Owning A Home: Still The American Dream? Foreclosures and lousy credit markets are forcing many people to reconsider -- and maybe redefine -- the American dream of homeownership. Guest host Audie Cornish discusses the situation with Alyssa Katz, author of the book Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us.

Owning A Home: Still The American Dream?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129348365/129348363" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


An illiquid, very large, concentrated, leveraged asset? That's not how Americans usually describe their homes. So has the financial crisis put a dent in the American dream of homeownership?

I put that question to Alyssa Katz. She's the author of "Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us."

Ms. ALYSSA KATZ (Author, "Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us"): What it has meant is that homeownership has gone from being pretty much an unmitigated good - something that would provide, you know, stability - and instead has thrown a huge cloud of doubt over the value of homeownership for a lot of people.

CORNISH: And it's interesting because for a long time, when people did the sort of pros and cons list of buying a home versus renting, at the end of the list, it always seemed very clear that renting just wasn't the smartest option.

Ms. KATZ: Right. Well, I mean, some of the common beliefs about renting are absolutely true. I'll start with the negatives, right? The negative being a renter has very little security. They don't have any promise that they'll be able to live in the apartment or home for more than a year or two.

Renting is also perceived as something that really divides Americans by class. So I think for a lot of potential renters, or people who own or are thinking of making that transition to renting, they have to overcome this sense that they are giving up a sense of status.

And I think for a lot of Americans, that's very difficult to give up.

CORNISH: So the psychological factors - sort of the pride of owning your own home and that once you have done that, you've sort of arrived - it seems like that intrinsic idea, you don't expect that to shift.

Ms. KATZ: Oh, I don't think that intrinsic idea will shift at all. And I think, in fact, the trajectory we're seeing is that the privileges of ownership are only going to solidify - that those who have access to ownership and the benefits that it brings as a result of policy will be privileged even more than they are now, because they will be relatively fewer in number. And you see owners using their own status of ownership to surround themselves with other owners and push renters out.

So I think what we'll see in a lot of communities are increasing tensions.

CORNISH: So the question for the future, then, it sounds like, is access: who's going to be part of this ownership class, and will that change.

Ms. KATZ: Yeah, future questions entirely about access. And I think that this discussion that has now come center stage - about what to do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - that is really the central question in this discussion. Will homeownership remain something that is broadly accessible because of low down payments, low interest rates, support for lenders to take a chance on someone who has never bought this big an asset before? Or will the politics lead to shrinking of who has access to homeownership? And then the question becomes, well, what do we do, as a country, for renters to make renting a better experience?

CORNISH: That's Alyssa Katz. She's the author of the book, "Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us." She joined us from our studios in New York.

Alyssa, thanks so much for coming in.

Ms. KATZ: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.