The Blue-State Housing Bubble
Another housing bubble is beginning to burst. Its financial characteristics are different from the 2007-8 housing bubble but it shares one thing in common -- that it is caused by government policies.
The 2007 bubble was caused by the Federal government insisting on home loan qualification standards changes. Buyers who were not qualified to obtain traditional home loans were encouraged and even subsidized to get loans in states such as IL, CA, NJ, PA, and all other areas. The details of these changes were documented by Pinto and Wallison.
The bubble burst because the easy money home loan qualification changes created two prongs of financial instability: 1) persons who were not qualified were allowed to obtain mortgages and 2) the easy money policies rapidly escalated home prices and placed many mortgage holders underwater when the artificially high housing prices crashed.
This bubble now being created in the biggest Blue states, while being driven by government policy, has a completely different financial dynamic. This dynamic is best understood by looking at the financial condition of Illinois.
The financial insolvency of Illinois is directly linked to its public-sector pension system. The unfunded public pension liability of the state is $251 billion. But that one fact is only part of the story. In addition to having this unfunded pension liability, the state now dedicates one-fourth of its annual state budget to pension costs. In order to finance the ongoing demands of the public pension system (Illinois has 650 pension plans throughout the state) the state seizes state grant money and state funds lawfully appropriated to pay for public services throughout the state and puts those into the pension fund located in the state capital, Springfield. Since there are 4.8 million households in Illinois the average household owes $52,269 to the unfunded pension costs, and these go up every hour. And in addition to that one-fourth of the Illinois state budget goes to pensions.
The amount of money the state has seized from public services can be seen by the fact that in 2016 the state owed vendors $15.9 billion and another $2.8 billion was seized from funds allocated to pay for health care vendors. This means the state literally seizes lawfully appropriated funds from state-mandated health care programs such as nursing homes and medication and places them in its pension fund.
Illinois has two state statutes that allow the state to seize both state grant money passed by the General Assembly allocated for state grants and another statute that allows the pension fund to seize state funds.
In addition to these seized state funds, the Illinois Policy Institute, a watchdog group in Illinois, audited all 110-plus cities of Illinois and found that in the ten biggest cities, including Chicago, all the property taxes people pay go only to pay pensions, not to fund public services such as water and sewer, police and fire protection, and other essential services.
The core issue then is whether the demand for property-tax revenue made by the public pension plans will have an effect on housing values, and if this effect will be strong enough to create a housing bubble.
The best illustration of the current housing bubble can be seen with a specific example. I know a person on the northwest side of Chicago, a middle-class neighborhood, who recently received, in his July 2018 property tax bill, a raise of $10,000 on his annual tax payment. This was not a raise in the assessed value of his house, this was a raise in the tax that is due. The house is 2,200 square feet and since the owner now wants to sell the house, it was recently assessed as having a fair market value of $348,000. Before this $10K property tax increase, the property tax bill of the house was already at $13,800. So if anyone wants to buy a house worth $348,000 they have to pay $1,983 per month in property taxes. The mortgage will be about $1,350. per month, so the total payment will be $3,333 a month for a house worth $348K. And each year the property tax will only go up.
What this means is that anyone who buys this house will already be paying a 7% property tax rate on the market value of the house. That monthly property tax bill normally is for a house worth $1.2 million dollars at a 2% property tax rate. No matter how one looks at this, it is foolish for a person to pay a property tax bill for a $348K house when at a 2% tax rate they could have a house worth $1.2 million. While this is a quick back-of-the-envelope financial analysis, the trend is clear: Illinois has the highest tax burden of any state.
This is the bubble: homeowners are losing most, if not all, of the equity they have in their homes. And once again it is being done by government. This time it is not the federal government that is changing home mortgage loan lending standards but the Illinois state pension fund that is literally seizing home equity value to pay their pension demands. And while this is happening, Illinois wastes over one billion dollars on interest needed to service what they've borrowed.
To understand how great the demand for tax revenue is in Illinois consider the fact that the largest pensions go to retirees from SURS the State University Retirement System. The actual facts from Taxpayers United show that of the 200 top pensions going to university retirees, the lowest is $199,000 per year and the highest is $581,000 a year. This is not a projection, this is the information from 2017. To finance these pensions, young people who take out student loans are also seeing a drop in their long-term incomes. The Illinois Policy Institute reported that in Illinois public universities, half of the tuition goes to pensions. So when students graduate from an Illinois public university, half their monthly student loan payment will go to extravagant pensions, and the voters of Illinois have no say in these pensions.
This means these graduates have less money to purchase a home. As a result, the young people in Illinois are the largest age group that is fleeing the state. They see the writing on the wall and cannot imagine they could ever afford a home and family in Illinois. More than 80% of Illinois counties saw population losses in 2017.
The bubble is bursting right now in Illinois and in CA, PA, MA, CT, NJ, NY, and all other big Blue states. California alone has a half-trillion-dollar unfunded pension liability. The financial mechanics are the same and cannot be stopped.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.