Shaky Palaces: Homeownership and Social Mobility in Boston's Surburbanization

Shaky Palaces: Homeownership and Social Mobility in Boston's Surburbanization

Shaky Palaces: Homeownership and Social Mobility in Boston's Surburbanization

Shaky Palaces: Homeownership and Social Mobility in Boston's Surburbanization

Excerpt

A muse of many parts, the American dream is to get a good education, land a job with upward mobility, achieve success and, high on the list, to buy a home of one's own.

AMERICA is a country of homeowners. Over 60 percent of American families own their houses. A larger percentage are homeowners at some point in their lives. Achieving this status takes up a large proportion of most families' expenditures. The typical American family traditionally spent about one-fourth of its income on shelter and related expenses; now that figure is rising. Buying a house generally requires that a family invest more than half of its total assets, and go deeply into debt. Only for the wealthiest families does the equity in their homes fall to a small proportion of total assets.

Many Americans feel these expenses are warranted by the economy, security, and comfort of a home of one's own. Economists comparing ownership and rental under current conditions recommend the former as less costly to most families. But even more important, the home has been celebrated for more than a century both as an object of affection-- "Home, Sweet Home"--and as a solution to problems:

Owning a home is not merely a vehicle for better shelter. It is also supposed to increase one's wealth. "Relax! At least your home is worth more today than it was yesterday," claims a cigarette advertiser, urging us to enjoy our good fortune by smoking its product. A planner writes that "the entry of millions of the depression poor into the middle class was aided by a rise in home values between the 1930s and 1950s." A realtor cites "the ever-increasing value of your house due to inflation," and exhorts the reader to remember that . . .

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