The National Association of Realtors (NAR) recently released a very interesting report on housing affordability; one that runs counter to most of the recent studies about this area of the economy.

The fourth annual National Housing Opportunity Pulse is conducted by the NAR's Housing Opportunity Program which seeks to provide Realtors with the tools and information they need to promote community housing opportunities by encouraging local Realtor associations to help consumers gain access to housing.

The 2006 version of the study found that Americans overwhelmingly believe that it is not the purchase price of homes that provide an obstacle to home ownership, rather it is the monthly price of staying in that home. Furthermore, that concern is not necessarily based on the mortgage payment itself, but on the ancillary costs associated with home ownership. By a two-to-one margin Americans think that high monthly payments rather than down payments are the greatest obstacle to buying a home.

Surprisingly, rising property taxes were cited by 34 percent of survey respondents as the leading cost concern associated with owning a home. The second most frequently cited concern - mentioned by 28 percent of those surveyed, was the growing cost of energy. Only 14 percent said that rising interest rates would deter them from becoming homeowners.

The study said that in 2003 the average monthly mortgage payment, including principal and interest, was $840. By April 2005 that figure had risen to $1,015, an increase of 23.8 percent. One year later that figure had risen another 11.5 to $1,132. These are painful increases but they are just the beginning.

NAR quotes Energy Information Administration comparisons for February 2006 and February 2006: electric costs were up 12 percent for the period; natural gas increased 28 percent; home heating oil (the principal heating source in the Northeast) rose 25 percent. Furthermore, according to the Census Bureau, state and local property taxes which averaged $969 in fiscal 2002 and $985 in 2003 were $1,121 per person (sic) in 2004.

NAR found that more than 42 percent of Americans ranked the lack of affordable housing in their communities as one of their top three concerns. However, 82 percent cited high energy costs and 53 percent were concerned about the lack of affordable health care. Nearly one-third are concerned that they will never be able to buy a home and 58 percent feel that the cost of housing is becoming a drag on their local economy.

Americans are also concerned that their children or other family members will be shut out of housing in their own communities. Fifty seven percent cited this as a concern and 48 percent were worried that they or their family members will be forced to live in less desirable areas due to the cost of housing.

The concern about affordable housing is spilling over into rental property. Sixty eight percent of survey respondents feel that even renting a home is becoming too difficult for local families - an increase of 7 percent in a year. As a response to this, a remarkable 80 percent of Americans are now willing to support more affordable homes in their local communities and 68 percent would be more likely to vote for candidates who pledged to make housing more affordable. The latter is a six percent increase in the last two years.

USA Today, commenting on the NAR study said that "One big risk is that the affordability crisis could accelerate the growing chasm between rich and poor, making that gap harder to cross."