In 2011, former Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry tried to influence the Washington Council to ban construction of new apartment buildings in his ward, hoping to increase homeownership rates. He defended his quest saying that renters don’t maintain their neighborhoods as homeowners would.
What Mayor Barry was trying to do is relatively common now. Nowadays there is a widespread inclination of activists and local policymakers towards homeowners as the ideal or desired residents in any locality or neighborhood. The rationale is that people who reside permanently in a particular neighborhood will take ownership and care enough to invest lots of time and effort into the community. For example, they will vote in local elections, lobby and importune politicians, and attend planning meetings.
Renters who are usually younger and nomadic are likely to be apathetic to the plight of their neighborhood since they know that they’ll be moving to another locality in a short while anyhow. The under-involvement translates to a less vibrant civic culture.
Does Homeownership Cause More Civic Engagement?
Numerous studies affirm that indeed homeownership translates to increased civic engagement. The National Association of Realtors released a study titled the Social Benefits of Homeownership and Stable Housing, which showed the nexus between homeownership and civic engagement.
Homeowners, unlike renters, possess a greater financial stake in their communities or neighborhoods, and even a slight change in home values is going to drastically affect their net worth. If there is a five percent decline in home values, big loss results. If there is an appreciation of five percent in home values, a big win for homeowners awaits. Therefore, homeowners opt to spend a little more time and money maintaining the neighborhood, which in turn translates to the improvement of the overall quality of the surrounding community.
On the other hand, renters with less or no wealth connected to a particular community have no incentive to protect the value of property in the area. More so, the right to bequeath property to an heir or any other person also incentivizes homeowners to properly maintain their property and surroundings.
The Extent of Involvement of Homeowners
While it is hard to measure how much homeowners get involved in their local communities, it is a foregone conclusion that homeowners are by far more active in their local communities than renters. Sample these findings from the NAR, as summarized by our other blog, Simplifying the Market:
- Homeowners have a much greater financial stake in their neighborhoods than renters. With the median national home price in 2015 at $223,900, even a 5% decline in home values will translate into a loss of more than $11,195 for a typical homeowner.
- Because owners tend to remain in their homes longer, they add a degree of stability to their neighborhood.
- Homeowners also reap the financial gains of any appreciation in the value of their home, so they also tend to spend more time and money maintaining their residence, which also contributes to the overall quality of the surrounding community.
- Homeowners were found to be more politically active than renters with 77% of homeowners saying they had at some point voted in local elections compared with 52% of renters.
- There seems to be a greater awareness of the political process among homeowners. About 38% of homeowners knew the name of their local school board representative, compared with only 20% of renters.
- There is a higher incidence of membership in voluntary organizations and church attendance among homeowners.
- Homeownership does create social capital and provide residents with a platform from which to connect and interact with neighbors.
- Owning a home means owning part of a neighborhood, and a homeowner’s feelings of commitment to the home can arouse feelings of commitment to the neighborhood, which, in turn, can produce interactions with neighbors.
A recent study also tried to determine the connection between the social capital of homeowners and civic engagement. It specifically sought to find out if people volunteer more if they possess a higher stake in the neighborhood for instance when they own a home. It was discovered that homeowners have a stake in the community being that a house or home is a unique investment whose value is tied to a given geographical location and is determined by the condition of the community in which it is located as well as the social institutions which serve its residents.
It isn’t clear if homeownership is in and by itself the determinant of civic participation; some sociologists suggest that perhaps what matters most is residential stability rather than mere homeownership.