Washington, Stop Promoting Homeownership

Steven Malanga looks back at a century of efforts by Washington to promote homeownership, which he says 'has produced one calamity after another.'
May 8, 2009, 1pm PDT | Tim Halbur
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"The ideal of homeownership has become so sacrosanct, it seems, that we never learn from these disasters. Instead, we clean them up and then-as if under some strange compulsion-set in motion the mechanisms of the next housing catastrophe.

And that's exactly what we're doing once again. As Washington grapples with the current mortgage crisis, advocates from both parties are already warning the feds not to relax their commitment to expanding homeownership-even if that means reviving the very kinds of programs and institutions that got us into trouble. Not even the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression can cure us of our obsessive housing disorder.

We've largely forgotten that Herbert Hoover, as secretary of commerce, initiated the first major Washington campaign to boost homeownership. His motivation was the 1920 census, which had revealed a small dip in ownership rates since 1910-from 45.9 percent to 45.6 percent of all households. The downturn was likely the result of a temporary diversion of resources away from housing during World War I. For Hoover, though, the apocalypse seemed nigh."

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Published on Friday, May 8, 2009 in City Journal
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