man stands outside Fannie Mae in Washington

In Ackman’s view, Fannie and Freddie are vital to the US economy. Right now, he said, the biggest threat to the US middle class is rising rental rates.

“If you don’t own a home, and you’re a member of the middle class, you have a problem,” he said. “This is the biggest threat to the middle class livelihood is that your cost of living, the roof over your head is not fixed, it’s floating.”

Ackman said that Fannie and Freddie were set up to make middle class housing more accessible. Together, they have enabled widespread availability and affordability with the 30-year, fixed-rate, pre-payable mortgage—a system that’s been in place for 45 years.

Ackman said he’s optimistic about the future of Fannie and Freddie. He has said before that with the right reforms they could be worth a lot more. He has given the GSEs a price target ranging between $23 and $47, which is well above the current $2 range.

Watch the full panel below:

Read more in Business Insider

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America’s Home Buyers Being Targeted as Washington’s ‘Pay-For’ Piggy Bank

Would-be home buyers recently averted a major price hike by the narrowest of margins. No, this potential hike had little to do with the wholesale cost of building materials, the cost of borrowing capital, a scarcity of inventory, or the transaction costs of builders, Realtors or lenders. Rather, the latest proposed tax on new homeowners was designed to cover the cost of maintaining our nation’s bridges and roads.

Wait a second — what, if anything, does highway spending have to do with the cost of a residential mortgage? If you guessed “absolutely nothing at all” you’d be correct. Unless, of course, you happen to be a member of the 114th Congress. In that case, America’s newest class of would-be homeowners represents something similar to years past when homeowners were taxed to cover things like the payroll tax reduction extension.

In the Washington of today — similar to past occasions, the American homeowner is all-too-often referred to as a “pay for.”

In this case, various members of Congress sought an offset for a proposed $47 billion federal highway spending bill.

As crazy as it sounds, the latest unsuccessful home ownership “pay-for” proposal isn’t the first time such a plan has been considered. In fact, if you bought a home after December 2011 with a mortgage purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you’re already paying for much more than the cost of a place to live.

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 — H.R. 3765 of the 112th Congress charged new homeowners an additional 10 basis points in guarantee fee costs over the life of a 30-year mortgage. The proceeds were intended to help cover an increase in a two-month extension of the payroll tax credit and also unemployment compensation payments to long-term unemployed workers for roughly two months, from mid-December 2011 until February 29, 2012.

The law states that loan guarantee fees at Fannie and Freddie will rise “by not less than an average increase of 10 basis points for each origination year or book year above the average fees imposed in 2011 for such guarantees.” This means that an estimated $36 billion in additional fees collected over 10 years will be used to offset $33 billion in up-front costs tallied by a mere eight weeks of payroll tax deductions and unemployment insurance.

Kap / Spain, Cagle Cartoons

Of course none of this has anything to do with the financial health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or the creditworthiness of the individual borrower, but it directly impacts the cost of a new home purchase or refinance. It happened because there’s value in home ownership — value that some congressional leaders think can be taxed for almost anything.

The recent flurry of loan guarantee fee increases at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (three times in just over four years) has nothing to do with the risk expected within the overall portfolios of loan business purchased by either of the two mortgage guarantor giants Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac during this time frame. The overall creditworthiness of loan portfolios purchased by both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has risen significantly over the last six years. In fact, both GSEs carry loan portfolios with aggregate average FICO scores well in excess of the average American. Yet, loan guarantee fees at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have skyrocketed by more than 160 percent over the exact same time period.

One reason for the recent rise in “g-fee” expenses has to do with congressional spending packages brokered by both parties for all sorts of concerns. Add to this equation the simple fact that the GSEs themselves are essentially a government-controlled duopoly, and one can understand exactly how the last six years of guarantee fee hikes came to pass.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both currently operate under federal conservatorship administered by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Now in its 84th consecutive month, this “temporary” conservatorship has continued for almost seven years with no proposed plan for a future model. Freddie Mac declared over $8 billion in profits in 2014 alone. Fannie Mae recently declared profits of $4.6 billion in the brief April-through-June time period of 2Q 2015 by itself. Meanwhile, home buyers, cities, communities and the lenders and real estate agents that support the home ownership market have continued to struggle to recover from the housing financial crisis.

Keep in mind, the true cost of capital for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac alike, is essentially zero — they are “conservatees” of the federal government. The notion of passing the cost of capital to the consumer, much like a private sector bank would, simply does not apply in the same sense.

The damage that a deliberate yet unwarranted campaign of GSE guarantee fee has done to American home ownership is clear. With wrongheaded policies such as these, it is easy to understand how the U.S. home ownership rate has dropped to the lowest level in almost 50 years.

It bears mentioning that not everyone on Capitol Hill is interested in using your nest egg as their fiscal piggy bank. Various members of Congress from both political parties have stood in unison to say “enough.” Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee recently joined Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia in authoring an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) in opposition to the “homes for highways” pay-for gambit.

“Each time guarantee fees are extended, increased or diverted for unrelated spending, homeowners are charged more for their mortgages and taxpayers are exposed to additional risk,” said Senators Corker and Warner. Exactly.

It took a (rare) bipartisan effort led by Senators Corker and Warner to publicly shame Congress into upholding the same measure prohibiting such g-fee “pay-for” deals that they themselves passed only months ago.

It has happened before, and it will undoubtedly happen again. It’s just too easy, and it makes almost everyone happy. Everyone except the unsuspecting homeowner, that is. Various constituent groups get whatever spending item they’re after today, fiscal watchdogs get the satisfaction of knowing that at least someone, somewhere, is on the hook to pay the added cost. The problem is, if you’re in the market to buy a home in the foreseeable future or planning to refinance your existing home loan, that “someone” will most likely be you.

Prospective new homeowners have all sorts of pressing concerns to consider. Strapping the cost of a federal highway spending bill onto their backs by way of artificially inflated loan guarantee fees paid over the life of a 30-year mortgage shouldn’t be one of them.

Read more by Garrick T. Davis in The Huffington Post

25 Percent of all U.S. Foreclosures Are Zombie Homes

https://i2.wp.com/www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/content/2013/0110-zombie-foreclosures.jpg/14727985-1-eng-US/0110-zombie-foreclosures.jpg_full_600.jpgby Michael Gerrity

RealtyTrac’s Q1 2015 Zombie Foreclosure Report, found that as of the end of January 2015, 142,462 homes actively in the foreclosure process had been vacated by the homeowners prior to the bank repossessing the property, representing 25 percent of all active foreclosures.

The total number of zombie foreclosures was down 6 percent from a year ago, but the 25 percent share of total foreclosures represented by zombies was up from 21 percent a year ago.

“While the number of vacated zombie foreclosures is down from a year ago, they represent an increasing share of all foreclosures because they tend to be the problem cases still stuck in the pipeline,” said Daren Blomquist vice president at RealtyTrac. “Additionally, the states where overall foreclosure activity has been increasing over the past year — counter to the national trend — tend to be states with a longer foreclosure process more susceptible to the zombie problem.”

“In states with a bloated foreclosure process, the increase in zombie foreclosures is actually a good sign that banks and courts are finally moving forward with a resolution on these properties that may have been sitting in foreclosure limbo for years,” Blomquist continued. “In many markets there is plenty of demand from buyers and investors to snatch up these distressed properties as soon as they become available to purchase.”

Florida, New Jersey, New York have most zombie foreclosures

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Despite a 35 percent decrease in zombie foreclosures compared to a year ago, Florida had the highest number of any state with 35,903 — down from 54,908 in the first quarter of 2014. Zombie foreclosures accounted for 26 percent of all foreclosures in Florida.

Zombie foreclosures increased 109 percent from a year ago in New Jersey, and the state posted the second highest total of any state with 17,983 — 23 percent of all properties in foreclosure.

New York zombie foreclosures increased 54 percent from a year ago to 16,777, the third highest state total and representing 19 percent of all residential properties in foreclosure.

Illinois had 9,358 zombie foreclosures at the end of January, down 40 percent from a year ago but still the fourth highest state total, while California had 7,370 zombie foreclosures at the end of January, up 24 percent from a year ago and the fifth highest state total. 

“We are now in the final cycle of the foreclosure crisis cleanup, in which we are witnessing a large final wave of walkaways,” said Mark Hughes, Chief Operating Officer at First Team Real Estate, covering the Southern California market. “This has created an uptick in vacated or ‘zombie’ foreclosures and the intrinsic neighborhood issues most of them create.

“A much longer recovery, a largely veiled underemployment issue, and growing examples of faster bad debt forgiveness have most likely fueled this last wave of owners who have finally just walked away from their American dream,” Hughes added.

Other states among the top 10 for most zombie foreclosures were Ohio (7,360), Indiana (5,217), Pennsylvania (4,937), Maryland (3,363) and North Carolina (3,177).

“Rising home prices in Ohio are motivating lending servicers to commence foreclosure actions more quickly and with fewer workout options offered to delinquent homeowners, creating immediate vacancies earlier in the foreclosure process,” said Michael Mahon, executive vice president at HER Realtors, covering the Ohio housing markets of Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. “Delinquent homeowners need to understand how prices have increased in recent months, and how this increase in equity may provide positive options for them to avoid foreclosure.”

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Metros with most zombie foreclosures: New York, Miami, Chicago, Tampa and Philadelphia. The greater New York metro area had by far the highest number of zombie foreclosures of any metropolitan statistical area nationwide, with 19,177 — 17 percent of all properties in foreclosure and up 73 percent from a year ago.

Zombie foreclosures decreased from a year ago in Miami, Chicago and Tampa, but the three metros still posted the second, third and fourth highest number of zombie foreclosures among metro areas nationwide: Miami had 9,580 zombie foreclosures,19 percent of all foreclosures but down 34 percent from a year ago; Chicago had 8,384 zombie foreclosures, 21 percent of all foreclosures but down 35 percent from a year ago; and Tampa had 7,838 zombie foreclosures, 34 percent of all foreclosures but down 25 percent from a year ago.

Zombie foreclosures increased 53 percent from a year ago in the Philadelphia metro area, giving it the fifth highest number of any metro nationwide in the first quarter of 2015. There were 7,554 zombie foreclosures in the Philadelphia metro area as of the end of January, 27 percent of all foreclosures.

Other metro areas among the top 10 for most zombie foreclosures were Orlando (3,718), Jacksonville, Florida (2,368), Los Angeles (2,074), Las Vegas (1,832), and Baltimore, Maryland (1,722).

Metros with highest share of zombie foreclosures: St. Louis, Portland, Las Vegas

Among metro areas with a population of 200,000 or more and at least 500 zombie foreclosures as of the end of January, those with the highest share of zombie foreclosures as a percentage of all foreclosures were St. Louis (51 percent), Portland (40 percent) and Las Vegas (36 percent).

Metros with biggest increase in zombie foreclosures: Atlantic City, Trenton, New York

Among metro areas with a population of 200,000 or more and at least 500 zombie foreclosures as of the end of January, those with the biggest year-over-year increase in zombie foreclosures were Atlantic City, New Jersey (up 133 percent), Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey (up 110 percent), and New York (up 73 percent).

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Texas Home Buyers Are Better Off Than National Average

by Rye Durzin

Texas homebuyers

The March 2015 Texas Home buyers and Sellers Report from the Texas Association of Realtors shows that between July 2013 and June 2014 median household income for Texas home buyers increased 5.9 percent year-over-year compared with a national increase of only 1.4 percent.

Home buyers in Texas are older, more likely to be married and make more money than the national averages, according to the March 2015 Texas Home buyers and Sellers Report from the Texas Association of Realtors.

The study shows that between July 2013 and June 2014 median household income for Texas home buyers increased 5.9 percent year-over-year compared with a national increase of only 1.4 percent. However, the percentage of first-time home buyers in Texas fell 4 points to 29 percent, compared to a 5 percent decline nationally to 33 percent.

Home buyers in Texas are also two years older compared to the previous period, edging up to 45 years of age, and 72 percent of home buyers are married, compared to 65 percent nationally.

Texans are also buying larger and newer homes than other buyers across the U.S. In Texas, the typical three-bedroom, two-bathroom home had 2,100 square feet and was built in 2002, compared to the typical national home built in 1993 with 1,870 square feet.

Forty-seven percent of first-time home buyers in Texas said that finding the right property was the most difficult step in buying a home, as did 48 percent of repeat home buyers.

For Texans selling homes, 21 percent said that the reason for selling was because of job relocation, followed by 16 percent who said that their home was too small. The median household income for a Texas home seller was $120,800, compared with a national media income of $96,700 among home sellers.

Texas home buyers (overall): July 2013 – June 2014

  • Median household income: +5.9% to $97,500
  • Percent of homes bought that were new: 28% (-1% from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Percentage of first-time home buyers: 29% (-4% from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Age of typical home buyer: 45 years old (+2 years from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of first-time home buyer: 32 years old (+1 year from July
  • 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of repeat home buyer: 50 years old (unchanged from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for first-time home buyers: +5.8% to $72,000 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for repeat home buyers: -8.9% to $97,500 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percent of married home buyers: 72% (+1% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • New homes purchased: 28% (-2% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for home sellers: $120,800
  • Age of average home seller: 49 years

National home buyers (overall): June 2013 – July 2014

  • Median household income: +1.4% to $84,500
  • Percent of homes bought that were new: 16% (constant from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percentage of first-time home buyers: 33% (-5% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Age of typical home buyer: 44 years old (+2 years from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Average age of first-time home buyer: 31 years old (unchanged from July
  • 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of repeat home buyer: 53 years old (+1 year from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for first-time home buyers: +2.3% to $68,300 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for repeat home buyers: -1% to $95,000 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percent of married home buyers: 65% (-1% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • New homes purchased: 16% (unchanged from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for home sellers: $96,700
  • Age of average home seller: 54 years

Courts Confirm Fannie and Freddie Are Sovereign Credits: Report

by Jacob Passy

Recent court decisions against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders have put to rest the notion that the two mortgage giants exist as anything but instrumentalities of the U.S. government, according to a report released Thursday by Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

Private equity investor groups recently have raised lawsuits against the Federal Housing Finance Agency, in an effort to regain control of the two entities. The failure of these legal actions points to the de facto nature of the two entities as sovereign credits, given their complete backing by the U.S. government.

The KBRA report also suggests that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have morphed into insurance agents rather than insurance companies, since they cannot produce the capital to bear the risk of their guarantees that the FHFA prices to begin with.

Still, the two bodies’ investors take issue with the 3rd Preferred Stock Purchase Agreement that directs all of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s profits to the government, the KBRA report said.

But these investors’ suits have been unsuccessful because, in judges’ eyes, the legislation passed by Congress that saved Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the brink gives the U.S. Treasury and FHFA the right to manage the two companies as they see fit. But KBRA finds instead that “the 3rd PSPA simply compensates the Treasury for the capital injection made in 2008 and, more important, the open-ended support of the U.S. taxpayer.”

The report goes on to argue that these investors misinterpret the support the U.S. government lent to the two mortgage entities. Prior to the capital injection, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had negative net worth, meaning that Treasury’s aid only brought them to zero.

But, as the report reads, all of the profits the two make now represent therefore the return on the government’s investment, so to recapitalize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would essentially involve taxpayer money, which the report found “galling.”

“They are not talking about injecting any of their own cash into the companies,” KBRA writes. “If you accept the idea that the taxpayers are due a return on both the implicit and explicit capital advanced to keep the mortgage market operating, there are no earnings to be retained in the GSEs.”

The report did contend that while this may not spell out good news for the two mortgage agencies’ equity investors, it should end some of the uncertainty bond investors have faced by confirming their standing in the eyes of government.


Fannie Mae Ended 2014 on a Sour Note

by Phil Hall

Fannie Mae hit more than a few financial potholes during 2014, closing the year with significantly lower net income and comprehensive income and a stated concern that things may not get better during 2015.

The government-sponsored enterprise reported annual net income of $14.2 billion and annual comprehensive income of $14.7 billion in 2014, far below 2013’s levels of $84 billion in net income and $84.8 billion in comprehensive income.

The fourth quarter of 2014 was especially acute: Fannie Mae’s net income of $1.3 billion and comprehensive income of $1.3 billion for this period, a steep drop from the net income of $3.9 billion and comprehensive income of $4.0 billion for the third quarter. Fourth quarter net revenues were $5.5 billion, down from $6 billion for the third quarter, while fee and other income was $323 million for the fourth quarter, compared with $826 million for the third quarter. Net fair value losses were $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter, up substantially from $207 million in the third quarter.

Fannie Mae explained that its fourth quarter results were “driven by net interest income, partially offset by fair value losses on risk management derivatives due to declines in longer-term interest rates in the quarter.” Nonetheless, Fannie Mae reported a positive net worth of $3.7 billion as of Dec. 31, 2014, which resulted in a dividend obligation to the U.S. Department of the Treasury of $1.9 billion that will be paid next month.

In announcing its 2014 results, Fannie Mae offered a blunt prediction that this year will see continued disappointments.

“[Fannie Mae] expects its earnings in future years will be substantially lower than its earnings for 2014, due primarily to the company’s expectation of substantially lower income from resolution agreements, continued declines in net interest income from its retained mortgage portfolio assets, and lower credit related income,” said Fannie Mae in a press statement. “In addition, certain factors, such as changes in interest rates or home prices, could result in significant volatility in the company’s financial results from quarter to quarter or year to year. Fannie Mae’s future financial results also will be affected by a number of other factors, including: the company’s guaranty fee rates; the volume of single-family mortgage originations in the future; the size, composition, and quality of its retained mortgage portfolio and guaranty book of business; and economic and housing market conditions.”


 Default Risk Index For Agency Purchase Loans Hits Series High

by Brian Honea

Agency Loan Mortgage Default Risk

The default risk for mortgage loan originations rose in January, marking the fifth straight month-over-month increase, according to the composite National Mortgage Risk Index (NMRI) released by AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk.

In January, the NMRI for Agency purchase loans increased to a series high of 11.94 percent. That number represented an increase of 0.4 percentage points from the October through December average and a jump of 0.8 percentage points from January 2014.

“With the NMRI once again hitting a series high, the risks posed by the government’s 85 percent share of the home purchase market continue to rise,” said Stephen Oliner, co-director of AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk.

Default risk indices for Fannie Mae, FHA, and VA loans hit series highs within the composite, according to AEI. The firm attributes to the consistent monthly increases in risk indices to a substantial shift in market share from large banks to non-bank accounts, since the default risk tends to be greater on loans originated by non-bank lenders.

AEI’s study for January revealed that the volume of high debt-to-income (DTI) loans has not been reduced by the QM regulation. About 24 percent of loans over the past three months had a total DTI above 43 percent, compared to 22 percent for the same period a year earlier. The study also found that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were compensating to a limited extent for the riskiness of their high DTI loans.

Further, the NMRI for FHA loans in January experienced a year-over-year increase of 1.5 percentage points up to 24.41 percent – meaning that nearly one quarter of all recently guaranteed home purchase loans backed by FHA would be projected to default if they were to experience an economic shock similar to 2007-08. AEI estimates that if FHA were to adopt VA’s risk management practices, the composite index would fall to about 9 percent.

“Policy makers need to be mindful of the upward risk trends that are occurring with respect to both first-time and repeat buyers,” said Edward Pinto, co-director of AEI’s International Center on Housing Risk. “Recent policy moves by the FHA and FHFA will likely exacerbate this trend.”

AEI said the cause of the softness in mortgage lending is not tight lending standards, but rather reduced affordability, loan put back risk, and slow income growth among households.

More than 180,o00 home purchase loans were evaluated for the January results, bringing the total number of loans rated in the NMRI since December 2012 to nearly 5.5 million, according to AEI.

The Next Housing Crisis May Be Sooner Than You Think

How we could fall into another housing crisis before we’ve fully pulled out of the 2008 one.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.citylab.com/media/img/citylab/2014/11/RTR2LDPC/lead_large.jpgby Richard Florida

When it comes to housing, sometimes it seems we never learn. Just when America appeared to be recovering from the last housing crisis—the trigger, in many ways, for 2008’s grand financial meltdown and the beginning of a three-year recession—another one may be looming on the horizon.

There are at several big red flags.

For one, the housing market never truly recovered from the recession. Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko points out that, while the third quarter of 2014 saw improvement in a number of housing key barometers, none have returned to normal, pre-recession levels. Existing home sales are now 80 percent of the way back to normal, while home prices are stuck at 75 percent back, remaining undervalued by 3.4 percent. More troubling, new construction is less than halfway (49 percent) back to normal. Kolko also notes that the fundamental building blocks of the economy, including employment levels, income and household formation, have also been slow to improve. “In this recovery, jobs and housing can’t get what they need from each other,” he writes.

Americans are spending more than 33 percent of their income on housing.

Second, Americans continue to overspend on housing. Even as the economy drags itself out of its recession, a spate of reports show that families are having a harder and harder time paying for housing. Part of the problem is that Americans continue to want more space in bigger homes, and not just in the suburbs but in urban areas, as well. Americans more than 33 percent of their income on housing in 2013, up nearly 13 percent from two decades ago, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The graph below plots the trend by age.

Over-spending on housing is far worse in some places than others; the housing market and its recovery remain highly uneven. Another BLS report released last month showed that households in Washington, D.C., spent nearly twice as much on housing ($17,603) as those in Cleveland, Ohio ($9,061). The chart below, from the BLS report, shows average annual expenses on housing related items:

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The result, of course, is that more and more American households, especially middle- and working-class people, are having a harder time affording housing. This is particularly the case in reviving urban centers, as more affluent, highly educated and creative-class workers snap up the best spaces, particularly those along convenient transit, pushing the service and working class further out.

Last but certainly not least, the rate of home ownership continues to fall, and dramatically. Home ownership has reached its lowest level in two decades—64.4 percent (as of the third quarter of 2014). Here’s the data, from the U.S. Census Bureau:

(Data from U.S. Census Bureau)

Home ownership currently hovers from the mid-50 to low-60 percent range in some of the most highly productive and innovative metros in this country—places like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. This range seems “to provide the flexibility of rental and ownership options required for a fast-paced, rapidly changing knowledge economy. Widespread home ownership is no longer the key to a thriving economy,” I’ve written.

What we are going through is much more than a generational shift or simple lifestyle change. It’s a deep economic shift—I’ve called it the Great Reset. It entails a shift away from the economic system, population patterns and geographic layout of the old suburban growth model, which was deeply connected to old industrial economy, toward a new kind of denser, more urban growth more in line with today’s knowledge economy. We remain in the early stages of this reset. If history is any guide, the complete shift will take a generation or so.

It’s time to impose stricter underwriting standards and encourage the dense, mixed-use, more flexible housing options that the knowledge economy requires.

The upshot, as the Nobel Prize winner Edmund Phelps has written, is that it is time for Americans to get over their house passion. The new knowledge economy requires we spend less on housing and cars, and more on education, human capital and innovation—exactly those inputs that fuel the new economic and social system.

But we’re not moving in that direction; in fact, we appear to be going the other way. This past weekend, Peter J. Wallison pointed out in a New York Times op-ed that federal regulators moved back off tougher mortgage-underwriting standards brought on by 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act and instead relaxed them. Regulators are hoping to encourage more home ownership, but they’re essentially recreating the conditions that led to 2008’s crash.

Wallison notes that this amounts to “underwriting the next housing crisis.” He’s right: It’s time to impose stricter underwriting standards and encourage the dense, mixed-use, more flexible housing options that the knowledge economy requires.

During the depression and after World War II, this country’s leaders pioneered a series of purposeful and ultimately game-changing polices that set in motion the old suburban growth model, helping propel the industrial economy and creating a middle class of workers and owners. Now that our economy has changed again, we need to do the same for the denser urban growth model, creating more flexible housing system that can help bolster today’s economy.

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Dream housing for new economy workers
?

Energy Workforce Projected To Grow 39% Through 2022

The dramatic resurgence of the oil industry over the past few years has been a notable factor in the national economic recovery. Production levels have reached totals not seen since the late 1980s and continue to increase, and rig counts are in the 1,900 range. While prices have dipped recently, it will take more than that to markedly slow the level of activity. Cycles are inevitable, but activity is forecast to remain at relatively high levels.  

An outgrowth of oil and gas activity strength is a need for additional workers. At the same time, the industry workforce is aging, and shortages are likely to emerge in key fields ranging from petroleum engineers to experienced drilling crews. I was recently asked to comment on the topic at a gathering of energy workforce professionals. Because the industry is so important to many parts of Texas, it’s an issue with relevance to future prosperity.  

 

Although direct employment in the energy industry is a small percentage of total jobs in the state, the work is often well paying. Moreover, the ripple effects through the economy of this high value-added industry are large, especially in areas which have a substantial concentration of support services.  

Petroleum Engineer

Employment in oil and gas extraction has expanded rapidly, up from 119,800 in January 2004 to 213,500 in September 2014. Strong demand for key occupations is evidenced by the high salaries; for example, median pay was $130,280 for petroleum engineers in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  

Due to expansion in the industry alone, the BLS estimates employment growth of 39 percent through 2022 for petroleum engineers, which comprised 11 percent of total employment in oil and gas extraction in 2012. Other key categories (such as geoscientists, wellhead pumpers, and roustabouts) are also expected to see employment gains exceeding 15 percent. In high-activity regions, shortages are emerging in secondary fields such as welders, electricians, and truck drivers.  

The fact that the industry workforce is aging is widely recognized. The cyclical nature of the energy industry contributes to uneven entry into fields such as petroleum engineering and others which support oil and gas activity. For example, the current surge has pushed up wages, and enrollment in related fields has increased sharply. Past downturns, however, led to relatively low enrollments, and therefore relatively lower numbers of workers in some age cohorts. The loss of the large baby boom generation of experienced workers to retirement will affect all industries. This problem is compounded in the energy sector because of the long stagnation of the industry in the 1980s and 1990s resulting in a generation of workers with little incentive to enter the industry. As a result, the projected need for workers due to replacement is particularly high for key fields.

The BLS estimates that 9,800 petroleum engineers (25.5 percent of the total) working in 2012 will need to be replaced by 2022 because they retire or permanently leave the field. Replacement rates are also projected to be high for other crucial occupations including petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers (37.1 percent); derrick, rotary drill, and service unit operators, oil, gas, and mining (40.4 percent).  

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Putting together the needs from industry expansion and replacement, most critical occupations will require new workers equal to 40 percent or more of the current employment levels. The total need for petroleum engineers is estimated to equal approximately 64.5 percent of the current workforce. Clearly, it will be a major challenge to deal with this rapid turnover.

Potential solutions which have been attempted or discussed present problems, and it will require cooperative efforts between the industry and higher education and training institutions to adequately deal with future workforce shortages. Universities have had problems filling open teaching positions, because private-sector jobs are more lucrative for qualified candidates. Given budget constraints and other considerations, it is not feasible for universities to compete on the basis of salary. Without additional teaching and research staff, it will be difficult to continue to expand enrollment while maintaining education quality. At the same time, high-paying jobs are enticing students into the workforce, and fewer are entering doctoral programs.  

Another option which has been suggested is for engineers who are experienced in the workplace to spend some of their time teaching. However, busy companies are naturally resistant to allowing employees to take time away from their regular duties. Innovative training and associate degree and certification programs blending classroom and hands-on experience show promise for helping deal with current and potential shortages in support occupations. Such programs can prepare students for well-paying technical jobs in the industry. Encouraging experienced professionals to work past retirement, using flexible hours and locations to appeal to Millennials, and other innovative approaches must be part of the mix, as well as encouraging the entry of females into the field (only 20 percent of the current workforce is female, but over 40 percent of the new entries).

Industry observers have long been aware of the coming “changing of the guard” in the oil and gas business. We are now approaching the crucial time period for ensuring the availability of the workers needed to fill future jobs. Cooperative efforts between the industry and higher education/training institutions will likely be required, and it’s time to act.

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