The trend has been especially acute in working-class areas, and is raising concerns about neighborhood stability among residents, civic leaders and housing advocates.
"It's a combination of people losing their homes to foreclosure, first-time buyers not being able to get loans, and investors swooping in and taking over neighborhoods," said
"It raises the question: Is this good for communities in
In 2000, during a relatively stable period in the housing market, about 81 percent of detached single-family homes in
Prices rose steeply for the next five years as more residents joined the ranks of homeowners, thanks partly to relaxed lending standards. The result was a bubble in housing prices of unprecedented proportions and a spike in homeownership.
By late 2007, as the region's real estate market began its five year free-fall, about 83 percent of detached homes in the county were owner-occupied, according to property tax records.
Today, after years of foreclosures and short sales, only about 77 percent of county residents own the houses they live in. That's the lowest figure dating back to 1970.
Lower-income areas were hit hardest by the trend. Old
Homes in these areas were selling for rock-bottom prices just a couple of years ago, but families hoping to buy and live in them either couldn't get a loan or were consistently outbid by investors.
There are signs the trend could abate soon. Foreclosures have slowed to a trickle, and the proportion of homes bought with cash, a giveaway that an investor is likely involved, has fallen sharply.
Even so, 85 percent of the county's ZIP codes saw the proportion of detached homes occupied by owners fall from 2012 to 2014, according to property records.
The city has been in discussions with nonprofits such as the NeighborWorks Homeownership Center in
"It's really about the ownership of neighborhoods," Schenirer said. "When people own their homes, they have great pride in their neighborhoods and you have neighborhoods that take ownership of a panopoly of items, (such as) community gardens and the business sector."
"When I moved here, we all owned our homes. We knew each other. We walked down the street, talked to each other and established friendships," said Barker, who heads the
The investors who bought homes in her neighborhood tended to spruce them up, but tenants sometimes let them fall back into disrepair, she said.
"If owners are desperate, they don't always choose the right people" as tenants, Barker said. Renters sometimes "are not really committed to the community. They say, 'We are just renting it out.' "
Whether the new ranks of renters will choose to become homeowners anytime soon remains questionable. Some had such bad experiences during the housing crash that renting may seem preferable. "There are certainly people who got burned once and are going to say, 'Once is enough. I'm out of here. I'm not going to trust it again,' " said
Rohe and a colleague wrote a paper last year titled "Reexamining the Social Benefits of Homeownership after the Housing Crisis." It asked, after a massive wave of foreclosures, whether the "bloom is off the rose of homeownership."
Their conclusion was that "the impact of the housing crisis seems to have been short-lived even among those who have either direct or indirect experience with mortgage foreclosure. Attitudes toward buying a home have rebounded at a remarkably fast pace." Rohe likened it to investors returning to the stock market after a crash.
Americans still see owning a home as one of the best ways to accumulate wealth through equity, and as a means of providing stability for themselves and their children, he said: "There are too many benefits of homeownership for people to continue to stay away from it."
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