New survey findings illustrate shifting perceptions of homeownership and rental housing
The How Housing Matters Survey, a new national survey conducted by Hart Research Associates and commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation, is a “must read” for anyone interested in developing a relevant, effective national housing policy.
In the wake of the housing crisis, the survey tells us Americans deeply appreciate the role that stable housing plays as a foundation for their ability to succeed in life and reach their full potential. But Americans have also developed a more complex, nuanced view that more clearly recognizes the advantages and disadvantages of different housing choices.
According to the survey, homeownership continues to be an important aspiration for most Americans—more than 7 out of 10 renters polled hope to be homeowners someday. At 84 percent, this proportion is even higher for renters under the age of 40.
But Americans do not see owning as always the best option, and the idea that renting is somehow an undesirable housing choice appears to be receding. Rather, as demonstrated by the survey, Americans have developed a more sophisticated view that recognizes there are benefits and drawbacks to both owning and renting that vary over the course of one’s life. Interestingly, nearly half (45%) of current homeowners can see themselves becoming renters sometime in the future.
The survey indicates that Americans across the political spectrum believe we should have a balanced housing policy that does not favor renting or owning over the other. This view is consistent with a key Housing Commission principle—that federal policy should strike an appropriate balance between homeownership and rental subsidies. As explained in our report, Housing America’s Future, New Directions for National Policy, owner-occupied and rental housing are complementary—not-competing—components of a housing system that should serve individuals and families at all stages of their lives.
The survey also indicates that most Americans believe housing subsidies should focus on helping lower-income Americans. This, too, is consistent with the Commission principle that the primary focus of federal housing policy should be to help those most in need. Deploying funds in a more targeted manner will become increasingly important in an era of tight federal budgets.
The How Housing Matters Survey provides invaluable insights for those seeking to develop a housing policy that responds directly to the needs and expectations of the American people. Policymakers on Capitol Hill and within the administration should carefully consider the survey’s findings.