Karlet Hewitt decided to make major lifestyle changes after experiencing the shocks of the pandemic: the income hit, the confinement, the view of the padlocked park through her third-floor apartment window. In February, Ms. Hewitt — a single mother to a 9-year-old boy — left Mount Vernon, N.Y., and headed south.
“The goal for me was to buy a home in North Carolina because it was a better market,” she said. But Ms. Hewitt burned through a lot of her savings as she refocused her event-planning business on virtual gatherings, all while home prices shot up.
“Now,” she said, “how does one even entertain this?”
Even without the benefit of a second earner, single mothers — those who have never married — have made up a growing share of home buyers over the past three decades. Although they still lag single fathers and married couples, a quarter of single mothers were homeowners in 2019 — roughly double the rate in 1990, according to a recent report from the Urban Institute.
But the pandemic threatens to dampen that progress, experts said. Women have borne the brunt of the job losses over the last year and a half, while also shouldering most of the child-care responsibilities — an acute challenge for single mothers, especially those with young children. At the same time, the housing market has grown highly competitive: Prices of single-family homes rose nearly 20 percent in August, the latest data available, from a year earlier, according to S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller’s National Home Price Index.
“Covid was definitely harder on some households, especially single women with children,” said Jun Zhu, a co-author of the Urban Institute report and a clinical assistant professor with the finance department at Indiana University. “It is possible the pandemic can undo that progress.”
Homeownership is often viewed as a sign of financial stability, with good reason: It ensures that housing costs remain predictable even as rents and inflation rise. And though homeownership is not risk-free, it generally provides a growing store of wealth that can be tapped later or passed on to the next generation.
“Homeownership is an extremely important part of people’s savings and wealth accumulation, especially for middle-income or median households,” said Kelly Shue, a professor of finance at the Yale School of Management.
Ms. Shue analyzed government survey data from 1989 through 2016 and found that, among households with median savings, homes accounted for 70 percent of single women’s wealth near retirement, compared with 50 percent for single men and roughly 60 percent for married …….