Homeownership is at a 51-year low — and it’s not getting easier to buy

Years after the housing market imploded, home equity held by U.S. homeowners is closing in on its previous peak even as the total amount of mortgage debt outstanding remains well below past highs.

It’s good news that homeowners have spent the years since the crisis repairing their balance sheets—and that lenders are more prudent. But with the homeownership rate falling to a 51-year low, it’s worth a closer look at the story behind the levels of debt and equity, shown on this chart.

There are many reasons equity rebounded. Home prices nationally have nearly regained their earlier peak: in May, Case-Shiller’s national Home Price Index was just 2.1% shy of the 2006 high.

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