The pervasive belief that owning one’s home is the only path to qualitative living has not only hindered the emergence of alternative forms of tenure, but has influenced the under-reform of the rental market for decades. Why is it that in a post-modern world, in which so many resources no longer have to be owned, but can be shared or rented, homes still have to be owned to feel truly ours? It is worthwhile taking a step, back and above, and looking at how homeownership ideology has served a precise purpose in governments’ agendas.
As seen over and over throughout history, the link between politics and housing is an untieable one. During the twentieth century, governments began to market the ownership of one’s home as a basic need of society. Interestingly, as Richard Ronalds writes in The Ideology of Homeownership, there is no evidence to suggest that owning one’s home is an indigenous need of the modern individual . Rather, it consists simply of a preference, forged by policy-making and social norms. The consolidation of such preference and the marginalisation of other forms of housing provision through specific policies can be observed predominantly in anglophone countries in the latter half of the previous century. In England, the Conservative movement recognised the full potential of homeownership as an activator of social stability. For a citizen to own one’s home meant having an active stake in the state and an invested interest in maintaining lifelong employment. The owner-occupied home becomes the only other space in which the labour class spends time outside the workplace, and family life inside the home becomes a societal ideal. Homeowners, through their choice of tenure, were believed to form an instantaneous conservative constituency . Moreover, Kemeny (1992) contends that the preference towards homeownership stemmed from a re-moralisation around privatism and individualism.
Both Protestant and Catholic beliefs favoured a tenure that facilitated privacy and family life, reinforcing the perception that the ownership of one’s home was the sole path to virtuous living. The ‘superior’ idea of privacy materialised tangibly in the structure of the middle-class home with its dividing walls, separated accesses, series of rooms, gardens, and hedges. Private property was seen as an individual right and homeownership ideology became intrinsically linked to class perception, exacerbating class differentiation. Additionally, rented tenures became stigmatised as precarious and ontologically insecure, further solidifying homeownership’s superior status. The marketed idea of owning one’s home becomes an obdurate ideal and a “self-fulfilling prophecy” .
With the commodification of housing, from being a tool for social stabilisation, the purchase of one’s home brings forth another phenomenon: the mass entrance of the population into the financial sphere. Arguably, the government's push for privatism in housing could be attributed to its desire to distance itself from housing provision responsibilities, capitalising on the public’s inclination towards homeownership. With homeownership becoming the preferred form of tenure, and with a significant part of the population becoming homeowners and entering the financial market through private mortgages, housing prices start to soar. As housing became closely tied to processes of consumption, the market became the primary agent that facilitated the freedom and progress that the middle class required. Saskia Sassen  writes that the financialisation of mortgages for modest-income households becomes a circuit for high finance for the benefit of investors, with a total disregard for the homeowners involved. The appreciation of housing becomes interlinked with the foundation of the global economy . An additional bias is made through the middle class’s perception that estate assets would be of eternally growing value and that investing in a home is not a mere need but an opportunity to store wealth. Owning one’s home is now perceived not only as preferable but also as highly desirable because of the monetary gains associated with it. The idea of a ‘home of one’s own’ was no longer simply seen as a practical necessity but also as a marker for self-identification and self-realisation . As a result of these complex, somewhat stochastic processes, the rented market lost all desirability and remained under-reformed.
Since post-war times, homeownership ideology has grown roots so deep in the public imagination that despite it now being financially impossible for a new middle-income family to purchase a house in a larger city, the paradigm remains unquestioned. In Ireland, The recent unsustainability of homeownership and the shortcomings of the market-based provision of housing are evident in the numbers contained in a recent report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) . The report states that, in Ireland, while 80% of adults over forty years old own the home they live in, only a third of adults under forty are homeowners.
High rents, precarious contracts, and a shortage of rental housing make it virtually impossible for young adults to make consistent plans for their futures. The imperialist manner in which homeownership-centric policies have dominated the public and private housing provision system has resulted in a residualised rental market and a deeply undiversified housing landscape. The trajectory that homeownership ideology has traced in the twentieth century tells a compelling story of how policies influence preference. The problem of the persistence of a preference becomes evident when the ideology gains so much ideological weight that it becomes self-evident and perceived as ‘natural’ (Kemeny, 1995), not allowing other strategies to even be considered or imagined. Architects must detect the fallacies of the standardised ownership-based housing system and advocate for additional ownership solutions, to create a counter-speculative strategy for housing.
Architects and housing experts must not limit their focus solely on typology, because the systemic issues embedded within the housing crisis will not be improved by alternative typological formulas alone. We need a fundamental revaluation of how we own and access housing, not solely relying on a bottom-up process through the work of building cooperatives, but also through the development of national frameworks for alternative ownership models. By challenging the entrenched preference for homeownership, we can begin to imagine forms of tenure that truly meet the needs of our diverse society.