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Weekly update from the National Housing Conference
News from Washington
White House proposal makes homeownership central to closing racial wealth gap

On Tuesday, the White House announced several proposals aimed at reducing racial disparities and building Black wealth. Identifying homeownership as one of two key pillars of wealth building, the administration’s proposal includes measures such an interagency taskforce lead by HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to tackle appraisal discrimination, $15 billion for a new Community Revitalization Fund and a $5 billion competitive grant program to incentivize inclusionary zoning.

President Biden announced the proposals during a visit to Oklahoma to memorialize the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the same day the White House issued a proclamation on National Homeownership Month that highlighted the racial homeownership gap. The White House’s fact sheet on its racial equity proposals noted that “because disparities in wealth compound like an interest rate, the disinvestment in Black families in Tulsa and across the country throughout our history is still felt sharply today. The median Black American family has thirteen cents for every one dollar in wealth held by White families.”

Housing groups were largely supportive of the plan, and many expressed excitement about the administration’s plan to tackle discrimination in home appraisals, which research indicates has worsened in recent decades. “We support a thorough review of the current appraisal system alongside both public and private stakeholders,” said National Association of REALTORS® President Charlie Oppler.
Mortgage applications, home sales decline slightly

Mortgage applications declined for the second week in a row, reaching their lowest level since February of last year, according to NHC member Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) most recent weekly survey. MBA’s Market Composite Index, a seasonally adjusted measure of new mortgage application volume, decreased 4% from the previous week, and measures of refinances and purchases showed similar declines.

According to Joel Kan, MBA associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, the decline can be chalked up to “tight housing inventory, obstacles to a faster rate of new construction, and rapidly rising home prices,” trends that are starting to make themselves apparent in other measures of housing demand, as well. A recent study by Redfin, for example, found drops in new home sale listings and pending sales of 12% and 10%, respectively.

Though he cautioned against predicting any sudden drops in housing demand, Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather told HousingWire that he expects to see the market cool off slightly as the country emerges from the pandemic. “There may be signs that some buyers would rather spend their money on restaurants, vacations, and other things they have held back on for the past year, instead of on housing now that the threat of the pandemic is dissipating in America,” he said.
Appeals court reverses ruling vacating CDC eviction moratorium

A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that the nationwide eviction moratorium can stay in effect while a case challenging it works its way through the courts. The decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from a group of landlords, led by the Alabama Association of Realtors, to resume evictions after District Judge Dabney Friedrich struck down the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) moratorium last month. Friedrich agreed to issue a temporary stay on the order to allow time for the appeal.

The court found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the defendant in the case, “has demonstrated that lifting the national moratorium will exacerbate the significant public health risks identified by the CDC because, even with increased vaccinations, COVID-19 continues to spread and infect persons, and new variants are emerging.” The ruling is good news for housing advocacy groups who warned of mass evictions and spikes in COVID-19 cases were Friedrich’s decision allowed to stand. It may also indicate that HHS is likely to succeed in convincing courts to allow the moratorium to remain in effect through June as originally planned.
USDA-RD opens applications for Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge

The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division (USDA-RD) announced on Wednesday a new competitive grant program, the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge, aimed at fostering placemaking activities in rural communities through enhancing broadband access, preserving cultural and historic structures, and developing transportation, housing and recreational spaces. Rural placemaking is defined under the program as “a collaborative process among public, private, philanthropic and community partners to strategically improve the social, cultural, and economic structure of a community.”

USDA-RD has made $3 million in grant money available, with a maximum award amount of $250,000. Applications are open until July 26 for eligible entities. USDA will host a webinar providing more information on the grant program for prospective applicants on June 24.
Fudge elected Interagency Homelessness Council chair

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge was elected chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) on Thursday, in a unanimous vote by the heads of the 19 federal agencies represented in the body. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough was elected as USICH’s vice chair.

Fudge succeeds Robert Marburt, who headed the council during the final year of the Trump administration and sought to depart from its longstanding use of a “Housing First” approach, saying it enabled individuals to remain in a cycle of homelessness. In a statement announcing her election, Fudge made clear that she would reverse the direction Marburt had taken. “As chair, I am committed to leveraging the Council to tackle homelessness through a Housing First approach and meaningful interagency collaboration,” she said.
Chart of the week
Chart of the week: Localities could decrease housing costs by narrowing streets

A paper in the Journal of the American Planning Association finds that housing costs could be significantly reduced if localities allowed for narrower streets, which take up on average a fifth of all land in urban counties, reducing space available for housing. “People are already using streets for housing, just not in a sanctioned way,” says the paper’s author in an interview with CityLab. “Why do we rule out 20% of a city’s land and declare it off limits for that?”
What we're reading
The Washington Post reports on an effort by residents of Atlanta’s wealthy Buckhead neighborhood to secede from the rest of the city in the wake of increased crime. The effort is the most recent iteration of the “cityhood movement”, in which affluent, majority-white neighborhoods attempt to secede from predominantly Black jurisdictions, which opponents say entrenches segregation by codifying it in municipal boundaries.

A working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research describes a “donut effect” of the COVID-19 pandemic on housing prices, in which peak real estate demand moves out of central business districts to lower-density suburbs. While the paper observes the effect within metropolitan areas, it does not observe a similar trend of movements from higher-density metropolitan areas to lower-density ones, something the authors attribute to most workers’ still-present need to live near their jobs.

The Philadelphia Inquirer covers an effort to make New Jersey the first state in the country to ban rental application questions regarding criminal history, a common practice that makes finding housing difficult for many with criminal backgrounds. Advocates say the bill will make reentry into society easier for those leaving prison and reduce recidivism rates without endangering communities.
The week ahead
Monday, June 7
Tuesday, June 8
AEI: Is inflation back?, 10 – 11 a.m. ET
Wednesday, June 9

Thursday, June 10

Friday, June 11
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