I don’t get it. We’re supposed to cheer when housing prices rise. Politicians and pundits look to rebounding housing prices as the gauge for a recovering economy. I don’t think so. A sustainable, stable housing market is what we should strive for, not one in which fewer and fewer people can afford a home. Our society’s financial security is not based on high housing prices, and it pains me every time that sentiment is expressed. What brings a thriving, stable economy is when everyone—not just longtime homeowners—has a savings, disposable income, and a stake in the game.
When people have to spend half or two-thirds of their income on housing, they have little left to spend on everything else. When they can spend less on housing, they have more to spend on other things. It’s this nonhousing spending that will improve our overall economy and get money circulating in a wider arena.
We also should not cheer when our homes become our banks. We should not borrow against them to buy other things, nor plan on selling them in the future in order to have the money we will need to live. Banks and credit unions should provide a good return on our deposits so we can be in charge of our futures and not dependent on an erratic stock market.
A recent Alameda Sun article quoted a local broker and real estate agent bragging about rising Alameda home prices. (Alameda Home Prices Rising Despite Reports, Aug. 30.) The broker expressed elation over returning to “the way it was” in 2005. I understand that those in the real estate industry will reap higher commissions through higher prices, but rapidly rising prices sow the seeds of future problems.
Opinion makers and politicians should save their cheering for when the rate of personal savings goes up, when wages rise, and when people have more money to spend, not when our economy is distorted by excessive housing prices. Let’s return to earning a decent percentage on savings accounts that we control, and embrace defined-benefit pension plans that allow people to feel secure and optimistic about their futures.
I say don’t buy into the notion that rising housing prices is a gauge for a recovering economy. We need to expand the way we look at wealth and security.
Besides, many of us don’t need to care what our property is worth because we have no plans to move from our homes. What we do hope is that our children, grandchildren, and friends will at last be able to afford a home of their own. Strong neighborhoods and strong communities develop when people are secure in their own homes and in control of their futures.
Originally published in Alameda Sun.