As jobs evaporated and housing values plummeted during the Great Recession, owning a house became a burden that many Americans, feeling stuck in place with an underwater mortgage or in an area with limited job prospects, wanted to unload.
That situation was thought to be even more troublesome for those who lived in poor neighborhoods, where subprime lending and job losses combined to create clusters of foreclosures and even greater declines in home values.
But a recently released study by the Urban Institute found instead that homeownership seemed to offer some level of financial protection during the downturn to these Americans living in high-poverty areas.
In “Coping with the Great Recession: Disparate Impacts on Economic Well-Being in Poor Neighborhoods,” researchers examined housing choices and employment rates in high-poverty neighborhoods across the country and the impact of homeownership.
Obviously, fewer poor Americans own homes; just 36% of families in such areas were homeowners in 2007 and 2009 compared to families living in wealthier areas, where the homeownership rate was nearly 70%.
Like many Americans, families living in poor communities struggled during the Great Recession. More than 20% of homeowners in high-poverty neighborhoods were dealing with the threat of foreclosure or were in foreclosure in 2009, according to the data used in the Urban Institute study.
But despite these high levels of financial stress, the vast majority managed to hang on to their homes. “About 90% of 2007 homeowners [in high-poverty neighborhoods] remained homeowners, a result consistent with other asset-building studies showing that homeownership promotes automatic savings that could protect high-poverty people from economic shocks,” the study says.
Researchers found that homeowners in these neighborhoods also seemed to fare better in terms of jobs, compared to their renting counterparts. The employment rate for homeowners in poor communities was 71% in 2007 and 69% in 2009, which was higher than for renters. Just 61% of renters in these neighborhoods were employed in 2007, a figure that dropped to 56% by 2009.
For context, the national unemployment rate was 4.6% in 2007 and then 9.3% in 2009.