Archive for April, 2018

Affordable Housing Bonds Are Good Investments (If You Can Find Them)

April 12, 2018

Smith’s Affordable Housing Finance Conference returned to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this year. It was another great year for housing bond investors, as the S&P Muni Bond Housing Index illustrated by posting a 250.85% Ever To Date Total Return and 2.95% Annual Total Return.

More than double your money AND no worries about credit problems given the very strong average credit quality.

Compare those investment parameters to the increasingly volatile stock market moves over the past week and its easy to see why housing bonds play a role in the municipal investment process. (https://us.spindices.com/indices/fixed-income/sp-municipal-bond-housing-index)

The U.S. stock market has gone berserk in the face of national public policy positions that undermine global trading strategies. It shouldn’t come as any surprise since Smith’s Regulars know that stocks are inherently more volatile.

Law of Unintended Consequences
With hopes of improving Portland’s brand-new mandatory affordable housing policy, Portland City Council recently agreed to woo developers with its original (optional) affordable housing policy: the Multiple-Unit Limited Tax Exemption (MULTE). The old plan would incentivize (read optional) residential developers to lease 20 percent of their apartments to low-income renters.

The Portland City Commission’s decision comes at the end of the city’s year-long slog to create and retain affordable housing after passing its “Inclusionary Housing” (IH) policy. The new program requires any new apartment building with 20 or more units to lease a chunk of those units below market rate.

Sure, those “below market rate” units are not really that affordable when compared to other cities around the country.

But, instead of spurring a wave of affordable new housing across the city, the IH policy has practically ground the affordable housing construction to a complete halt.

Months before the IH policy went into effect on February 1, 2017, developers wanting to avoid the onerous rule, submitted building permits for no less than 19,000 units across the city. Since then? Only 12 buildings (containing a total of 682 units) have applied for new permits from the city’s Bureau of Development Services. In the past, the city fielded permits for between 3,000 to 6,000 new units a year—making 2017’s numbers look even more pathetic.

Norworst
If you think Portland’s affordable housing crisis bad, take a look at Seattle, where during a one-year period in 2015–16, Seattle rents increased by 9.7 percent — four times the national average. In 2017, the cost of an average two-bedroom topped $2,000. The results have been predictable: nearly half of Seattle renters are currently “housing-cost burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent.

A recent Zillow study cited the connection between even modest rent increases and resulting homelessness. King County’s 2017 One Night Count tallied 11,643 homeless people, which is second only to New York and Los Angeles in homelessness.

Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability (HALA) program claims it will create 6,000 affordable housing units over the next ten years.

To put it into some context, Seattle’s population has risen by an average of 15,000 every year since 2010, growing by nearly 21,000 in 2015–16 alone.

Touted by Seattle politicians as the result of a tough negotiation between the city and developers, it’s little more than a giveaway, as the overwhelming majority of apartments constructed as a result of the “Grand Bargain” will be sold and rented at market rates.

Indeed. The affordability mandate is currently as low as 2% in some parts of Seattle.

Advertisements