The US Housing System in the Twenty-First Century

The strong policy emphasis on home ownership as the ‘great American Dream’, continued through the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. With most home owners living in detached dwellings, and most renters living in apartments, housing tenure became an important underlying explanation for patterns of growth and change in American cities and suburbs. One of the distinct aspects of America’s housing system is the relationship between dwelling units and tenure, where there is limited interchangeability between the stock of rental and owner-occupied accommodation. Purpose built rental housing tends to have a distinct typology—being predominantly ‘multi-family’ apartments—in contrast to owner-occupied homes. In the year 2000 for instance, over 80 % of owner-occupied homes were detached suburban dwellings, compared to around 60 % of the entire housing stock (Bennefield and Bonnette 2003). Reflecting the sharp dichotomies between the housing circumstances of different social groups, of the remaining dwellings in owner occupation, a considerable 8.45 % were mobile homes (ibid).

Rates of home ownership peaked in 2007 at 67 % of households, before falling in the wake of the mortgage foreclosure crisis and GFC (to 65 % by 2013). The financial crisis prompted much reflection on the desirability of home ownership as an overarching objective and on the potential for other forms of federal housing assistance (Landis and Mcclure 2010). Before outlining the current state of American housing assistance, it is useful to explain the overarching features of housing demand and supply.

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