Should We Buy Houses?

Should We Buy Houses? May 3, 2013

At the end of yesterday’s post, the editors called for a renewed attempt to distinguish between ordinary Christianity and capitulation to contemporary American norms. I think this will sometimes take us in counter-intuitive directions. Yesterday’s post made reference to “anti-suburban Christianity” and praised those Christians who have raised concerns about the effects of the suburbs on virtue and the life of faith. From this, it would not be a big leap to the pro-rental movement. When you think of the urban Christians who reject suburbia, many of these also believe that renting a house is a better financial choice than buying one. And there’s a also a cultural sense here of hipster or boheniman Christianity rejecting the bourgeois and individualistic “American dream” that includes, of course, home-buying. Finally, in the many exchanges between the suburbia Joel Kotkin and the urban Richard Florida, the former has supported homebuying, while the latter has opposed it.

The case against buying a house gets stronger when you dig into the actual economic data. As many have noted, there’s a high correspondance between low growth/ macroeconomic instability and widespread home ownership. Those countries that have the highest rate of home ownership are also the poorest and most crisis-prone. This map of Europe is extremely telling on this point.

Based on all this, one might think that young people shouldn’t buy houses. And indeed, many aren’t. But there’s more to the story than this. When you look into the reasons why countries with widespread home ownership preform poorly, here’s what you find, in the words of Richard Flordia:

Numerous studies have argued that home ownership stymies the flexibility of the labor market and the economy by tying home owners to their location and making it harder for them to pick and move to jobs and economic opportunity. Three-quarters of survey respondents believe that “moving to a new city or state for a job is more likely now than it was in the past,” the report finds.

In other words, renting countries do better because they allow people to move from place to place more easily. Renting, thy name is mobility. The problems with endless mobility, and the consequent liberation from place, have been noted again and again by very diverse sources. So here’s where the twist comes: despite what some of our initial intuitions about urbanism and renting, a truly radical Christianity worried about the corrosive effects of the American dream should promote home ownership. Home ownership seems just another part of the worrisome American Dream, when actually it can act as a brake on some of its most questionable features.

[Image of a houseboat from Wikipedia]


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