American Dream of Home Ownership Turning Sour

Florida apartment building By David Wilkening

With residential real estate showing record declines, is the long established American dream of owning a large single-family home a dying concept? Experts from coast to coast say there are signs the dream is at least threatened.

The American dream of home ownership has turned sour for many. The evidence is everywhere in the decline of single-family homes. Last year, in many areas of the country, building permits for multifamily housing including apartments and condos exceeded permits issued for houses and town homes. It’s a growing trend that has only been evident in the past couple of years.

“Years of skyrocketing real estate prices and low-paying jobs have placed the American dream of home ownership out of reach for much of Broward County, Florida,” concluded a study commissioned by the Broward Housing Partnership.

On the other side of the country, in San Diego, the California dream of home ownership is also fading for many. The goal of owning a single-family home with your own private yard is often being replaced by condos and townhouses with shared amenities.

Sixty-nine percent of new homes sold are now condos and townhouses. “That is the future of San Diego,” says Steve Doyle, a California homebuilder. Cost-conscious builders nationwide are increasingly more inclined to look at smaller lots and multi-family housing.

Construction of high-rises and higher density buildings are more common. “You will see more and more high-rises,” according to architect Mark W. Steele. “You are going to see more neighborhoods more intense, with different levels of densities.”

“Owning a home is the classic American dream,” wrote U.S. News, citing studies showing the many benefits such as children of homeowners doing better in school, and communities overall becoming more prosperous. The pressures to own your own home have clearly been evident in recent years with strong political influences. Even government officials such as President George W. Bush have been urging more Americans to embrace home ownership.

“For millions of our citizens, the American Dream starts with owning a home,” said the president in one such speech. “Home ownership gives people a sense of pride and independence and confidence for the future.”

“Owning your own home is the bedrock of the American dream,” recently wrote economist and gadabout Ben Stein. “”Walking into your own home, seeing your own dogs waiting for you there is a major blessing.” In looking for silver linings, he said the mortgage market meltdown does enable many buyers to achieve the American dream of home ownership.

Another prominent economist, Adam Lashinksy, acknowledges that home ownership is good, but raises the question whether creative financing has gone way too far. “The only way these creative loans worked was if home values kept appreciating. The professionals knew it wouldn’t last forever,” he says.The economist urges that future loans follow far stricter guidelines with the bottom line that they are issued only to those who can obviously afford the payments.

“Is it just possible that we as a country pushed too hard to make everyone think they should own a home?” he asks.