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Many Americans Still Struggling to Cover Housing Costs: Report

JUN 4, 2014 4:54pm ET
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Economists and housing experts maintain that the housing crisis is long over, but many Americans beg to differ.

In a survey of housing attitudes conducted by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 51% of respondents said they believe that the country is still in the midst of the housing bust and another 19% think the worst is yet to come. Only 25% of respondents believe that “the housing crisis is pretty much over,” according to the survey, which was conducted in April and was released this week.

"The housing crisis that began more than five years ago has left an indelible mark on the attitudes and experiences of Americans," said Geoffrey Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, which administered the survey for the foundation. "Concern and insecurity about the ability of middle-class Americans to maintain their footing and for people to rise up into the middle class is a central theme in America today and this research shows that housing is front and center in these concerns."

The second annual "How Housing Matters to Families and Communities" received more than 1,350 responses from consumers across all income levels.

Americans are slightly more optimistic compared to one year ago, when 77% of adults surveyed said that they believed the country still was in the middle of the crisis or that the worst was yet to come.

Still, though economic indicators suggest that the housing market is recovering, many apparently believe it remains in crisis because they have had to make sacrifices—such as taking a second job, cutting back on health care or accumulating more credit card debt—to cover their housing costs. That could be because the job market is still weak, living costs are rising and the supply of affordable housing is shrinking.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said that they have made at least one such sacrifice in the past three years to ensure that they can cover their rent or mortgage, the survey found.

Nearly two-thirds of minorities and roughly half of white respondents said that they have made sacrifices to cover housing costs. Among "distressed" home dwellers—those whose housing costs consume at least 30% of their income—62% of owners and 74% of renters have made at least one of these tradeoffs in the past three years.

The survey reinforced last year's findings that attitudes about homeownership and renting have shifted: 43% said it is no longer the case that owning a home is "an excellent long-term investment and one of the best ways for people to build wealth and assets." Another 54% said that buying a home "less appealing than it once was."

In addition, even though 70% of renters say they aspire to own a home, 58% of them believe that "renters can be just as successful as owners at achieving the American dream."

Julia Stasch, MacArthur's vice president of U.S. programs, said the survey's results highlight the need for more affordable housing options for both renters and owners. "The government should take action to invest in both equally," she said in a news release.

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