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MacArthur study: opinion shifts toward rental housing

Wed, Apr 24, 2013

The recession has given Americans a new reality about the risks of owning a home, so that more of them support renting as part of national housing policy, according to a survey released April 2 by the MacArthur Foundation.

Financial markets, homebuilding and sales data may say the housing crisis is over, but the The How Housing Matters Survey says the American public is not ready to agree: nearly 8 in 10 (77 percent) say the nation is still in the middle of the crisis, or that the worst is yet to come.
Two thirds of adults (65 percent) also said the focus of national housing policy should be split equally between rental and ownership, as opposed to promoting one over the other, according to the survey.

The How Housing Matters national survey shows us that whether one owns or rents, the American public understands the benefits of decent, stable housing in people’s lives – and the consequences for individuals and communities when that stability is lost through events like foreclosure, eviction, increasing costs or unemployment,” said Julia M. Stasch, vice president of U.S. Programs at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “We are pleased to support and release this important national survey, as it complements the Foundation’s efforts to address the nation’s housing challenges through empirical research and organizations focused on improving housing opportunities for all Americans.”

The survey was conducted by Hart Research Associates, which interviewed 1,433 adults over the telephone between February 27 and March 10.

Highlights of the survey include:

– 58 percent of Americans say the nation is “still in the middle of it” regarding the housing crisis; an additional 19 percent say “the worst is yet to come.” Renters (25 percent) are slightly more pessimistic than owners (16 percent).

– More than 7 in 10 renters wish to become owners someday.

– But 57 percent of adults say “buying has become less appealing.”

– And 54 percent say “renting has become more appealing” than it was.

– Nearly half of current owners (45 percent) say they can see themselves renting in the future.

– An equal number (45 percent) say they have experienced a time in their lives when their “housing situation was not stable and secure.”

– Roughly 7 in 10 respondents believe that government policies “ensuring that more people have decent, stable housing that they can afford” lead to a “major, positive impact” on the safety and economic well-being of neighborhoods, children’s ability to do well in school and individuals’ and families’ economic security.

– Two-thirds say the opposite happens for a family in “a challenging and unstable housing situation.” Insecurity in housing is likely to hurt relationships between parents, the mental health of family members and children’s ability to do well in school.

– Across all political party affiliations, 3 out of 5 respondents who were provided information about U.S. housing policy said, “the focus of our housing policy should be fairly equally split on rental housing and housing for people to own.” The number included 69 percent of self-identified Democrats, 62 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of independents.

“America is going through a transformational period in which the old forms and systems are changing, and the unconventional is becoming more conventional and even fashionable,” said Peter D. Hart of Hart Research Associates.

“A prime example of this can be seen through changing perspectives on housing,” Hart said.

“While the desire to own a home remains a bedrock principle in American life, this survey demonstrates that the American public’s views about housing are changing, in part due to the hangover from the housing crisis, but importantly, also because of changes in our lifestyles. The dynamic is no longer simply ‘renting versus owning’ – perspectives are more complex, and people are viewing housing in a more holistic way.”

Hart said that the feeling among Americans that government support for rental housing and home ownership should be equalized was “surprising and significant.

“The How Housing Matters survey underscores that it’s no longer renters versus owners, the haves versus the have-nots, or the young versus the old. There is a new and real acceptance of a more balanced approach to housing policy that puts renting and owning on a more equal footing.”

By Suzanne Hanney
From Prepared Materials

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