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Is home ownership still the American dream?

Research has consistently shown the importance of the housing sector on the economy and the long-term social and financial benefits to individual homeowners. The economic benefits of the housing market and home ownership are immense and well documented. The housing sector directly accounted for approximately 15 percent of total economic activity in 2018. In addition to tangible financial benefits, home ownership brings substantial social benefits for families, communities, and the country as a whole. Home ownership has been an essential element of the American Dream for decades and continues to be so even today.

Owning a home embodies the promise of individual autonomy and is the aspiration of most American households. Home ownership allows households to accumulate wealth and social status, and is the basis for a number of positive social, economic, family and civic outcomes. Two-thirds of all U.S. households who own their home currently are enjoying these benefits. The positive social benefits from home ownership and stable housing are compelling. There is evidence from numerous studies that attest to the benefits accruing to many segments of society. Home ownership boosts the educational performance of children, induces higher participation in civic and volunteering activity, improves health care outcomes, lowers crime rates and lessens welfare dependency. Owning a home is different from renting. With the home purchase comes the pride of ownership and the sense of belonging in a community where one has a financial stake in the neighborhood.

Perhaps, homeowners are “happier” just from having achieved the so-called “American Dream” — a sense of accomplishment, a milestone. Also, ownership entails greater individual responsibility. As discussed above, home ownership requires a large (if not the largest) financial outlay of a person’s life and often requires the responsibility of a mortgage. Therefore, it is a long-term commitment, which may alter human behavior.

Public policy makers would be wise to consider the immense social and emotional benefits of home ownership for families, local communities and the nation. And now that our economy is recovering and we’re picking up the pieces of a financial meltdown, we’re seeing a psychological shift. We are realizing our homes are emotional and critical components of our lives and that they help us define who we are. We can see this strongly in the words of some of our most patriotic songs we have always been emotionally tied to our properties and to our homes.

For example:

l “The Star Spangled Banner”: “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

l “America the Beautiful”: “O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!”

l “God Bless the USA”: “‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land. God Bless the U.S.A.”;

l “America My Country Tis of Thee”: “My country, ’tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty Of thee I sing; Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrims’ pride, From every mountainside, Let Freedom ring.”

Instead of looking at homes through the eyes of an economist, we’re realizing that a home doesn’t solely equate to financial return or measure only to a mortgage amount. Instead the home is the emotional center of our lives, and it remains a critical component of who we are.

If you’re in the market for a new home …or thinking about selling your current home, call a Realtor today from the Warren Area Board of Realtors to help you find your American Dream home. Their value and expertise will ensure a professional home buying / selling experience.

Cunningham is the 2020 president of the Warren Area Board of Realtors.

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