A Faded Dream: Housing in America

A Faded Dream: Housing in America

VVhen the War on Poverty began 20 years ago, housing was one of the major battlefields. The concern then was with the reality of slums in the midst of affluence. For middle-class Americans, it was a time of economic growth and buoyant optimism, symbolized by a dramatic boom in middle-class homeownership. Today, the growing plague of homelessness across the nation reminds us that housing still is a major problem for the poor. But it is now also a problem for the middle class, which no longer can afford the American Dream. Indeed, it has become rather a nightmare: rising costs, shrinking space, an unprecedented epidemic of foreclosures, and a growing feeling of being trapped as long-term renters.

The housing crisis is both cause and symptom of the nation’s economic woes. It is a major source of unemployment—not only among construction workers but also in related industries. Most Americans are aware that a revitalization of housing and construction would be a major job-creating factor. But even a full-employment economy would not make housing affordable, even for all middle-class Americans. In order to bring that about, major changes are needed. The present housing crisis offers the nation an opportunity to rethink the way it provides (or fails to provide) shelter. We can continue to devise various tax and subsidy schemes to bribe banks and builders—or we can redefine housing as a basic right and find new ways to provide affordable homes.

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