2 responses to “Homeownership and Civic Engagement

  1. Tom: I quite agree with these ideas. However, there is a downside to homeownership, namely, that people tied to their homes cannot easily escape deteriorating situations. Some of our recent work on social network rewiring (in PNAS) supports the importance of being able to change one’s social contacts rapidly in order to optimize group-level outcomes. We discussed this idea, with respect to housing policy, in an editorial last week in the Financial Times (please forgive the provocative title that the editors there picked): http://erikachristakis.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/there-goes-the-neighborhood/

    • socialcapital

      Thanks Erika. Interesting comment. Totally agree that these social ties (and one’s mortgage) can keep one rooted in a neighborhood, even if the situation deteriorates. That could be good for the stability of the neighborhood, but bad for the individual. That said, I think we ought to realize that housing meltdowns of the sort we have experienced in the last several decades come once in a century, not frequently. While the consequences of being tied to a neighborhood can be quite negative for that individual in such an extraordinary meltdown, over the long arc of history, the homeowner and his/her neighbors benefit far more from this rootedness and consequential community investment than they would from having the resident be more tenuously attached to the community. Obviously don’t mean to imply that homeownership is for everyone, and for distributional reasons, we may doubt a policy like the deductibility of home mortgage interest whose benefits accrue largely to the already affluent, but if we are filling out a cost-benefit ledger of homeownership, I still think the evidence weighs heavily toward net benefits. I agree that the opportunities for free-riding are higher in places that have greater social connectedness, but the same social networks are likely to hold individuals accountable or socially castigate residents that don’t abide by these pro-social norms.

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