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The Effect of Declining Home Ownerhship on Neighborhoods

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

The share of households that own their own home has plummeted during the recession. Shaila Dewan, writing for the New York Times, describes the consequences of the increase in rental properties, including less social stability and lower voter turnout.

Thousands of families that lost their homes due to foreclosure amid the recession have turned to single-family rental units out of necessity. Most renters are “reluctant renters” and would prefer to own their own home, but the influx of rentals has changed neighborhood dynamics, Dewan writes.  The decline in home ownership has decreased interaction between neighbors. Homeowners describe a loss of a sense of community and more concerns with crime, according to William Rohe, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “When there are fewer homeowners, there is less ‘self-help,’ like park and neighborhood cleanup, neighborhood watch,” Rohe says.

Additionally, the nature of rental properties may discourage even conscientious tenants from investing much money in repairs and upkeep, leaving some formerly pristine neighborhoods looking dilapidated, Dewan suggests. However, some investment groups argue that rental properties actually improve neighborhoods. Dewan writes:

Investors, however, say they have done a service to neighborhoods plagued by foreclosures, by helping to nudge home values upward and renovating and maintaining formerly vacant homes.

“Where we go in, we go in to fix that house up, and we’re the best-looking house on the street when that goes through,” said Kent Clothier Sr., the senior partner of Memphis Invest, which buys and renovates homes, sells them to mostly out-of-town investors, then manages the property for them. “That’s good for the neighborhood.”