Homeownership and Public Policy:

What Helps, and What Hinders, the American Dream

By Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D.

Published in The Family in America 26, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 213–233.


The Family in America

America’s founding fathers inherited from English common law the doctrine that “a man’s house is his castle.” Property ownership and political autonomy are two sides of the same coin. To secure their homes, American families long have expected government protection. Starting with the New Deal reforms of the 1930s, growing numbers of people also have sought government provision for housing. Like any government policy, federal housing programs have resulted from compromises occasioned by conflicting political passions and forged by opportunistic policymakers. What, then, has been the combined impact of zoning ordinances, labor regulations, and federal housing guidelines over the past half century? Nothing short of government-subsidized suburban dormitories.

As the United States today struggles to recover from the worst housing crisis of a generation, prudence calls for an examination of the longer history of federal housing policy in order to determine what sustains, and what suffocates, the American dream of homeownership and, perhaps more importantly, home entrepreneurship.

So long as policymakers concern themselves with getting people into homes, they may as well think about what people might do at home. Public policy should permit and encourage, rather than penalize or intimidate, home-based businesses by implementing a few common-sense reforms as to zoning regulations, child labor laws, trade unions, and the federal tax code. But before such suggestions can be taken seriously, lawmakers will have to jettison their twentieth-century housing policy paradigms and revert to a more traditional set of expectations. Only then can the American dream be once again seen as an opportunity for home-based businesses, not merely homeownership.


  • Why Ownership Matters, and Why It Doesn’t
  • From Cottage Industries to Suburban Dormitories
  • The Moral Hazard of Meddling with Housing
  • Rebuilding Home(ownership) Economics from the Family Up


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