IN THE SOUL-SEARCHING sparked by the financial meltdown, Americans have started to look askance at some of the habits and policies that had come to define our country. Excessive consumption and living on credit are no longer seen as acceptable, let alone possible. “Deregulation” is suddenly a dirty word. Yet despite the housing crisis, one value, more deeply entrenched, remains sacrosanct: homeownership. Irresponsible mortgages have been universally condemned, but it is still widely assumed that we all aspire to own homes – and that we all should aspire to own homes. Homeowners are thought to be more engaged in their communities and to take better care of their houses and neighborhoods. On a nearly subconscious level, buying a home is a central part of the American dream. A picket fence may now be dispensable, but a house of one’s own is seen as the proper place to raise an American family – a prerequisite for stability, security, and adult life. And for decades – but increasingly under the Clinton and Bush administrations – federal policies have encouraged citizens to achieve this goal.
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