Time To Scrutinize Excesses of Home Ownership
Americans may disagree about nearly everything, but few contest the idea that owning your home is a good thing. Paeans to homeownership are a commonplace for American politicians, and, since the 1930s, public policy has been designed to make home buying cheaper and easier. Homeownership, the argument goes, has tremendous social benefits, stabilizing neighborhoods and making people more willing to invest in their communities.
Homeownership also impedes the economy’s readjustment by tying people down. From a social point of view, it’s beneficial that homeownership encourages commitment to a given town or city. But, from an economic point of view, it’s good for people to be able to leave places where there’s less work and move to places where there’s more. Homeowners are much less likely to move than renters, especially during a downturn, when they aren’t willing (or can’t afford) to sell at market prices. As a result, they often stay in towns even after the jobs leave. And reluctance to move not only keeps unemployment high in struggling areas but makes it hard for businesses elsewhere to attract the workers they need to grow.
With the bursting of the housing bubble, though, it’s time not just to scrutinize the excesses of our home-buying process but to recognize the risks and costs inherent in owning a home. Sometimes the price—for the home buyer and for the economy as a whole—is too high to pay.
~Home Economics by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker