What’s behind Prejudice against Renters?
To the Editor: downstreet.net
Aren't Americans misled to cherish the dream of homeownership?
You mention that this dream is unattainable for those the women from Casa Latina were representing, at least in Northampton.
But there are apartment buildings in Northampton (like mine on West Street), which could not be improved upon as a living situation, and which for people growing older, more vulnerable, and more often alone make a lot more sense.
My suspicion is that the reason is economic: Older people who end up in nursing homes cannot have their homes (that they own not rent) taken from them, whereas their retirement savings have to be almost totally depleted.
If I am right, someone like me (except that I have long-term care insurance) would leave this earth without an estate, while someone with a mansion would be contributing to a sort of aristocracy that has some inherited wherewithal to take its own risks. Something like that.
My second suspicion has to do with voting interests. To wit, the more people with vested interests in homeownership, the greater the voting bloc that will vote for such interests (like tax deductibility of mortgage interest). So owners want more owners. I suppose evangelicals would want more evangelicals, among other reasons, to increase their voting bloc.
But I think myths about renters abound. I believe studies show that their children do not move from school to school more than do children of homeowners. I might guess tenants are in many ways actually less mobile, due to economic constraints, than homeowners. Besides which, apartment buildings tend to become extended families in their own right, and you can imagine the difficulties of uprooting and moving the entire complex. The objections of West Street corridor residents to being uprooted offers an example.
However, tenants are not an organized or vocal political group, it seems to me. For one thing, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah, given that most people think we do not pay taxes. “I pay taxes,” a homeowner will tell the
planning board, making demands. Likely we pay a lot of taxes, both through rent, and state and local and Social Security taxes without much of any concessions, since our way of life is regarded as selfish.
But who wants us to participate? The body politic seems to be waiting for us to grow up and buy a house before we are welcomed as fully belonging voters. Is this a vestige of Puritan New England when only Congregationalists and landowners could vote? (I think that was the case.)
It is perhaps the fault of renters that we don't have much public voice. Someone told me the other day that he assumed we had an organization. Not that I know of. I know if we are unhappy there is no realtor's fee for us to up and move elsewhere. For ideas, if we can afford it, we have the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where we read that Sunderland is awash in apartments that are not yet enhanced to suit better-heeled tenants. And what is the bus service like?
But really I want unionized housing, where enough tenants coalesce that they can own a lot of buildings, and ward off developers, greedy improvers of housing, plus they can sort people into better integrated units, where the character of each building can be maximized for the benefit of each person.
I base this dream on the way people have grown old and died in my own building, caring for one another, and also on the uses of a shared apartment unit for all the buildings at Florence Heights, which can be used for after-school programs, meetings, parties, and so forth. Consider the possibilities simply by the networking that occurs when people have a shared space. A large hallway is a start. A porch is good. A small yard is good. If one owns it alone, it is not so much good. A model building style might be possible that is not too costly, even in Northampton. But it depends on the dream of open-ended co-housing (unionized renting?), not home ownership.
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