Abstract: Con-do-min-i-um: Homebuilders, Mortgage Bankers, and the National Campaign for Multifamily Homeownership in Baby Boom America

Matthew Gordon Lasner


Rates of homeownership rose dramatically in the mid-twentieth century United States, along with the kind of single-family suburbia exemplified by Levittown. By 1960, however, the share of families owning single-family houses began to flatten (in 2011 it remains effectively the same as in 1961). The demographic phenomena that generated such intense demand for houses in the 1940s and 1950s began to dissipate; the apartment became an important new focus. Not wanting to cede territory or profits to landlords, mortgage bankers launched a national campaign to stimulate individual ownership of multiple-family homes. The problem, however, was that after decades of eschewing this kind of tenure, co-ownership suffered from a marginal reputation, among both bankers and consumers. Until the 1960s, in fact, U.S. mortgage lenders refused to service co-owned apartments entirely. To effect the necessary reversal, mortgage bankers introduced a new form of co-ownership called "condominium." Although less distinct from the system it replaced (the cooperative) than they suggested, this strategy had a dramatic impact on the co-owned housing market. This paper explores how and why this effort—which was as much about style as substance—proved so successful in reshaping U.S. real estate.