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Home ownership; THE GRASS MIGHT BE GREENER IF IT'S SHARED

(Page 3 of 3)



When the GIs came home from World War II, however, they had government-sponsored loans for cheap mortgages, cheap fuel for driving out to the country from work every day, and wives who would tend the household full time.

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And most important of all, they had children. Children, Catherine Berheide notes, are closely tied to the dream house in the country. We seem to think the country air is good for children, she says, although it may be more important that children be around other children.

Gasoline is expensive now, and two parents often have to be near work, rather than just one. If they both commute, it leaves little time for the children, much less taking care of a big house. Higher density and shorter commuting distances can make life easier for the modern family.

Yet, as long as there's a generation around that grew up in a suburban environment, comments Seth Reichlin, professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, change will come slowly. Dr. Reichlin's research has centered in Midwestern suburbs. Here, people are more likely to work harder to maintain their standard of living, he notes, rather than to look for alternatives.

And, according to John Quigley of the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Public Policy, for most people who are "just folks" (those not in the top 20 percent of the income scale) home equity is the only form of accumulated wealth they have.

The intricacies of new loan mechanisms, however, don't guarantee much accumulation of wealth.

Housing itself could pack some political punch as an issue in coming years. For the first time in 50 years, according to George Sternlieb, housing has to compete with business and government for loan money. And housing is clearly a lower priority with the Reagan administration than industry.

If industry succeeds in growing at all in the next few years, Sternlieb says, the home buyer will find it very tough to get money.

"'Housing in Washington has meant poor folks and black folks -- folks that aren't so popular. But it could become thee and me.Then there might be some fireworks."

Meanwhile, lower-income people are expected to be further squeezed in the inner city by a continued influx of professionals moving closer to work and to each other. According to M. Bruce Johnson of the University of California at Santa Barbara and director of the Pacific Institute for Public Policy, Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman's figures on the need for public housing in the coming decade area staggering. "Housing could become literally a public utility."

M. Bruce Johnson blames California's shortage chiefly on zoning restrictions that prevent growth. Neighborhood zoning ordinances started out to control nuisances and developed into a tool for keeping the level of the neigborhood up, keeping out the "riffraff," Dr. Johnson explains. "There is some element of class struggle in all this," he says, "camouflaged by the environmental issue." The solution, to him, is rolling back the regulations and letting the market fulfill the need.

A complication, though, as Fred Case points out, is that California's community governments can no longer afford to provide the services new neighborhoods require. Their response has been to lay more of the responsibility for providing schools, roads, and utilities on the builders. Prices go up.

The California Governor's Task Force on Affordable Housing has recommended, along with some streamlining of regulations, creatting five brand new towns to make up the standing shortage of houses. The towns would include affordable housing (defined here as housing affordable by people who make between 80 and 120 percent of the average local income) and easy proximity to factories and business.

To become reality, these towns will take an enormous capital investment, Dr. Case, again, points out.

But towns of 30,000 to 50,000 people, he says, are the optimum size for schools, services, and industry. And a town like this could generate perhaps 30 percent of its energy through solar power, if planned properly.

Other voices echo Seth Reichlin, though, when he remarks that at some point, "People will redefine what the good life is."