Book review: Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us

A cavalcade of books purporting to explain the roots of the housing crisis have emerged over the past few months, but Alyssa Katz's Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us stands out as the best one yet.

Beginning with Herbert Hoover's "Better Homes in America" campaign in the 1920s, Katz traces the merger of corporate and government interests that led to the cult of home-ownership and the housing boom and eventual bust.

Libertarian-minded followers of the economic meltdown may be turned off by the dust jacket biography. Katz is a regular contributor to Mother Jones, a liberal-minded magazine, but rest-assured that Our Lot is incredibly well researched and for the most part, devoid of any overt ideological bias.

It's only towards the end, where she expresses her beef with the decline of rent-controlled apartments, that her ideology really shines through. For the most part, Katz is absent from the book and lets the executives, community activists, home owners and real estate investors -- who all played their own roles in the meltdown -- tell their stories.

The chapters can be a bit disjointed and might lack a strong narrative flow, but that's fine because Katz covers everything that went wrong. Especially interesting are chapters on companies like Long Beach Mortgage and Lennar (LEN). Katz's in-depth look at these companies shows a lot of the systemic problems that led to the collapse of the housing market. Interviews with low-income minorities, who were seduced into home-ownership and lost their shirts, show the predatory side of the boom.

Our Lot is an incredibly readable -- it took me one bus ride -- look at everything that went wrong, much of it stemming from good ideas with noble intentions. Buy it, read it, and send it to your Congressman.

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