Crazed for the Homestead

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“EVERYONE BOUGHT REAL ESTATE; and everyone was a ‘real estate man’ either in name or practice. The barbers, the lawyers, the grocers, the butchers, the clothiers – all were engaged now in this single interest and obsession. And there seemed to be only one rule, universal and infallible – to buy, always to buy, to pay whatever price was asked, and to sell again within two days at any one price one chose to fix. It was fantastic. Along all the streets in town the ownership of the land was constantly changing; and when the supply of streets was exhausted, new streets were feverishly created in the surrounding wilderness; and even before these streets were paved or a house had been built upon them, the land was being sold, and then resold, by the acre, by the lot, by the foot, for hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

~ Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again, 1934

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Steven Malanga, in CityJournal, has a perfect bead on what happens WHEN HISTORY ATTACKS! “We’ve largely forgotten,” he writes, “that Herbert Hoover, as secretary of commerce, initiated the first major Washington campaign to boost homeownership… Without waiting to see if postwar prosperity might solve the problem, in 1922 Hoover launched the Own Your Own Home campaign, hailed at the time as unique in the nation’s history.

The great national effort seemed to pay off. From mid-1927 to mid-1929, national banks’ mortgage lending increased 45 percent. The New York Times applauded the ‘wave of homebuilding’ that ‘swept over’ America; the country was becoming ‘a nation of home owners.’

Soon after the October 1929 Wall Street crash, the housing market began to collapse…The Own Your Own Home campaign had trapped many Americans in mortgages far beyond their reach. New homeowners who had heard throughout the initiative that ‘the measurement of a man’s patriotism and worth as a citizen’ was owning a home, wrote housing policy expert Dorothy Rosenman in 1945, had been ‘swept up by the same wave of optimism that swept the rest of the nation.’ Financial institutions were exposed as well.” Read more…

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