The Housing Scene

To get a sense of how Uncle Sam misallocates its scarce housing assistance dollars, look no further than the differences between the Fed’s Section 8 program for low-income renters and the mortgage interest deduction claimed by buyers who finance their homes.

According to data gleaned from government sources by Apartment List, an online marketplace for renters, the mortgage interest write-off in 2015 “cost” the Treasury some $71 billion in revenue it did not collect. That’s more than double the $29.9 billion set aside for funding Sec. 8, which is usually administered through local housing authorities.

Furthermore, high-income households claim $60.6 billion, or roughly 85 percent, of the total interest deduction, and middle-income taxpayers claim $6.2 billion, or about 9 percent. Only a measly $4.2 billion is claimed by low-income taxpayers.

The Section 8 Program offers tenant-based assistance. Participants find their own housing to rent in the open market, and pay a portion of their income toward rent. The local housing authority covers the rest with Sec. 8 funds from the federal government.

Only 11 percent of low-income households, three out of four of whom are cost burdened, get help with their rents from Uncle Sam, while more than half of all high-income families claim the mortgage interest write-off.

On a dollar-to-dollar basis, Apartment List says federal housing assistance averaged $1,549 for high earners but only $416 for low-income folks.

The average cost of child care has reached a point where it is nearly equal to the U.S. median rent, according to research from HotPads, a website linking renters to properties.

The typical cost of child care is $1,385 a month, whereas the median rent is $1,500 in the 48 metropolitan areas studied. But in 12 of those regions, child care costs exceed monthly rents.

In relatively inexpensive Pittsburgh, for example, you can expect to pay $225 a month more than your rent to have someone take care of your kids. You’ll pay a lot more in rent in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, but child care still runs about half your rent in those spots.

About half the seniors who complete government-mandated counseling to obtain a federally insured reverse mortgage -- aka Home Equity Conversion Mortgage -- go no further, according to Ibis Software, which tracks HECM counseling sessions.

The main reason most folks decide against taking out a reverse loan: They are not thrilled with how much money they’ll actually receive, according to Reverse Mortgage Daily, an online trade publication.

The appraisal may come in lower than expected, meaning applicants won’t get as much as they anticipated. Also, fees and closing costs may be too high, eating into the proceeds.

Shortages of houses for sale are starting to ease in some places. But if you’re looking for a spot where there are plenty of choices, look no further than the South Florida county of Miami-Dade.

More than 14,275 condo units are formally listed for sale there, and that doesn’t include the nearly 47,500 brand-new units currently in the development pipeline east of Interstate 95 in the tri-county region of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, according to the latest figures from Condo Vultures Realty.

Based on the current sales pace in Miami-Dade, it will take 15 months to sell off what’s listed right now. A balanced market is considered six months’ worth of supply.

One reason for the inflated inventory: Inflated pricing.

In the first nine months of 2018, the average transaction price of a sold Miami-Dade condo was about $433,814, or $314 per square foot, Condo Vultures reports. But the average asking price of a still-listed apartment is about $989,550, or $554 per foot. That’s a whopping 128 percent higher than the typical price achieved between January and September of this year.

Anyone who tells you you need to have a 20 percent down payment doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. Many loan programs out there call for only a 3 percent down payment, and some even allow for someone to contribute to that amount on your behalf.

Nevertheless, if 20 percent is your unnecessary goal, it will take 7.2 years to save enough to buy a median-priced house, according to research economists at Zillow. That’s an increase of 1.5 years from 30 years ago. And that’s even if your rate of savings matched that of buyers three decades ago.

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