Friday, June 3, 2011

In 13 states, "low-income" just fell.

HUD's Area Median Incomes, which qualify people for a raft of housing programs, are actually lower in 13 states for the coming fiscal year.

This is bad news for the struggling and mixed news for the very poor. It means if your income is high and your debts are also high, a housing program has that much less chance of reducing your expenses. On the other hand, if your income is just plain very low, you have that much less competition for available units. But on the third hand, these limits feed into what landlords and developers are willing and able to rent to people at all, and isn't public-private partnership a joy to figure out?

Anyway, it's kind of morbidly fascinating to see where the income limits fell. From 2010 to 2011, the main family median income figure -- basically for a household of four -- fell in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee. Also in the U.S. as a whole, median family income officially dropped from $64,400 to $64,200. Biggest declines are in Florida and Michigan, by $3200 each.

Now, some of that could be a change in methodology. They're using new kinds of data from the American Community Survey (ACS) at the Census Bureau. Some of it is actually kind of old data, from 2005-2009, so the FAQ implicitly warns that people in areas that have suffered can expect further drops as the hell of more recent years makes its orderly way through the data pipeline. Also, HUD ended what it calls a "'hold harmless' policy" of letting medians rise but not fall. Now they can either fall or rise up to 5 percent a year.

So looking at that list of states, we have the places with the earliest real estate slumps -- AZ, CA, FL, NV -- and a chunk of the South, and a chunk of the Midwest Rust Belt. It's a surprise, though, to see that most of the sparse interior rangeland states are absent from this list. Wonder why? Were people and property values close enough to the ground there all along, so they skipped the Icarus business?


  1. There's a great animation of the entire country from 2007ish-present, displaying the unemployment rate by county. It shows the area from the Rockies to the Mississippi as either unaffected or lightly and lately affected, despite that area being a heterogeneous strip including North Dakota, Arkansas and Texas. Certainly real estate prices did not rise in that area during the bubble--at least not by comparison to the coasts and mountain states--but could the different employment prospects be part of the explanation?

  2. Hey Ben, thanks for stopping by. Do you mean the one at Slate published in 2009?

    The HUD income limits do follow from income statistics rather than housing cost statistics but, as you hint, they really ought to be based on the distance between the two.