Effects of the Death of The Ownership Society on Renters and Those Forced to Rebecome Renters

Rise in Renters Erasing Gains for Ownership

Gist of article: Many former homeowners finding the shift back to renting harder as rental properties become worth more to the landlords and the renters themselves. Also, former home owners are now being looked at leerily by the landlords (Having failed once, what stops them from failing again? Besides, you’ve heard the stories of houses torn apart by former owners just before the bank reclaims the house).

So we’ve been following all the problems from the side of the developers, the homeowners, the housing industry and the banks and investors. In short, the rich and those who failed at their version of richness (owners and those who tried to own). Now we’re looking at it from the view of the renters.

Probably one of the most pernicious effects of Bush’s presidency over the past eight years is that the rental market has become silent. Rents have shot up, then dropped precipitously, then begun shooting up again over the seven and a half years of Bush’s presidency.

Consider what’s happened: cities have developed lots and lots of “condominiums” (apartments that are owned instead of rented, the idea being that if you can’t put up a bunch of $$$ you shouldn’t be allowed to considered living there) and while many of them were carved out of standing rentals, more of them were built with the idea of making new residences. Meanwhile suburbs and exurbs were developed with ticky-tacky forms of construction that were inconceivable when songs were made about it in the fifties and sixties (although there’s some definite tackiness from there that makes today’s ticky-tacky look solid).

The results could be seen in the want-ads in the early 2000’s. I saw the “Studio – Under $500” in the Chicago Reader go from nearly nonexistent to taking up full columns between 2001 and 2005. It’s since gone back to a part of a column (with a lot of ads using the word “from”), but is still bigger than it was around 9/11.

But the building boom was fueled by people gambling that they could finagle their way to financial health, people thinking that more people would want to buy their property at higher prices, and people operating on the “build it and they will come” mentality. And when the money ran out, things started falling apart. Buyers disappeared, jobs disappeared (and not just in construction, a lot of the Bushian boom was deficit spending caused by people thinking their houses were worth more than they were and acting accordingly) and suddenly banks and investment conglomerates were stuck with hundreds of thousands of houses they had no idea of what to do with. A lot of the houses were torn up from the previous owners, and many of the rest have gone on a slow decay that happens when houses are left uninhabited.

So now the rentals are under pressure. Prices are going up (because owners can do so) while useble building stock remains highly underutilized or unused. Whole developments stand with two or three houses standing in the middle of a field with a slew of roads winding around what amounts to nowhere.

So are we getting more rental properties? Slowly but surely. Rental properties ARE being built, and a few condo developments are beginning to welcome rentals. But elsewhere people are rebelling against rentals. Quite a few cities in Florida are taking to the courts to prevent people from refitting their homes for rental purposes. That’s right, folks, they’d rather find their neighborhoods empty and abandoned swimming pools breeding mosquitoes than allow for people to make money housing other people! (or, more to the point, the wrong people making that money)

Not that I don’t understand that house ownership is beneficial as a whole (stake in the community, owners more involved than renters, stability, etc.), but get real, folks. Even at the height of the “ownership society” supposedly espoused by Bush, only 2 in 3 households were “owned.” While that seems to be the magical percentage (in that you can ignore anything under 1 in 3), it’s still a sizeable number of people.

And the number has actually dropped since that moment, back to the 60% that has been the norm since well after WW2. And before WW2, it was less than half.

Not everyone is ownership quality. Some people can’t afford it (look at all the houses that look clap-trap because of repairs that look jerri-rigged), some are too lazy and some people would rather rent. Add onto this the number of people who’d rather own but are unable to due to market conditions, and you’re talking about a sizable number of people who, for need or want, are renting.

What people are going to need to do is to look more kindly at renters. True, they may be poorer, but we’re part of society. The people who work in the restaurants, the gas stations, the bowling alleys and Targets are not going to be able to afford 50-80 mile commutes in cars about to fall apart for long. That may be your wet dream, but it can’t last.

Welcome to the new world. 2008: the arising of the new society, whether you like it or not.

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