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Last week I got into a great conversation with Mark Riedy, executive director of USD’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, when I called to interview him for this story. Riedy’s been thinking about housing and mortgages for decades, as a longtime industry leader and the president of Fannie Mae.

What might change about the concept of homeownership now that this decade’s huge homeownership push has the economy in crisis? I asked him.

Riedy said he thinks homeownership will always be an ideal. But he said that historically, the national homeownership rate was around 66.5 percent. Because of the combination of loosened restrictions for mortgages, new ways of financing loans and a governmental encouragement of the increased homeownership, the rate rose to about 69 percent this decade, he said.

“That 2.5 percent probably never should’ve been homeowners,” he said. “We screwed around with the natural state of what it ought to be. There’s a reason why they don’t own.”

I was putting Riedy on the spot with this question, and he acknowledged the conversation should be an ongoing one. But he theorized that 66.5 percent might be too high, and suggested the rate might naturally fall a couple of points. A lot of mortgage resources might not come back after this collapse, or they’ll come back with loans at a higher (interest) price, he said — leaving homeownership out of reach for many people.

“How would we look at rental housing differently if we knew that that was going to become a more normal part of our community?” Riedy mused.

It won’t be normal in the little towns in Iowa and Nebraska, he said, but in pricey cities like San Diego: “Maybe renting isn’t such a bad thing,” he said. “If you start to say, ‘I better pay more attention to the school district I’m renting in …’”

Riedy sent me this thought in an e-mail today:

I do believe that promoting rental housing and perhaps providing more governmental support for it, while fiscally imprudent at the present time, might make a great deal of sense in a socially responsible manner at some point in the future. The time to start thinking and talking about it, however, is now.

If you haven’t yet, check out the conversation raging today over in SLOP — here and here. The debate started over here in Survival after I posted some of Councilman Ben Hueso’s remarks this week about homeownership in San Diego.

As always, you can send your thoughts, tips and story ideas about housing, the economy and surviving in San Diego to me at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org.

KELLY BENNETT

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