Friday, December 23, 2011

To All The Statistics, Peace



This chart appeared a few days ago in an article about the housing market. It shows vacant houses, the bottom line, doubling, from roughly 1.5 million to 3 million, as the economy worsens and as the banks throw more people out of their homes. In articles like these, that's not how it's said. It's said that homes are foreclosed on, or even better, that 'foreclosure rates increase.' In the chart, it's "home vacancy rate."


Whatever your outlook, it's an interesting chart, to me. For one thing it shows how we think about things, and how people become statistics.

Another thing about the chart that interests me is the relationship between the two lines. You might conclude that as people are thrown out of houses, they either become homeless, or move in with others, or that they move into rental housing.

One of the Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney, awhile back in two or three breezy sentences explained how the increases in foreclosures was an investment opportunity. Investors will buy up the foreclosed upon homes, he said, and rent them out to people who had lost homes.  Everyone would be happy.


That scenario is reflected in the charts, in the statistics, although there is some lag time before rental vacancy rates start to nosedive, that is, as apartments start to fill up, as there are fewer vacant apartments. You can see that during the worst of the recession, as presented on the chart, the rental vacancy rate actually climbed sharply. People weren't living anywhere. They lived with other people or were homeless.


Eventually the vacancy rate drops. Apartments start filling up. What the scenario doesn't include is the fact that landlords keep an eye on that vacancy rate. Their expenses haven't changed, but when there aren't any vacant apartments left, when you have no place else to go, that's when they raise your rent.

Which means that, statistically speaking, there's more money extracted from the economy. It slows the economic recovery, or speeds up its decline as the case may be. And for people already having a hard time, life gets a little harder.




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