Back when I was 10 years old, the principal of my elementary school called a student assembly and made a major announcement. In order to foster a degree of responsibility and maturity among the student body, the principal decided to install a suggestion box outside of her office. During the assembly, she beamed with pride over the belief that this suggestion box would create a new environment where the students would have a say in how their school was being run.
A week later, the principal called another student assembly. The beaming pride of her initial announcement was replaced with a scowling anger, and with good reason – the suggestion box was removed because, she claimed, it was overstuffed with ridiculous and offensive ideas. The most egregious suggestion, the principal stated, was the proposal to have all of the girls in the school walk around in the nude. The principal decided to throw the suggestion box into the trash because she felt that the students could not take their newly bestowed responsibility with any trace of seriousness.
While I admit that the Benny Hill-level notion of a clothing-free female student population was not the most helpful suggestion, it was ridiculous for the principal to expect a bunch of 10-year-olds to come up with sophisticated ideas to improve the ebb and flow of school management. Yes, it was noble to believe that students should have a say in how their school should operate, but abruptly opening the promise of equal partnership without properly explaining what was expected of the students was a huge mistake.
In many ways, the moral of this warped story can apply to the concept of contemporary homeownership. For decades, people have been forced to absorb the much-ballyhooed belief that homeownership is some sort of life-fulfilling goal and that every American is deserving of having a house to call their own.
But – and, I know this may sound like apostasy in stating this in a publication being distributed at a Mortgage Bankers Association conference – homeownership is not the ideal goal for many Americans. Indeed, too many people approached homeownership in the Housing Bubble era with the level of puerile immaturity that my elementary school classmates displayed when they stuffed the suggestion box.
The current housing market (and, by extension, the economy as a whole) is still resonating with the consequences of the actions of dum-dum homeowners. And, in many ways, there is evidence that people did not learn from previous mistakes – especially in the rising level of get-rich-quick house flipping activity and in the demands of some self-appointed activists for the weakening of federal guidelines to artificially enable increase homeownership rates.
It is often said that homeownership is the American dream. Oddly enough, the man who popularized the phrase “American dream,” writer James Truslow Adams, did not consider homeownership when the championed that expression. Instead, Adams had a very different idea in mind when that phrase popped up in his 1931 book “The Epic of America.”
“It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position,” Adams wrote. Yup, no mention of mortgages there!
When I read about Americans that bypassing homeownership in favor of renting, I am not displeased. It is my belief that most of the individuals choosing that route have an intelligent understanding of their financial and emotional strength. After all, homeownership is a major responsibility, and praise should be given to those who recognize that they current lack the wherewithal to carry the burden of mortgage debt and the expenses associated in owning residential property.
At a time when the economy is stagnant, wages are mostly dismal, the employment picture is not rosy (especially for those just out of college and those in the later stretch of their middle-age period) and the cost of living is going in the wrong direction, it is easy to understand why so many people are saying no to buying a house.
An effort to push the wrong people into homeownership is as reckless and foolish as demanding that an elementary school administration require female students to walk around naked. Sometimes, what we consider to be a good idea is actually quite the opposite.
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