home own vs. rent

colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Thu Dec 14 16:36:16 CST 2000

[ed:   please feel welcome to copy COMM-ORG with your thoughts and resources 
on James' query.  I have a couple of thoughts below.]

From: James DeFilippis <james.defilippis at kcl.ac.uk>

Hi all,

I have been finishing writing up some work I had done with the Mutual Housing 
Association of Southwest Connecticut, and I've been thinking a lot about 
issues of homeownership for low-income people. On the one hand, I can 
certainly understand why everyone would want the benefits that homeownership 
brings in terms of personal security (not to be displaced by rent increases) 
or freedom (to do do with what one would with their home). And I can 
understand the desire to generate personal equity and wealth in the form of 
property ownership (and therefore create further access to capital in the 
form of loans, or, sometimes, rent). But I also can't shake the feeling that 
the privileging of homeownership over renting in the US has not, and is not, 
served the interests of low income people. First of all, homeownership is an 
incredibly consumptive form of living -- both in terms of the demands it 
makes on households' time and money (something low income households, by 
definition, don't have a lot of), and the larger social problems of 
consumption in terms of every family having its own boiler (for instance), 
and what that means for issues of environmental sustainability. Second, what 
about the problems associated with unexpected costs in homeownership? That 
is, how does a low income household, without a lot of assets, do when that 
individually-owned boiler breaks? Third, what about the issue of 
homeownership tying low-income homeowners to neighborhoods, that, quite 
honestly, they might be better off leaving? In short, while homeownership 
might protect residents from some of the effects of larger flows of capital 
(relative to renters, who are more vulnerable), it hardly is capable of 
dealing with larger neighborhood wide, or metropolitan area wide processes of 

It was this nagging set of doubts that attracted me to MHAs (and also 
Community Land Trusts), but now that I'm trying to present MHAs as an 
alternative to either the very limited power of renters (in the face of 
landlord decisions, and flows of investment and disinvestment in the real 
estate market more broadly), I find that I'm having a hard time finding work 
"out there" defending the kinds of arguments I'm making about the costs of 
homeownership for low-income people. Most everything being written, it seems, 
is arguing that low-income people should be homeowners. I've read some work 
on the public policy of homeownership promotion (from Peter Drier and Don 
Krueckeberg) but I haven't seen a lot of work arguing that homeownership is 
simply not the right solution for many, if not most, low-income people. 

Am I way off base in my thinking on this, and if not, do people know of works 
that have made similar kinds of arguments? Thanks,


James DeFilippis
Department of Geography
King's College London
Strand Campus
London WC2 2LS
james.defilippis at kcl.ac.uk


[ed:  I have a bunch of thoughts but don't have time for them all, so just a 
few from me.  1.  I am concerned about the research showing how home 
ownership leads to political conservatism, and anti-poor attitudes (witness 
the tension between homeowner associations and more inclusive community 
organizations. There is some 1980s literature on housing classes that I found 
instructive but am having trouble putting my finger on right now. 2.  But I 
am even more concerned about the accumulation of property in a rentier class 
who can extract profit from renters and reinforce their poverty the same way 
that corporations extract profit from workers and reinforce their poverty.  I 
find Logan and Molotch's work helpful on this issue. 3.  My personal 
ideological preference is for community-owned housing such as co-ops, similar 
to the models James is looking at.  The two best examples of that I know of 
are the Route 2 development in Los Angeles that Allan David Heskin has 
written about, and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis that I 
have written about. But there are some significant problems with this model 
as well, especially when it is used to serve low income people who are not 
familiar with the model and see it as just another rental situation, and/or 
when it is used to serve people who have home ownership aspirations and don't 
like the neighbors having some say over their house/unit.  Finally It is a 
risk for people to buy houses in poor neighborhoods, but that says less about 
the problems of the neighborhood than the problems of the housing development 
that often is used when a community organizing model is what is really 
needed.  ]

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