The Housing Treadmill


For Canadians and many other nations, housing is no longer an “adventure.” Instead, it is a treadmill on to which people climb and then commit a huge portion of their lives, often in hopes of realizing windfall profits down the line.

But the housing market has now outgrown the wage structure to such an extent that even middle-class professionals cannot afford to live in the cities which they serve. Compound interest rates on mortgages contribute to astronomic household debt while transferring massive amounts of wealth daily to a small fraction of the population. At national and international levels, the debt load has turned economic growth into an obsession: we must outgrow our debts or risk financial bankruptcy. Ironically, economic growth itself is driving us ever deeper into environmental bankruptcy. (The trend towards smaller families and bigger houses has even erased recent gains in energy efficiency.)

In sum, we are sacrificing an awful lot for “housing” as we have come to understand it.

There are ways to get off the treadmill. Three are described in other articles in this i4 special series on affordable housing: the community land trust, fee-based lending, and regional strategies of energy efficiency which engage mass public participation. Together they could drive down the living costs of an average household by $350,000 or more over 25 years. That’s 12,000 hours of someone’s working life. Imagine what benefits, personal and societal, we could achieve by liberating those resources from the housing treadmill! For an even simpler way off, combine your household with another and watch your costs and carbon footprint shrink.

The crucial thing is to realize we are all in this together. We must think and act much more co-operatively and much less individually, for our own sakes, and for the sake of our planet home. After all, we have no place else to go.

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This article is part of the i4 special series, Housing We Can Afford. It is produced in partnership with the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA), with the Canadian Social Economy Research Partnerships, and with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Why we're on it - What it's costing us - How we get off
Lewis, Michael
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