The state of the housing industry in the United States is dire in 2011, with debt loads mounting and home values plummeting. Some of the details of just how bad the home buying market is in America are nothing short of astounding, and some would say downright disheartening.
But, is there hope for those of us who want to enjoy homeownership without the worries of crushing debt-load and the bleak forecasts of a future where recovery seems so remote?
The fact is this; Americans view homeownership as a part of their cultural inheritance. This stands to reason in general, as the idea of a home of one’s own is an important part of what it means to be secure, and to have some control over how stable that security actually is. Arguably, of course, this sense of cultural inheritance is part of what started the problem in the first place, with unregulated banks riding the wave of unrealistic buyer expectations and the associated unsustainable payment plans to support them. Yet, the impulse to own a home is a pure one.
Homeownership is still a goal
Even though pundits are saying that an end to the home buying slump is some distance away, people are still looking to buy. Owning a home is still an ideal to which people in the U.S, and really all over the world, aspire. Homeownership is a cardinal life-goal that people are willing to defend, and to secure the possibility that their children can be homeowners, too.
The next step is discovering ways to do this in concert with governement, with private industry and commerce, and with fellow citizens to find a way through the storm and into the bright light of a sustainable economy as a whole. And even in this dire time, I think there’s hope; because the building industry is evolving.
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Housing bust and the green building movement
Tied to a recovering housing market is the burgeoning green building movement, with houses being built smarter, not bigger. Green building practices represent a growth market with the built in dividends of energy efficiency savings, and with a smarter approach to how resources and their associated costs are managed when building sturdy, long-lasting, and (most importantly) affordable housing. Add to that the rising alternative energy and green inspections job sectors, and a glimmer of hope in the shadows of economic downturn can certainly be seen.
Of course, I don’t think that this means that things will return to the way things were before the bust. I think home buyers and the agencies that support the purchase of a home need to re-think strategy.
Housing market recovery: short-term wins
Unlike the instant pay-off impulses that fueled the bust, I think the keys to recovery are likely to come in the form of a series of short-term wins, as we learn more about how to build, how to finance, and how to buy smarter. To attain these wins, North American culture will need to re-define expectations around home buying and selling at all levels.
We will need to develop, discover, and embrace new innovations in housing technologies, building industry business models, and energy alternatives. We’ll need to build our collective knowledge on how to plan housing developments, how to plan cities to support them, and how to empower and educate homeowners on the most prudent ways to enter into a new, robust marketplace in a sustainable way.
Looking to other markets for insight
We will need to take a look at what other countries, particularly European ones, are doing to manage housing ownership issues. We will need to take what can from these examples and apply them to our own cultural and economic contexts. For that, we’ll need an educated, community-minded generation to take what we’ve learned and fashion a plan to apply it practically.
I suppose the way to real hope of an end to the housing slump and an improving economy will rely on how open-minded and willing to learn we will be.
Determination and innovative problem-solving: an American trait
Each era of history hands its generation a unique problem for the times. I think this housing crash which has deeply affected the United States is certainly one of those, with millions of people worried about the state of their finances as mortgage payments are missed, foreclosures balloon, and as the market gets more and more difficult to find a way into. Yet despite this, one cultural characteristic for which the American people are known is certainly a unique sense of determination and resourcefulness in the face of adversity.
That vital cultural impulse to defy the odds is a reason to be hopeful as well.
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