Americans Feel OK About Not Owning a Home

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Is the American Dream evaporating into the cultural mist?

For centuries, a huge building block of the American Experience was the attainment of homeownership, from a 1790s Massachusetts farm house to a 21st century three-bedroom ranch outside Dallas.

But the Great Recession continues to reshape the economic landscape, and with that reshaping, Americans are taking a long second look at homeownership. More than half have concluded it's not worth the hassle.

That trend is developing at a time the U.S. housing market is showing distinct signs of recovery. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of the Treasury's most recent Housing Scorecard, the housing market is "showing strong annual gains," although that recovery is fragile.

In other words, despite improvement, there is no guarantee progress in the housing market is a given.

Apparently, Americans aren't counting on any major improvements in the economy, or in the housing market. So much so, that renting a home is increasingly seen as a better option than owning a home.

That's the conclusion of a study by Hart Research Associates and the MacArthur Foundation, How Housing Matters.

The survey says that while economists and politicians are saying the worst is behind us, from a home value point of view U.S. adults just aren't buying it.

About 77% of Americans surveyed said that the country is "still in the middle of an economic crisis" or that "the worst is yet to come." Another 65% say the government should curb efforts to promote solely homeownership and instead create policies that give equal weight to home and apartment rentals. Another 61% said renters have as much chance of obtaining the American Dream (whatever that means these days) as do homeowners.

The study does note that 70% of renters still want to own a home someday, but another 57% of all Americans surveyed say buying a home is "less appealing" to consumers now.

Part of that push away from homeownership is the realization among Americans that there is no longer any stigma to renting. In this economy, they reason: Whatever you have to do to find a clean, affordable place to live, do it without worrying about a scarlet "R" appearing on your front door.

Current homeowners aren't immune to that mindset, with 45% of those surveyed by Hart and the MacArthur Foundation saying they can envision a scenario in which they rent one day.

Another 45% of respondents say homeownership just isn't affordable, and that has led to some financial discomfort for homeowners in recent years.

Clearly, attitudes are changing, and at an accelerated pace.

"America is going through a transformational period in which the old forms and systems are changing, and the unconventional is becoming more conventional and even fashionable," says Peter D. Hart of Hart Research Associates. "A prime example of this can be seen through changing perspectives on housing. While the desire to own a home remains a bedrock principle in American life, this survey demonstrates that the American public's views about housing are changing, in part due to the hangover from the housing crisis, but importantly, also because of changes in our lifestyles."

"Many of the positive attributes that have long been associated with homeownership are fading ... it is remarkable that nearly half of all homeowners can picture themselves one day becoming a renter," he says.

That's good news for property owners who buy apartments and homes for an investment. But with rental rates rising and a long future of making those payments with no equity stake in the deal, it may not be such good news for a new, growing generation of renters facing monthly payments as far as their eyes can see.

And likely longer.