It was Thomas Jefferson who first solidified the vision of homeownership as the foundation of American democracy. He saw it as the antidote to European aristocracy, which perpetuated itself by keeping land in the hands of the nobility. Jefferson’s radical proposal would have given 50 acres of land to every free person in his home state of Virginia.
This particular dream was never realized. Its spirit lived on, however, inspiring subsequent generations as they carved up and settled the frontier. It probably helped that the majority of the frontier, the Louisiana Purchase, was acquired by one President Thomas Jefferson. So the man who dreamt of a nation of homeowners supplied the land to make it affordable.
These days, since the collapse of the housing bubble, it may seem that the American dream is as dead as Jefferson himself. Homeownership has come under attack as a dangerous policy goal that siphons money from worthier investments and distorts the market.
But this is a gross generalization that overlooks several important facts.
For one thing, the homeownership rate peaked in 2004, just as the bubble was getting started. For another, a large body of research has now proven beyond a shadow of doubt that affordable housing policies focused on making sure there was equal access to credit did not cause the crazy run-up in prices. But most importantly, the reasons that home matters are as true today as they were in 1776.
The founding fathers were right. Where a person lives affects how they live. Homeowners are more likely to vote, to participate in their communities, and to lead satisfying lives. Owning an affordable home makes them healthier, wealthier, and smarter. Its benefits spillover into their surroundings and multiply down through the generations.
“The founding fathers were right. Where a person lives affects how they live.”TWEET THIS
But homeownership isn’t for everyone. It’s a life choice, and not always the best one. Home matters for everyone, whether they own or rent. The real American dream ought to be a stable, affordable home for every kind of household. That is the vision of this blog – to start to re-define the American Dream in America.
You have come here because you care about home. You are not alone. I care about home too.
I suppose I’ve always cared about home—I had the good fortune to grow up in a nurturing middle-class home in southern New Jersey—but it wasn’t until I was at Stanford and working for a community-based organization in East Palo Alto that I started believing that individual actions could help the many Americans that didn’t have access to the stability and affordability that my family had enjoyed.
At Stanford, at the Federal Reserve, and later as Assistant Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, I investigated and combated the constraints standing in the way of the American dream for all and met many other researchers and policymakers pursuing the same goal. This blog will explore our findings, and highlight things we all can do in taking on this great challenge.
Home Matters® is a new and exciting ally in this fight. I am partnering with them in producing this blog because they believe what I believe: home is more than housing and shelter. It’s about the environment that affects the choices we make in life and who we become. It is the foundation for our our health, our education, our individual success, our public safety and our economy.
These elements are the building blocks of our society. As our nation changes, so too will the demands they place on our homes. An aging population, to give one example, requires homes equipped to ease health burdens. Stay tuned for more on this issue in my next blog post. You will quickly find that there is no shortage of ways that home matters.
And that is why we must talk about it. As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
For too long, we have been silent about the costs and benefits of pursuing the New American dream and the millions of households it eludes. It is time to speak.
Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800)” by Rembrandt Peale Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Martin-Luther-King-1964-leaning-on-a-lectern” by Trikosko, Marion S. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsc.01269. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons