Housing in America: the shape of things to come
Housing in America may never be the same again.Skip to next paragraph
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So say housing experts who are peering beyond the depressed state of the building industry and trying to make sense out of where housing is headed after the United States climbs out of the recession.
The experts disagree on whether housing prices will level off or keep spiraling upward. They even disagree over the basic question of whether there is a housing shortage. But they do agree that far-reaching changes are under way, even while the recession has virtually stalled real estate sales and construction.
Changes in housing forms and styles expected by experts include:
* Increased density. As land costs rise, the common ground concept--as seen in condominiums--will become even more widespread.
* More no-frills homes, including more houses built on a slab, and smaller rooms.
* Wider use of mobile homes.
* Dividing single-family homes, despite local zoning battles. Opponents of such divisions often fear property values will drop as density increases.
* More developers are expected to sell just the house shell, leaving homebuyers to finish off the interior at their own pace.
* More people are prepared to pay for homes built of lower quality materials.
* Fewer houses will be built on speculation, but will be built only on specific buyer demand, predicts Ray M. Broughton, economist for the First Interstate Bank of Oregon.
* More shared ownership, both single roommates and two sets of married couples.
''As the housing industry regroups and reorganizes, there will be a significant change in the nature of housing,'' says Brian Berry, dean of the School of Urban and Public Affairs at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. ''After each previous major recessionary interlude, the housing industry has embarked on a new course where new housing styles have come to the fore.''
''We'll still see lots of traditional single-family houses on their own lots, although the houses and the lots will be smaller than in the 1970s,'' says Mr. Berry. ''We'll see a more rapid increase in the condominium townhouse kind of developments. Condo living removes much of the responsibility of caring for the house and grounds, which is especially important for families with two wage-earners where there's much less time for domestic pursuits.''
But aside from questions of form, questions of finance also loom large when the issue of housing in the US comes up.
Congress, alarmed at high unemployment in the construction industry--19.4 percent in April--and the 32 percent dip in housing starts from a year ago, is putting together a subsidy program that will shave points off the towering interest rates that have kept prospective homebuyers out of the market. According to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the average US market rate for a 75 percent, 25-year mortgage is currently 17.39 percent.
Although a final compromise has yet to be pounded out between the House and the Senate, congressional sources say the final measure is expected to cut mortgage rates for low and middle income people buying new homes to as low as 9. 5 percent. The cost to the US Treasury is pegged at $5 billion over the next five years. The bill passed in the House last week 343 to 67. The Senate version survived a filibuster May 27 to emerge as an amendment to an Urgent Supplemental Appropriations Bill.
Sen. Richard D. Lugar (R) of Indiana, a sponsor of the Senate bill, claims it would create jobs for 700,000 people and spur the building of 400,000 new single-family homes. But the Reagan administration adamantly opposes any form of industry ''bail-out,'' saying it could open expensive floodgates in other ailing industries such as steel and automobiles.
Another bill in the House would give first-time homebuyers a $5,400 tax credit. And in March, President Reagan announced a five-point program of relaxed regulations designed to stimulate the sale of houses and to help lower what he called ''nightmare'' mortgage interest rates.