Home ownership is without doubt desirable for the great majority of families. There are families, however, whose incomes will not permit them to finance their homes with safety, and families whose occupations are of so uncertain a nature that they are compelled to move frequently from place to place in order to find work. Also men and women engaged in certain occupations and professions should be left free to accept better positions when offered them in other parts of the country. In great metropolitan centers it is often impossible to own a house conveniently near the work of the family breadwinner.
1 In How To Own Your Home, pp. 27-28.
On the other hand, there are many restless-minded families who go about from city to city, from one part of the country to another, or from house to house and apartment to apartment with no particular purpose in mind. They doubtless would have been better off economically and much happier if they had taken root in a particular community and helped it to grow and prosper.
Some of the conditions which make home ownership inadvisable arc discussed briefly in the following paragraphs by Horace F. Clark and Frank A. Chase.
Whether a man is justified in building or buying depends upon many economic factors. It has frequently been said that all men are better off as homeowners, and in general this is true. There are many persons, however, who are not in a position to hold property. The mobility of our urban population in America is extraordinarily great. There is much moving around within the city. It is well known that in some cities certain days are set aside as moving days, at which time a large portion of the population vacates its former dwellings and moves to new locations. Part of this moving is entirely unnecessary, being caused by a spirit of restlessness and discontent, but a large part is due to the desire to live in a place where rents are more equitable, where the neighborhood contains a more congenial class of people, or to be nearer a business place, or (which amounts to the same thing) to be nearer better transportation to and from work. People who are renting homes have the opportunity to make such adjustments when they find their first location unsatisfactory, whereas in case of purchase it is necessary to dispose of the property perhaps at a loss, and always with the expense of sale, or to put up with unsatisfactory conditions.
The external flow of population into and out of cities is also an element in the housing situation. Men move to new locations because of changing occupations, seeking better pay or better working conditions, or perhaps because their former industry has passed its usefulness and gone out of existence.
Under what conditions should tenancy be encouraged? There are many times when a family is better off not to own realty in a location where its members are not satisfied, or where they can no longer make a living. Each case must be decided on its merits.
Examining the housing conditions of the entire United States, we find vast differences among towns. Building and loan association men may be familiar only with prosperous towns, but there are dying villages and static towns where more houses are found than there are jobs. The leaders who founded these towns failed in forecasting their future. Perhaps the only industry located in the town has gone out of business, as in the sawmill towns of the North, and the mining towns scattered throughout many parts of the country. A considerable number of mining towns still contain houses adequate for a population of three or four thousand people or more, while scarcely as many hundred people actually live there. People continue to live in such places in the hope that they will eventually "come back" when mining conditions change.
Such a surplus of houses causes rents to be so low that ownership is not a paying investment. Money invested in houses must make a satisfactory return with assured safety, or people will not undertake house ownership. Fortunately these adverse conditions exist in only a comparatively few communities. In many others, a live town has been inadequately planned for expansion, and this acts to retard growth and unsettle values.
The true test of a housing shortage is whether or not all the people desiring homes in a given city are able to get the kind that they want at a price within their income. Vacant large houses are no index of the supply of small houses. The rent, the amount of care necessary to keep up such places, are as definite obstacles to their use as if they did not exist. Houses of the type that people can afford to pay for, and that are satisfactory to live in, are the only kind that can be considered in measuring the actual condition.1