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Homeownership—American Dream or Nightmare?
In a feature piece, Katy Kelleher looks at the concept of homeownership as part of the American dream and the disconnects between aspirations and reality. She starts by describing various films where the perfect home ends up terrorizing its occupants, a reflection of our tenuous relationship with the idea of homeownership and the burdens it brings:
There are two different tales we tell ourselves about houses. The primary story is not about ghosts or demons or red rooms or ghouls, but rather about bright futures, long lives, children, grandchildren, and hard-earned success. The second story, the darker story, is about the horror of being trapped.
Homeownership was not always an integral part of American culture, she notes. Instead, the narrative shifted in the post-World War II era, when opposition to public housing was on the rise and the suburbs were expanding rapidly. "Suburbia has always been good for industry. Big houses required big appliances and used lots of carbon, creating a ‘hydrocarbon middle-class family’ that was buoyed by three industries: coal, steel, and automaking," says Kelleher.
For Americans today, particularly millennials, owning a home is harder and even out of reach for many. And homeownership is not fulfilling the needs, perceived or actual, that it had in the past. "Perhaps the real American dream is to find a sense of stability, safety, and acceptance. Maybe this is a downsized version of our parents’ American dream, or perhaps it’s just more honest, taking into account all the different stories we’re fed from the outside, and all the private stories we tell ourselves behind closed doors," adds Kelleher.