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September 9, 2008

Homeownership: America's Sacred Cow

john-rennie-short-at-podium.jpgSo the feds had to step in to save Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It was probably the right thing to do. But at the heart of the housing crisis is the encouragement of owner occupation as the nation's sole housing policy.

Owner occupation is not all that great. It is dependent on an always growing economy, an always expanding middle class and fixed equation of limited supply and rising demand.

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So the feds had to step in to save Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It was probably the right thing to do.

But at the heart of the housing crisis is the encouragement of owner occupation as the nation's sole housing policy. We encourage it, spend taxpayers' money on it and now bail out the agencies that lubricate the flow of mortgages.

Owner occupation is not all that great. It is expensive, taxpayers subsidize it, it takes up a lot of time- all that grass mowing and maintenance- and as recent events show equity can disappear.

Owner occupation only works when jobs are secure, incomes rise and house prices always increase. All these things are less assured. The good old days will never return. Job insecurity for most people will increase, incomes will stagnate and house prices will fluctuate rather than steadily rise.

Owner occupation is a riskier housing policy the more it is pushed on lower and lower income households. It is dependent on an always growing economy, an always expanding middle class and fixed equation of limited supply and rising demand.

We need to think afresh about our commitment to owner occupation and look seriously at some of the alternatives. As recent events have brought home - It is not that great.

Posted by kavan at September 9, 2008 2:41 PM

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