The End of the American Dream?

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, In The News
Homeownership in Decline? Photo from Eureka Heritage Association

Homeownership in Decline? Photo from Eureka Heritage Association

I was thirty when I bought my first house. Growing up during the ’60s and ’70s, I was infused with the notion that we were all supposed to work to own our own homes; it was one of the steps to achieving success in life. The country was prosperous during the ’60s and every family I knew lived in homes they could call their own.  I believe the ’50s and ’60s were when people first started equating home ownership with living the American Dream. My parents bought their first home in 1956 and have owned a home ever since.

I rented before I bought my first house, and I was never happy with that concept; it always felt like I had no roots and was just passing through. I had grown up in an old house that my father was constantly improving, and I wasn’t comfortable living in a rented place I couldn’t work on. The third house I purchased is the old house I have lived in for the past twenty years, and during those twenty years this old house has become a part of who I am. I don’t think I could say that if I had rented all that time.

Home Ownership is Trending Downward

An article in USA Today reports that if all the foreclosures currently in the system happen, home ownership in this country will reach the lowest level since 1960. Considering how much our population has increased since 1960, I find that report to be almost unbelievable–and also very sad. I know that home ownership isn’t for everyone. Many families aren’t sure how long they are going to live in an area and some people just prefer that someone else worry about maintenance. Tougher lending standards are keeping some families from buying–or at least delaying the purchase–until they have saved enough money.  This can be a good thing, as home ownership takes a certain maturity level, and if you have to work to achieve the American Dream, I think you appreciate it more.

Home Ownership by the Numbers

Time Magazine had a recent article that used a financial formula to determine if renting or buying was the best decision in certain areas of the country. It was interesting reading and made good financial sense, but to me owning my old house isn’t about numbers or long term investments. I own a house because I want a place that I can call my own, a place that reflects who I am and contains the history of the old house owners who came before me. I want a place that I can work on in my spare time and turn into my own personal version of the American Dream.  I think it’s sad that many families are never going to experience that feeling.