Americans are moving away from home ownership—for a variety of understandable reasons, it would seem. Mechele Dickerson reports for The Conversation that many millennials, facing economic uncertainty and a bevy of student loans, find the idea of home ownership rather distasteful at the present. “Americans of all ages are renting rather than buying, mostly because wages have been stagnant for all workers except the highest earners for about three decades, and because wages have not kept pace with home prices,” she writes. “In addition, potential first-time home buyers and those with blemished credit are being shut out because stricter lending standards make it harder for them to qualify for a mortgage loan.”
The rental rate is almost at a 30-year high, and the homeownership rate is at a 20-year low. “Until renters become more optimistic about their economic future, they will not be convinced to buy homes. And until they buy homes, there will be little reason to celebrate homeownership.”
Meanwhile, The Washingtonian reports that D.C. (and other cities) are moving away from car ownership, as apps like Uber and Lyft, as well as delivery services like Amazon and Peapod, continue to shape our streets and navigation preferences. They predict that Washington in particular will become a denser, less car-prominent city in the years to come—and that many other urban centers will follow suit. “Small things, we’ve learned, can alter neighborhood dynamics in a big way,” notes author Benjamin Freed. “And with every resident—car-owning or not—who comes to rely on a newfangled transportation service, or stops expecting there to be parking outside her home, or leads a life in which a bike lane or new streetcar is essential for getting to work, the politics change a bit.”
Speaking of politics and home, Jake Meador has an interesting blogpost over at Mere Orthodoxy, in which he considers the importance of home-as-retreat and the “Benedict Option” (see Rod Dreher’s blog for extensive coverage of the idea). Meador looks to L’Abri, Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s retreat for inquiring young students, and asks the question: “Could this be the best way for the Benedict Option to be realized?” L’Abri and its descendents are not just focused on retreat, however, but also on begetting: “The begetting is the key. The Benedict Option cannot simply be a refuge or haven from the forces that exist outside of it. It must also be an incubator, a place that remakes the world. If the Benedict Option is not an incubator as well as a retreat it will fail.” Meador goes on to advocate very strongly for the home as center of one’s cultural and familial existence:
Creating a home takes time and requires sacrifices of us. These demands force structures upon our lives that constrain our autonomy but through which we arrive at true freedom. This means that the differences of the faith must touch our material lives in tangible ways. We cannot go on having both parents work full-time jobs outside the home, thereby reducing the work of home-making to the coordination of consumption patterns and reducing the home itself to a kind of high-dollar storage shed. We cannot go on entrusting the formation of our children to government-run schools that reinforce rampant individualism and undermine more humane values. We cannot go on living life at a pace that makes silence and contemplation and the sharing of unhurried time impossible. These are the routines, habits, and customs that will eventually devour Christian community.
It’s interesting to consider how—and whether—Meador’s vision of home is changed at all by our new sharing economy, and the deescalating rates of home ownership. Do these things affect the way we interact with our neighbors, treat our houses? Will they propel us toward or away from hospitality? In some ways, current transportation trends could be beneficial: they don’t seem to have a negative effect on the way people inhabit their homes, and could in fact encourage people to spend more time in their neighborhoods, building local ties. The renting trend doesn’t necessarily seem detrimental, except for the fact that—in the absence of ownership—there’s a temptation to act more like consumers and less like stewards. We may invest less in our houses and neighborhoods, because we feel no sense of duty or responsibility toward them. But this doesn’t have to be true.
Finally, on a fun note, the Los Angeles Times has published a summer booklist for readers, compiling potential reads by genre preference.