Pew: US home ownership ranks behind Greece, Spain, Portugal

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Housing and Urban Development,United States

Financial disasters Greece, Spain and Portugal, succeed at providing the keystone to the American Dream — homeownership — better than the United States, another grim reminder that sustained economic troubles have deflated the hopes of Americans.

In a new Pew study timed to coincide with President Obama's campaign this week for greater housing financing, the United States ranks low among 42 of the world's economically significant countries in home ownership.

While American homeownership is an impressive 65 percent, Pew found a huge number of countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain, where ownership was significantly higher. In Greece, for example, nearly 76 percent own a home. In Portugal it's 75 percent. Spain is over 82 percent. Topping their list is Romania at over 96 percent.

Greece, Spain and Portugal have teetered on national bankruptcy for years.

The reason most countries are doing better than America, Pew suggests, is due to tax breaks offered buyers. The top tax break Americans receive — writing off interest on home loans — is among many provisions some in Congress are considering killing.

From Pew:

"One thing that stands out from this list is the number of countries in central and eastern Europe with extraordinarily high home ownership levels. A 2007 paper attributed this to two forces: relatively large rural populations, who typically either built their own homes or inherited them; and the rapid privatization of public rental housing in the 1990s following the collapse of state socialism. In addition, the building boom of the 2000s likely contributed to high ownership rates in countries such as Spain and Portugal.

"But even the housing bubble didn't move the needle much on U.S. home ownership. The ownership rate peaked in 2004 at 69.2 percent, according to the Census Bureau — not far above its long-term average of about 65 percent."

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.