In his latest economic outlook report, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, Doug Duncan, forecasts a modest improvement in housing activity this year. Though the number of distressed homes on the market continues to put pressure on prices, Duncan writes that high housing affordability and still-low mortgage rates should help lift the market in the second half of the year. He is forecasting a 6 percent increase in existing-home sales this year and expects the median price to finish 2011 at $163,600. Duncan believes mortgage rates will rise slightly but remain historically low, which along with improvement in the labor market, should lead to positive gains for housing. More here and here.

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