The home is one of the most elemental parts of life in America—we often define ourselves by how we live and where we settle. That's why the government's latest American Housing Survey, released this morning, is so revealing: it offers a peek at the conditions in which Americans live.
Some of the results of the latest survey, from 2011, might be what one would expect. Ownership rises with age; roughly one in eight housing units had signs of a rodent in the last year. But some of the statistics may come as a surprise: nearly one in 12 occupied housing units have unsafe drinking water; virtually all owner-occupied homes—92 percent—have a porch, deck, balcony or patio.
The joint effort between the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development is based on a whopping 155,000 housing unit surveys. The same units have been interviewed since 1985, with demolitions, new homes and conversions taken into account.
Among all housing units—owned or rented—just under two in three have central air conditioning and a warm-air furnace. Nearly half have a dining room.
Of the estimated total 132 million units, roughly 58 percent are owner-occupied, and many of those are well-appointed. Nearly half of them have a fireplace and one in three has a room used just for business. Just over one fourth of all owner-occupied homes has three or more vehicles and four or more bedrooms.
While overall home ownership—owner-occupied or not—may have suffered a backslide in recent years, the current rate is certainly an improvement over the 48 percent homeownership rate of the 1930's.
Early that decade, during the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover explained why homeownership is so important in the American mind when he announced his Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership:
This aspiration penetrates the heart of our national well-being. It makes for happier married life, it makes for better children, it makes for confidence and security, it makes for courage to meet the battle of life, it makes for better citizenship. There can be no fear for a democracy or self-government or for liberty or freedom from homeowners no matter how humble they may be.
While Americans have made strides toward that aspiration over the decades, the recent picture isn't so rosy. After spiking in the late 1990's and early 2000's, homeownership rates are right back around where they were at the start of 1980, according to other recent Census data.