Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alyssa Katz

Alyssa Katz is the author of Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us.

From her Q & A with Mark Schone at Salon:

Isn't homeownership actually good for you? I thought it was the panacea for almost all social ills, it drove the crime rate down, educational achievement up, and so on.

Yes, well, homeownership is only as good as the amount of home you actually own, and I think the big problem in the last generation or so is that Americans have turned to more and more and more debt to reach for the American dream.

There's a lot of great examples out there -- the Nehemiah homes that transformed East New York in Brooklyn from a really devastated and dangerous place to someplace that's still really poor and has a high crime rate but has an opportunity to really grow and have a stable bunch of families really invested in building a home there. So all that's great. Certainly there's a lot of evidence that homeowners do tend to stay in one place for longer, their kids perform better in school. They tended to be more involved in local politics, community affairs, and block cleanups. The problem is, it's very hard to separate out the effects of homeownership itself from the fact that people who have a certain economic or social standing are more likely statistically to be homeowners in the first place.

Does this mean that we shouldn't actively encourage homeownership, using government money or government policy?

I think there's nothing wrong with using government money, policy, pressure, all those tools to make homeownership more of a possibility than it would otherwise be in the marketplace, simply because the market left to its own devices discriminates aggressively. It rewards people who already have wealth, who have already had a leg up economically, and it's great to give other people the opportunity as well.

The problem is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue