Skyrocketing rents hit ‘crisis’ levels

Published: Monday, 9 Dec 2013 | 3:45 PM ET

By: | CNBC Real Estate Reporter

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Since the housing crisis began in 2008, approximately 4.6 million homes were lost to foreclosure, according to CoreLogic. The vast majority of those homeowners became renters. Even as housing recovered, credit tightened, pushing even more potential buyers out of homeownership and into rentals, both apartments and single-family rental homes.

There are now 43 million renter households, or 35 percent of all U.S. households, the highest rate in over a decade for all age groups, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies; 4 million more renters today than there were in 2007. For those aged 25 to 54, rental rates are the highest since the center began record keeping in the early 1970s.

As a result, rental vacancies have fallen dramatically, and rents have skyrocketed.

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Housing affordability shrinking
Residential construction jobs grew in November, and employment data in hard hit housing areas was slightly ahead of national growth. However, CNBC’s Diana Olick reports rates are decidedly higher from last week and affordability is shrinking.

“We are in the midst of the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has known,” said Shaun Donovan, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Half of all U.S. renters today pay more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent. That’s up from 18 percent a decade ago, according to the Harvard center. For those in the lowest income brackets, the jump is even worse.

(Read more: Rising mortgage rates a boon to smaller lenders)

“Over four years, a 43 percent increase in the number of Americans with worst-case housing needs,” said Donovan. “Let’s be clear what that means, they’re paying more than half of every dollar they earn for housing.”

The numbers are not lost on Annie Eccles, who is in her late 20s. She has been renting for over two years, and the rent on her Bethesda, Md., apartment has increased by the maximum the county allows every year.

“It’s frustrating because we pay for rent, we also pay for parking, and just knowing that every June it’s going to increase significantly, it’s frustrating,” said Eccles.

And Eccles pays almost as much each month on student loan debt as she does in rent. Put together, it makes it very hard for her and her husband to save up enough to buy a home of their own.

“It would be hard buying in this area, just because it’s so expensive,” she added.

(Read more: Soaring new home sales: Not what they seem)

Most younger Americans, like Eccles, want to be homeowners someday. While so-called millennials favor mobility and city living, they still see homeownership as a goal.

“Nineteen out of 20 people that are surveyed say that they intend to buy a home at some point in the future, if they’re under the age of 30,” said Eric Belsky, director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. “There is no question that the will toward homeownership remains there, it’s the way.”

Home prices are rising faster than expected, due to heavy investor demand, ironically in single-family rental housing. While more than 3 million owner-occupied homes are now investor-owned rentals, there is still a lack of supply in the market. New rental stock is coming soon, but demand is not easing. Renters may want to be buyers, but many still can’t, due to rising home prices and mortgage rates.

(Read more: October new home sales strongest in more than 33 years)

“You add in other things, like higher student debt for many people, you add in the fact that incomes for low- and moderate-income people have not been going up as fast as inflation, and you have a situation where it’s going to be very difficult to buy homes,” said Belsky.

By CNBC’s Diana Olick. Follow her on Twitter @Diana_Olick.

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HUD ANNOUNCES NEW FHA LOAN LIMITS TO TAKE EFFECT JANUARY 1ST

4:55PM
WASHINGTON – Today the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it will implement new FHA single-family loan limits on January 1, 2014, as specified by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA). Read FHA’s mortgagee letter detailing the agency’s new loan limits.“As the housing market continues its recovery, it is important for FHA to evaluate the role we need to play,” said FHA Commissioner Carol Galante. “Implementing lower loan limits is an important and appropriate step as private capital returns to portions of the market and enables FHA to concentrate on those borrowers that are still under-served.”

The current standard loan limit for areas where housing costs are relatively low will remain unchanged at $271,050. The new national-ceiling loan limit for the very highest cost areas will be reduced from $729,750 to $625,500. Areas are eligible for FHA loan limits above the national standard limit, and up to the national ceiling level, based on median area home prices. Additional information and loan limit adjustments for two-, three-, and four-unit properties, and in Special Exception Areas, are noted in FHA’s mortgagee letter. An attachment to the Mortgagee Letter provides information on which counties are eligible for loan limits above the national standard. Borrowers with existing FHA insured mortgages may continue to utilize FHA’s Streamline refinance program regardless of their loan balance. The changes announced today are effective for case number assignments between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2014.

Full mortgagee letter HERE.