A Home of One’s Own

May 29, 2010 10:34

A thorough review of the causes of the housing crisis.



No matter what the federal government does, the desire to own a home will continue to burn in most Americans’ hearts. That desire is an inseparable piece of the larger American Dream, and it generally makes good practical, social, and economic sense. Nor is it reasonable to expect government to abandon completely its role in the housing-credit markets, which are essential to the nation’s economic health.

But it is time to start reminding ourselves that the dream must be tethered to reality. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that home ownership is not for everyone, and that renting is a perfectly reasonable — in fact, preferable — option for people in some circumstances. It is simply not rational to expect that the line on the home-ownership chart can or should keep rising until it reaches 100%.

As John Dean wrote 65 years ago, “For some families some houses represent wise buys, but a culture and real estate industry that give blanket endorsement to ownership fail to indicate which families and which houses.” In 1945, Dean was bucking the tide. But in the wake of the Great Recession, his wise words offer a message that our policymakers need to hear once again.

Vincent J. Cannato is an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and his Struggle to Save New York and American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.


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