June is National Home Ownership Month. As prices and expenses continue to skyrocket for homeowners, is the dream of home ownership attainable or maintainable for certain demographics, especially those on the younger and older end of the spectrum?
For generations, the definition of a home almost always included traditional housing options. But as the real estate market remains tight, the prospect of being able to afford a traditional house can seem out of reach for many. As a result, potential home buyers view owning a home as unrealistic and either stop searching or don’t search at all.
According to the Federal Reserve, the home ownership rate in Maine was at its peak exactly twenty years ago at 77 percent. Today, after dipping to a low of 69 percent in 2015, the rate inched up to 71 percent at the end of 2018. In southern Maine, housing prices for a home, condo, land, etc., continue to soar, making increasing or maintaining the percentage of home ownership (buying new or staying in a home) even more challenging.
The good news is that, though home prices remain high in most of southern and central Maine, a willingness to redefine what “home” is represents new possibilities of home ownership. For example, we are working hard to create new housing partnerships with entities, such as Tiny Homes of Maine, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland and others, as well as with realtors and developers that offer an array of housing options.
Recently, we hosted an event called “ Rock the House” showcasing not only some of the different housing options available, but celebrating the opportunity these housing options represent for people who believed home ownership is merely a pipe dream. For far too long, home ownership was the house with a white picket fence or bust. We feel a responsibility to embrace the concept that there’s no one thing that makes a house a home. Sometimes, what we think of as “home” isn’t even a house at all. Today, home is wherever you hang your hat, whether that’s a traditional two-story, a camp, an RV, multi-generational, a tiny home or something entirely different.
Creativity has a role in owning a home. From expanding the definition of “home,” to looking for solutions to help people stay in their existing home, getting creative is an essential part to home ownership moving forward. Maine’s aging population presents its own set of housing challenges. That’s why helping to finance and encourage aging in place options in our communities is important, as well as educating consumers on utilizing home equity loans and lines of credit to update their existing homes.
Without getting creative when it comes to housing, new families may not be able to afford or find housing, Maine’s older population may be forced to move out, depriving a community of contributions from generations representing the past, present and the future. Any of these scenarios reduce a community’s vibrancy, and we all lose when that happens.
Changing the way we, as a society, views housing begins with a conversation that can help create a mindset that allows people and communities to find housing options that move beyond the “one-size-fits-all” landscape. A collaborative approach facilitates the premise that we all take different routes when it comes to what we call home.
Purchasing a house can and should be one of the most important events in a person’s life, but just because it may not be everyone’s idea of home, it doesn’t mean it’s not a home. Home is about more than the type of building you live in. It’s about the community you’re a part of, and the people you with whom you share your life.
Home sweet home? Yes, it’s still possible. We just need to work to make sure that people realize the path to getting and staying there is and can be unique.
David Libby is the President and CEO of Town & Country Federal Credit Union, which has nearly 40,000 members. Dave is a resident of Scarborough.