Promoting Homeownership Is Not Only Un-American: It Contributed to the Housing Bubble
From the Forbes.com article "The Un-American Dream":
"For nearly a century it has been the policy of the U.S. government to increase American homeownership. Its efforts include (but aren't limited to) bouts of easy money from the Fed, the mortgage-interest deduction, the exclusion of capital gains on primary residence sales, direct and indirect subsidies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and artificial liquidity pumped into the mortgage market via government sponsored entities Fannie and Freddie.
Policymakers assure us that the next generation of government housing programs will be "carefully designed" (bring on the next five-year plan, Comrade!). But the real question is why the government should be doing anything to promote homeownership.
"I do believe in the American Dream," said President Bush in 2002. "Owning a home is a part of that dream, it just is. Right here in America, if you own your own home, you're realizing the American dream." Bush was echoing a theme that reaches back at least to Herbert Hoover: When the government encourages homeownership, the story goes, it strengthens individuals and communities and thereby fosters the American Dream. They're wrong. A government crusade to promote homeownership is un-American.
America's distinction is that it was the first nation founded on the principle that you have a right to pursue your own happiness without government interference. But the government's homeownership crusade means it gets to decide how you should live, and stick-and-carrot you into living that way.
Here's the real lesson: The American Dream is not some government-subsidized house foisted on you by George W. Bush or Barney Frank. It's the undiluted freedom to decide how you want to live--and, if you want to own a home, it's the freedom to work, save, establish credit, and earn one. In America, the government's job is to protect our freedom to pursue our values, not to dictate what our values are. Its homeownership policy should be the same as its toaster oven policy: laissez-faire.
Government intervention in housing runs deep, and it can't be eliminated overnight. But the government should make its long-term goal to fully extricate itself from the housing market. It can then start gradually dismantling Fannie, Freddie, tax preferences for homeowners, and every other government housing program."
MP: You can add the government's role in promoting fixed-rate 30-year mortgages, and subsidizing FHA mortgages that only require a 3.5% down payment to the list of policies that the government has used to increase homeownership.
The chart above shows how the political promotion of homeownership in the U.S. may have contributed to the housing bubble. The blue line is the quarterly homeownership rate from the Census Bureau (data here) going back to 1991, which went from 64% in the early 1990s to a record high of more than 69% in 2004. During that same time period, the Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) Home Price Index (data here) doubled from 100 in 1991 to 200 in 2005, before reaching a peak of more than 222 at the height of the real estate bubble in 2007.
In the aftermath of the real estate bubble's crash, the homeownership rate has fallen to a 10-year low of 66.9% (QII 2010) and the FHFA home price has fallen back to 2004 levels. Promoting homeownership is not only un-American, but it helped create an unsustainable real estate bubble, which turned the "American dream" into an "American nightmare" for millions of Americans by turning "good renters into terrible homeowners."