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A World of Homeowners

American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

Is there anything more American than the ideal of homeownership? In this groundbreaking work of transnational history, Nancy H. Kwak reveals how the concept of homeownership became one of America’s major exports and defining characteristics around the world. In the aftermath of World War II, American advisers urged countries to pursue greater access to homeownership, arguing it would give families a literal stake in their nations, jumpstart a productive home-building industry, fuel economic growth, and raise the standard of living in their countries, helping to ward off the specter of communism.

A World of Homeowners charts the emergence of democratic homeownership in the postwar landscape and booming economy; its evolution as a tool of foreign policy and a vehicle for international investment in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s; and the growth of lower-income homeownership programs in the United States from the 1960s to today. Kwak unravels all these threads, detailing the complex stories and policy struggles that emerged from a particularly American vision for global democracy and capitalism. Ultimately, she argues, the question of who should own homes where—and how—is intertwined with the most difficult questions about economy, government, and society.


“US advisers helped to privatize housing provision around the world, with dire effects in many places—effects that became truly obvious when the US housing market itself crashed, after peaking in 2006. This is a gripping global story, well told, and meticulously referenced.”

Times Higher Education

A World of Homeowners is a fascinating and urgent history of American international housing assistance programs in the post–World War II era. Kwak charts how the American housing programs operated as an extension of American power. While historians have long known about the economic and ideological power of homeownership programs in the U.S., Kwak demonstrates that support for homeownership abroad was a central part of postwar American international aid programs. . . . This will be the definitive study of the power and ambitions of American housing aid programs. It also sets an agenda for future research.”

American Historical Review

“The book is broad in scope, meticulously researched and judicious in its judgements about policy. A World of Homeowners makes an important contribution to housing scholarship that has appeal for those interested in understanding how ideas ‘travel’ and are put into effect by policy-makers.”

Housing Studies

“The immensely innovative character of [Kwak's] book is evident in the way she combines the political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of home ownership into a decidedly transnational perspective. . . . . In summary, it is clear that Nancy H. Kwak has published a pioneering study that raises relevant new questions and will inspire further research."


“This is transnational history at its best. . .Many books attempt to explain the history of the domestic American ideological preference for homeownership, but Kancy Kwak's masterful volume is the first to show how homeownership also became an important tool of US foreign policy.”

Pacific Historical Review

A World of Homeowners is a persuasive, solidly researched, and synthetic interpretation of America’s role in the promulgation of international housing in the postwar period. Kwak presents an ambitious study—one that is well-written, clearly organized, and draws on many original and long-neglected archival sources. The book adds an important dimension not only to our understanding of the history of U.S. housing policy, but also to its postwar international role.”

Richard Harris, author of Building a Market: The Rise of the Home Improvement Industry, 1914–1960

“In The World of Homeowners Kwak connects all the dots, revealing the networks that allowed America’s visions of homeownership to spread across the world. Based on research that touches on all continents, she uncovers how the United States peddled a state-sponsored segregationist program as a ‘free-market’ universalistic ‘American Dream’ to policy-makers just about everywhere. What emerges is not only a masterpiece of transnational urban history, but a meditation on the shape-shifting power of a nation state in the global age. If you’re a believer in the great healing powers of homeownership, you must wrestle deeply with Kwak’s skeptical and incisive analysis.”

Carl Nightingale, author of Segregation: a Global History of Divided Cities

A World of Homeowners is a game-changer—one of the most important books on housing published in the last decade. Kwak offers a brilliant study of the internationalization of US housing policy, with a richly drawn cast of characters and a deep dive into the construction of soft imperialism. We’ll be looking back at this book for years to come as a point of departure for how housing became integral to the making of a global American imaginary.”

Joseph Heathcott, The New School

"Traversing the period from World War II to the market downturns of the early twenty-first century and weaving together the interconnected economies and politics of nation-states on every continent, this is transnational history at its best."

Pacific Historical Review

Table of Contents


1                                        Building a New American Model of Homeownership
2                                        Combatting Communism with Homeownership
3                                        Homeownership in an Era of Decolonization
4                                        Homeownership as Investment
5                                        Fair Homeownership
6                                        A Homeownership Consensus?



List of Abbreviations



Urban History Association: Kenneth Jackson Award

Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations: Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize

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