Why Owning a House May Not Be the American Dream

Lots of societies outside of America seem to have a preference for home-ownership. I have spoken to policy makers and scholars in several countries–India, Bangladesh, South Africa, Peru–about the importance of a well functioning rental sector.  Rental housing allows for mobility, and for people to use savings to invest in such things as small businesses.  Rental housing is also a way for small entrepreneurs to earn a return on investment.

Yet everywhere I go, I am told that people don’t want to rent, they want to own.  The principal reason seems to be security of tenure; in places where enforcement of contracts remain an issue, fear of abuse by landlords sours people on renting as an option.  And so it is that people want to be owners.

Many countries in Western Europe–Germany and Switzerland in particular–do not have fetishes about homeownership.  But tenant protections in these countries are strong (see this piece on Germany and this piece on security of tenure beyond lease terms in Switzerland), so renting is sort of “owning-light” in these countries.

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About Richard K. Green 103 Articles

Affiliation: University of Southern California

Richard K. Green, Ph.D., is the Director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. He holds the Lusk Chair in Real Estate and is Professor in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

Prior to joining the USC faculty, Dr. Green spent four years as the Oliver T. Carr, Jr., Chair of Real Estate Finance at The George Washington University School of Business. He was Director of the Center for Washington Area Studies and the Center for Real Estate and Urban Studies at that institution. Dr. Green also taught real estate finance and economics courses for 12 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was Wangard Faculty Scholar and Chair of Real Estate and Urban Land Economics. He also has been principal economist and director of financial strategy and policy analysis at Freddie Mac.

His research addresses housing markets, housing policy, tax policy, transportation, mortgage finance and urban growth. He is a member of two academic journal editorial boards, and a reviewer for several others.

His work is published in a number of journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Journal of Urban Economics, Land Economics, Regional Science and Urban Economics, Real Estate Economics, Housing Policy Debate, Journal of Housing Economics, and Urban Studies.

His book with Stephen Malpezzi, A Primer on U.S. Housing Markets and Housing Policy, is used at universities throughout the country. His work has been cited or he has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and the Economist, as well as other outlets.

Dr. Green earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his A.B. in economics from Harvard University.

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