No, I’m not talking about THOSE alternative lifestyles. I’m talking about something much more nefarious and feared by the legions of America’s middle-class – renters. If you’re like many homeowners, you’re already terrified by that word. After all – what could be more frightening than a person or household full of people who don’t actually own their property? Surely they will destroy it, and with it the value of all surrounding properties. Banish them – quick! Quarantine them in the gated apartment community!
Working in an undisclosed location a few weeks ago, I came face-to-face again with how so many people view renters, and frankly, anyone that’s not in a household that’s married with kids. One particular resident (an elected official no less), stated quite bluntly that his vision for the area didn’t include people who rent, or even smaller households. We discussed America’s changing demographics, especially the rise of single-person and single-parent households, and the gentleman was dismissive of any accommodation for these folks. He was quick to describe divorcees, for example, as people living in a stressful situation, and therefore not terribly desirable neighbors. Of course, we know that no marriages are stressful, so I can see his point.
Well, at least he was frank about his opinions, and not afraid to share them. Many people feel the same way, but are reluctant to say so publicly.
But let’s examine reality a bit.
Virtually all of us are renters at some point in our lives. Some of us move back and forth between renting and owning many times during the course of our lives. People, for example, like me.
I owned two different homes for a period of about 15 years, and now am a renter again. And, frankly, I love it. 15 years of being responsible for every repair, the lawn care, making a mortgage payment and more was more than enough for me, at least at this point in my life. I’d like to think my own experience isn’t unique.
The idea that all renters will let a property deteriorate, simply by virtue of not having an ownership interest, is folly. Do groups of college kids sharing a beat-up old house care about its upkeep? For the most part, no. Are there people who simply have no respect for others, and will trash a place? Absolutely.
But to lump all the negatives into the renter category is absurd. How many of us know homeowners who don’t know how or care to maintain their property? In fact, if we examine all homeowners and their behavior, would we really find that many more “responsible” owners than renters?
Fact is, people are people. Some people are assholes, and will trash anything they live in, whether they rent or own. Most people do not want to live in squalor, and will seek out a nice place to live, and maintain it, whether they rent or own. Many people, like myself, rent by choice. In fact, I’m not sure at this point in my life whether I will want to own again. Those decisions are very personal choices, and have to be weighed against many individual goals, from financial to lifestyle.
Whatever our biases, we can no longer ignore what is coming in the next few years and decades. The post-recession era will be one of increasing numbers of renters, constantly shifting household makeup, and more integration of housing types than we’ve seen in the big suburban boom of the last 60 years. This author wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the percentage of renters rise to 50% over the next decade or two, as the various economic factors influence people’s household choices.
When that happens – here’s a tip. Welcome your new neighbors – they’re probably just like you.