MOUNT PLEASANT, South Carolina (AP) — It’s a troublesome story playing out across America in the 10 years since the housing bubble peaked and then burst in a ruinous crash: As real estate has climbed back, homeowners are thriving while renters are struggling.
For many longtime owners, times are good. They’re enjoying the benefits of growing equity and reduced mortgage payments from ultra-low rates.
But for America’s growing class of renters, surging costs, stagnant pay and rising home values have made it next to impossible to save enough to buy.
The possible consequences are bleak for a nation already grappling with economic inequality: Whatever wealth most Americans possess mainly comes from home equity. An enlarged renter class means fewer Americans can build that same wealth and financial security.
Nearly two-thirds of adults still own homes. And some who rent do so by choice. Yet ownership has become a more distant dream for the many Americans who still regard it as a route to prosperity and pride. The problem has become especially severe in areas that offer the best job prospects as well as those that have been battered by foreclosures.
“It doesn’t paint a pretty picture,” said Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow, the online real estate database company. “You’re really blocking out a group of buyers from owning a home. They’re truly living paycheck to paycheck, and that does not put them into a good position to buy.”
Joe Fabie and his wife face just such a bind. They moved to Mount Pleasant, just over the bridge from historic Charleston, South Carolina after law school in Pittsburgh. The suburb’s pastel-hued harbor vistas, tin-roofed houses and Spanish moss-adorned live oaks were enchanting.
But the rising rent on their one-bedroom apartment — more than for their three-bedroom rental in Pittsburgh — made it impossible to save enough to buy a home. With their rent going up again, the couple moved to a cheaper suburb in hopes of repaying their student debt and saving for a starter home.
“The best school district is Mount Pleasant, and we would like to be there,” said Fabie, 27. “But if you’re lucky you can get some beat-up homes for around $300,000.”
An exclusive analysis by The Associated Press of census data covering over 300 communities found that two major forces are driving a wedge between the fortunes of renters and homeowners:
—Historically low mortgage rates have enabled homeowners to refinance and shrink their monthly payments, thereby reducing a major household cost. The median annual mortgage expense for a U.S. homeowner has dropped by $1,492 since 2006.
—A combination of foreclosures and new college graduates crowding into the strongest job markets has raised demand for rentals. Renters accounted for all the 8 million-plus net households the United States added in the past decade. Home ownership has dipped to 63.5 percent, near a 48-year low.