It is my firm belief that owning a single-family home on a plot of land in suburbia gives people true independence of mind and soul and is the only real independence from the state and their own collective lot.
I agree with the observation made by social scientist Dr. Edward Shapiro that “the essence of American suburbanization is the desire of tens of millions of people to simultaneously enjoy the economic benefits of an industrial-urban economy while fashioning a lifestyle incorporating the traditional American distaste for cities and factories. The names of our suburbs evoke a pastoral image—Short Hills, White Plains, Spring Valley, Ridgewood. Suburbia’s streets are named Forest Drive, Pleasant Valley Way, and Northfield Avenue, while its housing developments are called Holly Farm Estates, Springdale Homes, and Crestmont Village.”
The yearning for a homestead in suburbia began after the Second World War and continues to this day.
During the COVID lockdown, for example, many couples with children, realizing that being cooped up in apartment in New York City without a yard or front porch wasn’t fun, began moving to Long Island. My neighborhood, New Hyde Park, was flooded with young folks buying up every house on the market.
For most people, however, buying their first one-family home is a struggle.
My parents scrimped and saved for 17 years before they could put a downpayment on a house in 1966.
When my wife and I bought our first home in 1983, the mortgage rate was a staggering 17% and the inflation rate was hitting 20%. We had to cut every corner to make the monthly payments.
Back then, I learned that owning a home was not an entitlement. By sacrificing and working hard, we earned the title to our house.
And I came to appreciate British journalist G.K. Chesterton’s comment that “property is merely the art of democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of Heaven.”
Today, people still struggle to earn their piece of the American dream.
A July 30, 2023 Newsday study describes the plight of many homeowners attempting to make ends meet.
This phenomenon, Newsday reports, has caused some experts to ask if William Levitt of Levittown fame and “Master Builder” Robert Moses got it wrong. In other words, they are asking if there should have been fewer roads and houses and more multifamily public housing.
As for Moses, what he got right was building roads to the parks— “Parkways.” His motive a century ago was to provide access for working-class people to get out of the city and to visit the numerous parks he built (i.e., Jones Beach Park) on weekends and holidays.
Granted, those parkways became thoroughfares for commuters. But imagine what it would be like if Moses had not built them.
What Moses got wrong: he built scores of multifamily housing projects mismanaged by the New York City Housing Authority, which today are examples of urban blight.
Public housing, the dream of progressives like Robert Moses, is a tenant’s nightmare. And we don’t need such nightmares on Long Island.
As for the creation of Levittown, if one wants to point a finger, it should be at the federal government.
Elitist planners at the Federal Housing Administration encouraged banks to lend on millions of new, low-risk suburban homes while refusing to stake money on older city properties. And to further ensure policy compliance, federal tax code changes gave developers incentives to build new structures in suburbia instead of improving old ones in city neighborhoods. Since many inner-city, single-family homes were disqualified from receiving loans, the mass exodus to Levittown settlements commenced.
The result of this anti-New York City lending policy: Between 1946 and 1979, approximately 70% of all FHA/VA loans in the Metropolitan Area financed homes in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Regardless of the Fed’s motivation, the suburban homes built have fulfilled the dreams of many.
And just like members of the Greatest Generation and the Boomer Generation, who had to struggle to make ends meet after they bought their first home, the younger generations will have to sacrifice to meet mortgage and property tax payments.
Will the struggle be worth it? It was for my family.