Homeownership and Public Policy:

What Helps, and What Hinders, the American Dream What more sacred, what more strongly guarded by everyholy feeling, than a man’s own home? —Cicero America’s founding fathers inherited from English common law the doctrine that “a man’s house is his castle.”[1] Property ownership and political autonomy are two sides of the same coin. John Locke regarded the right to private property as a quintessential natural right, a right that gave citizens ground for demanding representative government.[2] Thomas Jefferson understood private property to be foundational for “the pursuit of happiness” broadly considered, and guided by that understanding, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, which stated, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In the aftermath of the Revolution, the states in 1791 ratified the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an amendment that protects American homes against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” To secure their homes, American families long have expected government protection. Starting with the New Deal reforms of the 1930s, growing numbers of people also have sought government provision for housing. Like any government policy, federal housing programs have resulted from compromises occasioned by conflicting political passions and forged by opportunistic policymakers. As the United States today struggles to recover from the worst housing crisis of a generation, prudence calls for an examination of the longer history of federal housing policy in order to determine what sustains, and what suffocates, the American dream of homeownership and, perhaps more importantly, home entrepreneurship.  Why Ownership Matters, and Why It Doesn’t Two objectives have competed for preeminence in federal housing policy since the 1920s, when Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover launched Better Home
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.