April 15, 2011
Stern's Reassessment of the Citizen Virtues of Homeownership
The assumption that homeownership creates more politically and civically engaged citizens who contribute to local communities (as well as national democracy) dominates property law. This belief underlies influential theories of property and land use and justifies housing policies promoting homeownership and expanding homeownership’s reach. This Essay challenges the “citizenship virtues” of homeownership and contends that the evidence reveals a far more modest, and particularized, picture of citizenship effects than commonly assumed. I explore psychological, historical, and economic factors that may underlie the variable citizenship effects from homeownership. Some of these factors elucidate not only why owners and tenants perform similarly in certain citizenship measures but, by the same token, why it is not universally true that fear of increased rents constrains local contribution by tenants. I consider the implications of this analysis for legal theory and note potential applications to housing policy.
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