Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How not to encourage home ownership

Many governments try to encourage home ownerships by various means. I am not convinced this needs encouraging, as it leads to over-acucmulation of residential capital. Additionally, it is a myth that home ownners are happier and better citizens, as I reported previously. But suppose, for a moment, that a government really wants to increase the home ownership rate. How could this be best achieved. Two recent papers look at this.

First, Emre Ergungor compares mortgage interest subsidies to mortgage down-payment subsidies, and finds the latter work better. It is clear that down-payments are a significant hurdle for first time home buyers, and the recent crisis has at least partly been attributed to too easy down-payments, so one needs to be careful with this result. This is why Ergungor looks at loan performance for low to middle incomes. He finds that a one percent interest reduction is equivalent to a $3200 down-payment subsidy in that it leads to a 75 point reduction in default rates, and the latter is much cheaper to implement.

Second, Christian Hilber and Tracy Turner make the point that the tax deduction of mortgage interest makes mortgages more affordable but also raises house values. So in the end who benefits? Apparently only higher incomes in markets with few regulations. Hilber and Turner do not try to explain why this would happen, but I suppose this has to do with the high marginal rates on tax expenditures for high incomes, although I cannot explain the regulatory impact. In any case, there is more evidence that this type of subsidy should be abandoned.

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