Rents, mortgages, and tempers are going nowhere but up.

Photo by Breno Assis on Unsplash.

Scant good news for cash-strapped would-be homebuyers and beleaguered renters: “US house price inflation slows in March, FHFA says,” revealed Reuters this morning. “U.S. house price growth slowed sharply in March, likely as rising mortgage rates weighed on demand, data showed on Tuesday.”

“Prices edged up 0.1% in March after surging by an unrevised 1.2% in February, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said in its monthly report on home prices,” continued Reuters. “On a year-over-year basis, prices increased 6.7% in March after advancing 7.1% in February.”

“Existing home sales, which account for the bulk of U.S. house sales, fell in March as the average rate on the popular 30-year fixed-rate mortgage drifted up towards 7%,” added the outlet. “But with housing inventory still well below pre-pandemic levels, house prices could remain elevated for a while. Prices increased 6.6% between the first quarter of this year and the first three months of 2023. They were up 1.1% compared to the fourth quarter.”

While scant good news is still good news, most of the news on housing costs in 2024 remains terrible.

How hard is it to buy a home right now?” Jasmine Cui wrote for NBC News last week. “The new NBC News Home Buyer Index measures the market.”

“Why is it so hard to buy a home? Prices have far outpaced middle-class incomes,” explained Cui. “Mortgage rates are above 7% for the first time since 2002. And 3 out of 10 homes are sold above listing price. But none of those factors fully captures the variety of challenges buyers nationwide face in the current market. The conditions on the ground can vary widely across state and even county lines.”

The most significant housing cost increases are concentrated in swing districts vital to political success in November — which is very unwelcome news for incumbent President Joe Biden.

On the subject of housing costs, the press is mainly devoted— not to what went wrong or anyone’s idea of how to fix it — but to how the subject might impact the outcome of the 2024 election.

Skyrocketing rents and home prices may be pivotal in the 2024 election,” Leigh Ann Caldwell ventured for the Washington Post on Tuesday.

“D. Carter paid $1,525 for rent, cable, and WiFi for her one-bedroom apartment until her monthly rent jumped to $2,100 last year,” began Caldwell. “Unwilling and unable to pay the new rate, Carter, who spoke on the condition that her first name not be used, considered buying but quickly realized that with interest rates hovering around 7 percent, she was priced out.”

“In Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas, median rental prices soared 36 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Caldwell. “Prices started to come down slightly at the beginning of this year but are still 30 percent higher than they were in January 2020, according to Apartment List.”

In worse news: “April ranked among the six least affordable months for buying a home in the last 38 years, according to the mortgage technology division of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), an information clearinghouse, including for mortgage listings,” she added.

“Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who represents North Las Vegas, said he has been imploring Biden and Vice President Harris to make housing ‘front and center’ of their economic agenda and urged Biden to visit Vegas and focus on housing,” she added. “Housing is the ‘pain point’ — the constant reminder of economic stress — that people experience every month, Horsford argues.”

Housing inflation is an enduring specter haunting urban landscapes. Once housing costs ascend, they exhibit a tenacity that defies economic downturns and policy interventions. This stickiness is not merely a matter of market dynamics but an intricate dance involving societal expectations, regulatory frameworks, and investment behaviors.

When housing prices surge, they often reflect a complex interplay of factors: increased demand, limited supply, and speculative investment.

Regulatory measures aimed at cooling the market, such as rent controls or increased housing supply, often have limited success. Rent controls can lead to reduced investment in new housing, exacerbating shortages. Meanwhile, boosting supply is a slow process hindered by zoning laws and community opposition. Thus, the entrenched high costs persist.

The psychological aspect cannot be overlooked: Homeowners and investors become accustomed to high valuations and are reluctant to accept lower returns, reinforcing the price plateau. The result is a market where housing costs remain elevated, making affordability a perennial challenge. In essence, housing inflation’s grip is both an economic and psychological phenomenon, deeply woven into the urban fabric.

“And the housing crisis is particularly affecting Black voters — a constituency Biden needs to win,” revealed Caldwell nervously for the WP. “There is a 34-point gap between Black and White homeownership in Nevada, according to census data examined by The Post. Black homeownership in six battleground states — Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina — was lower in 2022 than it was in 2015.”

The disaffection of working-class would-be homebuyers priced out of the market — and paying significantly more in rent — is providing a feast for conservative media outlets.

Home prices soar to record high, squeezing affordability,” wrote John Carney for the conservative news outlet, Breitbart, this week. “Compared to February, prices in March were up 1.6 percent in the 20-city index before seasonal adjustments. After adjusting for seasonality, the 20-city index rose 0.3 percent. All major metro markets saw month-over-month price increases.”

“The Case-Shiller 10-city index rose 8.2 percent year-over-year in March, up from 8.1 percent in February,” he added. “On a month-to-month basis, the unadjusted index rose 1.6 percent, and the adjusted index rose 0.5 percent.”

“The National Home Price Index shows a 6.5 percent increase from a year ago in March, unchanged from the previous month,” Carney wrote. “It rose 1.3 percent for the month before seasonal adjustment and 0.3 percent after. The National Index reached a new all-time high, the sixth record-breaking high in the last 12 months.”

“San Diego saw the steepest increase with an 11.1 percent annual rise in home prices, followed by New York, Cleveland, and Los Angeles,” Carney went on. “Urban markets remain hot, but soaring prices are shutting out more and more potential buyers.”

Meanwhile, progressive media outlets see the situation differently.

Dems in full-blown ‘freakout’ over Biden,” reported Christopher Cadelago, Sally Goldenberg, and Elena Schneider for POLITICO on Tuesday.

“One adviser to major Democratic Party donors provided a running list that has been shared with funders of nearly two dozen reasons why Biden could lose, ranging from immigration and high inflation to the president’s age, the unpopularity of Vice President Kamala Harris and the presence of third-party candidates like Robert F. Kennedy Jr,” they wrote.

On that list, without a doubt, is the increasingly outrageous cost of housing in America.

“There have been few moments in Biden’s term as president that haven’t been second-guessed, and his aides have made sport of sneering at grim predictions, compiling dossiers of headlines and clips in which the president was underestimated,” Christopher Cadelago, Sally Goldenberg, and Elena Schneider ventured hopefully for POLITICO. “Biden campaign aides and allies point to some positive polls, including in the battlegrounds, and Trump’s comparative lack of campaigning and infrastructure in the key states, including staff, organizing programs and advertising.”

Is this optimistic assessment correct?

Or will voters punish President Joe Biden — and other incumbents — on Election Day?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)