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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:14:20 PM CST

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Courtesy of Kyle Gati

Kyle Gati and his girlfriend, Rebecca Gil, have owned their Noble Square condominium for 10 months. For many Americans like Gati and Gil, homeownership continues to be the preferred housing choice. The nationwide homeownership rate is expected to exceed 60 percent in the near future, according to a recent study.

More than dollars: Home owning yields social and cultural benefits, study says

by Jayna Omaye
May 1, 2013

Jayna Omaye/MEDILL

Ed Brady (middle) talked about how states like Illinois can provide quality affordable housing through organizations such as the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). Brady, a panelist at a recent conference, referenced former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell’s earlier comments that the federal government should evaluate current housing situations, reward quality providers and replace inferior ones.

Ten months ago, Kyle Gati and his girlfriend signed the mortgage for their Noble Square condominium. Not only did the move from renting to owning signal financial stability, it also pointed to cultural and social values of American homeownership.

Because his parents owned a home, Gati said they passed down these values to him and his siblings.

“From knowing that they’ve owned a home while we were growing up … it kind of set the stage for what I want to achieve one day in owning a home,” Gati said.

For millions of Americans like Gati, homeownership is seen as more than a financial investment in real estate. According to a recent study by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, homeownership continues to be the preferred housing choice in America.

Increased civic engagement and higher stability and support among communities are some benefits of homeownership, according to the study.

“There’s a lot of reasons people aspire to homeownership,” said Ed Brady, a board member of the center’s housing commission, which presented some of the study’s findings at the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Affordable Housing last week. “One is the American Dream to owning your own home. It’s kind of intrinsic in the American culture. It’s a piece of the rock.”

In 2012, the nationwide homeownership rate stood at about 65 percent, while the Illinois rate hit nearly 67 percent, according to U.S. Census data. The study also found that the homeownership rate will continue to exceed 60 percent in the near future.

Brady, president of Brady Homes, an Illinois homebuilding company, also said homeowners are more involved in their communities because they are invested in the value of their neighborhoods. Similarly, Gati, who serves as the beekeeper in his community garden, said he actively participates in community events.

“We do feel connected to the community, and feel not obligated, but encouraged to participate in the community,” said Gati, who wants to plan beekeeping show-and-tell sessions with his neighbors. “There’s a certain comfort level with ownership versus renting that people try to achieve.”

Similarly, Jane Charney, who has owned her Lincoln Park condominium for 2.5 years, said she also actively participates in meetings and events with her condominium association. Although Charney’s parents never owned property, she said she is happy that she and her husband have a place to call home.

“The American Dream is having the resources to make your own decisions and carve out a place in society,” Charney said. “You have a lot of control over the space you own and not rent. We moved in and have never looked back.”

This idea of homeownership and the American Dream, however, is not for everyone, said Krista Peterson, who still prefers renting to ownership. Peterson, who has rented for seven years, said she likes the flexibility of renting and the mobility it provides in her career.

“I really like Chicago and the places I’ve been in Chicago,” said Peterson, who lives in the Irving Park neighborhood. “And saying that I’m only going to live in one neighborhood in Chicago forever is upsetting to me. I want to live in different places.”

Mary Pattillo, professor of sociology at Northwestern, also added that the idea of homeownership is an accepted cultural norm in this country. Although Pattillo, who specializes in urban sociology, said research shows homeowners are more likely to join a neighborhood organization and vote, some people, especially those who can't afford homeownership, still value renting and find it more affordable and flexible.

“It’s the same way we wholly embrace that dinner time is at 7 as opposed to Spain where dinner is at 10,” Pattillo said. “It’s like a rite of passage to own a home.”

Although Gati agreed that homeownership isn’t for everyone, he said he still prefers owning to renting because he is investing in his home, his future and his community.

“I think there’s a sense of pride and sort of being not off on your own, but being in charge of what you have and what’s before you,” Gati said. “I kind of care about what’s going on locally … The neighborhood is kind of part of your home.”