Between 1940 and 1990, housing growth in the United States outpaced population growth by 173 to 88 percent, and the proportion of homeowners nearly doubled. The same trend is observable internationally, and scholarly debate weighs whether demographic shifts or policy decisions are to blame.
A 2015 book by NANCY H. KWAK examines the rise of homeownership in light of US foreign policy and economic objectives. Focusing on the export of low-income homeownership programs, the book situates housing policy within broader distributional debates.
From the introduction:
"In the US, the homeownership ideal had begun forming in the mid-nineteenth century. Tracts on pastoral-republican suburbinization, Calvin Coolidge's call for a 'Nation of Homeowners,' the Better Homes in American Movement and the Home Modernizing Bureau all helped build an ideology that connected national identity with single-family owner occupancy. At the end of World War II, American advisors began urging countries around the world to push local, undocumented land uses to the margins and consider formal homeownership as a long term goal for the masses. Mass homeownership fuelled globalization by standardizing local processes of housing and land valuation, use, and tenure into a uniform system facilitating national and international investment. As more people participated in a globalized property and credit system, more of the urban landscape became friendly to corporate investment, making policymakers amenable to mass urban resettlement and modernization schemes. Implicit and reinforced in this system was the belief that the middle class served as a critical anchor for political stability, and that homeownership not only anchored the middle class but created it.
The World Bank played a particularly important role in normalizing an American version of mass homeownership at the end of the twentieth century. Up until the 1970s, the Bank had not exhibited much interest in directly addressing urban poverty, and its workers thought of housing primarily as welfare provision rather than generative investment. It was only in an era of explosive urban poverty and declining congressional support for American bilateral aid programs that the Bank took a more active role, beginning in Senegal, then moving to Tanzania, Zambia, Indonesia, and others. World Bank housing experts clarified that property rights could confer 'enormous benefits on many poor families.' "
- "In Canada and the United States, industrialization and urbanization occurred more or less simultaneously, creating a substantial working class in the growing cities by the early 20th century. In Latin America and the Caribbean, on the other hand, dependent industrialization resulted in a rapidly growing urban population with a relatively small industrial sector, a large commercial service sector, and a significant informal urban economy." Kwak and Sean Purdy introduce a 2007 Urban History issue on "Public Housing Histories in the Americas." Link.
- "Planning colonias proletarias required surveying and subdividing land, actions undertaken by municipal engineers, architects, and planners. But it also required negotiating with resident associations and political brokers who deftly manipulated municipal codes and blueprints." Emilio de Antuñano's dissertation on urban planning in Mexico City, 1930-60. Link. And another dissertation by Michael William Sugarman compares housing policy in Bombay, Hong Kong, and Singapore from 1894-1960. Link.
- "Taking the city of Sydney, Australia, as exemplary of a dynamic that has unfolded across the Anglo-American economies, we explain how residential property was constructed as a financial asset and how government policies helped to generate the phenomenal house price inflation and unequal capital gains of recent years." A 2019 precursor to Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper, and Martijn Konings' The Asset Economy. Link. And stay tuned for Martijn Konings forthcoming Phenomenal World piece on property inflation.