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    Credit: WILLIAM STEWART PHOTOGRAPHY

One of the strongest pillars of our economy, not to mention one of America’s core values, is homeownership.

As a nation, we need to keep a laserlike focus on how we pursue this dream. If we don’t pay careful attention, we can easily slip into the kind of market distortions that caused the housing market to overheat, and then collapse, with consequences from which we still haven’t recovered. As a profession and industry, we have to take the long view when it comes to our clients’ interests as they make what’s likely to be the most important investment in their future.

What I mean by the “long view” is to access the best data available to project not only what homeowners need today, but also what they are likely to need tomorrow. This means designing flexibility and resiliency into their homes. We know, for example, the job market will be tough for the next several years. When the kids graduate, they may be coming back home before they land a job. Can their parents’ home bunk one, two, or even three young adults under one roof?

Even if predictions of future job growth are wrong, one stubborn fact is the graying of our society. Can mom and dad age in place? Or will they be forced to leave their friends and neighborhood because the house has become unlivable? This has implications for a host of issues, ranging from access to public transportation to the cost of energy: Do we really want to take away the car keys from the elderly if there’s no other way to get around? Do we want to force the retired out of their homes because they can’t afford rising utility bills?

These are matters larger than the curb appeal of what we build. If we don’t pay attention, you can be sure prospective homeowners will increasingly take them into consideration, knowing they’re more likely than their parents to live in one place for a long time.

Keeping on top of a market in flux and advocating on behalf of those who do residential work are two of the many reasons the AIA created the Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN). The goal is pretty straightforward: to be an indispensable resource in leveraging the housing industry back to a position of health. After all, to paraphrase another famous quip: As housing goes, so goes the nation.