Public Opinion Monthly (February 2014): Homeownership and Affordable Housing Remain Tough Goals

By Jhanidya Bermeo

Despite negative experiences with the housing crisis, many Americans believe homeownership is an important part of the American Dream. While Americans are more confident in their ability to make housing-related payments, they also find obtaining a mortgage as difficult and costly. Recent data on falling home purchases and mortgage applications reflect these beliefs. Public opinion data also shows that Americans believe finding affordable housing is more difficult than ever. Affordable housing, an important way to invigorate communities and prevent poverty, is a top priority for minority groups and Millennials. However, the recession and the housing crisis have disproportionately affected these groups.

A majority of Americans continue to hold home ownership as an important goal in their lives, and many believe it's the cornerstone of the American Dream. A recent survey by the Associated Press-We TV fielded in January 2014 found that 68% of adults find owning a home to be the “most important thing” or a “very important but not most important” goal. An earlier poll by the Washington Post in September 2013 indicated that a majority (61%) of adults believe homeownership is very much what they understand the American Dream to be. Similarly, a CNBC survey fielded in March 2013 showed that 79% of participants believe “owning a home is an essential part of the American Dream."

Public opinion polls suggest that consumer confidence in buying and keeping up with payments has increased; however, many Americans face greater difficulty in obtaining a mortgage. The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, conducted in December 2013, found that the large majority (80%) of adults did not experience any problems making rent or paying their mortgage. A later survey by Fannie Mae conducted in January 2014 indicated that 65% of respondents believed it is a very good time or somewhat good time to buy a house. However, less than half of those asked (46%) believed that attaining a mortgage would be somewhat or very difficult. The majority of these respondents (55%) also believed that home mortgage interest rates would increase over the year.

These views are reflected in recent data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, which also indicated that applications for home mortgages have decreased to their lowest levels since September 2011. Home sales have also fallen to the lowest in 18 months,  due to restrictive mortgage requirements. This new information is in line with trend data from Gallup Poll, which found a decline in homeownership in 2012 and 2013. Sixty-two percent of adults polled by Gallup stated owning their primary residence, while 34% indicated that they rent. The amount of homeowners has decreased since 2008, with a slight uptick in 2011 before falling to the current 62%. This decline in homeownership is attributed to the housing crisis and its lingering effects, unemployment, and rising mortgage rates.

The Washington Post (Sept 2013) found that 54% of people believe it has become harder today to find affordable housing than ever. Affordable housing is an important investment that curtails poverty and invigorates communities, and it's all the more critical in the current economic environment. Data from the Center for American Progress showed that while affordable housing is not a priority for all respondents in terms of investments that the government can make to reduce poverty, it is comparatively more important to African Americans, Latinos, and Millennials. About a quarter of these segments within the survey believed affordable housing is the top priority for reducing poverty. In addition, a survey by Latino Decisions on a national sample of Hispanic voters revealed that a majority of respondents (68%) are concerned about cuts to affordable housing and federal rent subsidies. Minorities and Millennials have been hardest hit by the housing crisis and the recession, unable to get a mortgage on a house and unwilling or unable to take on more debt.