From Plymouth Rock to the moment Lucy and Ricky decided to leave their rented apartment for a house in the suburbs, homeownership has been a positive narrative. That’s changed in the past quarter century.
As if the negative press associated with suburban sprawl weren’t bad enough, housing is a leading indicator of what’s turned sour in our economy, and the American pursuit of homeownership has been implicated as the prime culprit behind the Great Recession. Clearly, those of us who provide this nation’s housing need a new narrative. Here are some thoughts as to how that narrative might run:
Density. Americans may not want to know who lives next door, but they don’t want to live in isolation. Not surprisingly, multifamily construction and the repurposing of existing industrial and commercial buildings for housing have emerged as some of the few bright spots in the current market.
Access to public transportation. The next generation will be less inclined to suffer the two-hour daily commutes of their parents. Not surprisingly, those houses closest to mass transit have been among the most successful in holding their value when the rest of the market collapsed. This will continue and accelerate, perhaps even growing a powerful constituency for investment in mass transit.
High performance. New products and systems to heat and cool our homes are coming on line, but energy efficiency also will be designed into our homes. Being able to prove that the operation of a house does not require paying ever increasing energy bills will be a plus for the buyer and seller.
Universal design. We’re all growing older. We want to age in familiar surroundings instead of being forced to live with our children or in a retirement home. Look for new housing more sensitive to the needs of the elderly. Both prospective buyers and sellers will factor this in their calculation of what a house is worth.
Nothing here points to abandoning the dream of homeownership. Instead, it’s an emerging narrative of the persistence of the American dream.aia