So what makes homeownership different? Well possibly that shelter is a basic human necessity. But, you can rent and still get that shelter. At this time, most of the advantages for buying instead of renting are provided by the U.S. government, like the mortgage interest tax deduction. If you take out the government's influence, then homeownership and renting begin to look a lot more similar in terms of financial advantage. In fact, if you aren't in a very stable place in your life, then buying a home can actually make matters worse, as it could limit your labor mobility, and your closing costs and fees might not be covered if you must move only a few years after buying.
What is the American Dream Anyway?
Since there's no huge intrinsic advantage to buying instead of owning that immediately suggests it should be considered part of the American Dream, let's take a different approach. What sorts of things should be considered a part of the American Dream? While probably a dozen or more criteria could be thought up to embody such principles or endeavors, I'd like to suggest three that should all be met for anything to qualify: capability, versatility, and essentialness.
First, for something to be a part of the American Dream, all Americans should be able to enjoy it -- no matter their occupation, income, or other characteristics.* For example, parents should be able to earn enough money to provide a relatively decent life for their family. Sure, some people live more comfortably than others, but it's a fairly uncontroversial statement that no family in America should remain below the poverty line if both parents are employed and hard-workers. All Americans should be capable of living all aspects of the American Dream.
Homeownership doesn't fit with this criterion. First, some people simply don't earn enough money to buy a home, particularly if the government wasn't already subsidizing prices. Second, even if people do make enough money, some careers with income instability don't mix well with owning a home. For example, if you're a freelancer or entrepreneur with wild income swings, a bank might not give you a mortgage. But one's income level or stability should not reflect whether he or she can live the American Dream.
Next, the American Dream's various components should be desirable to everyone. For example, the freedom to choose one's own path in life is something all people would value. That doesn't mean everyone necessarily gets precisely where they want to be in life, but they have the opportunity to try. Anything said to be a part of the American Dream should be sufficiently versatile so that all people desire it.
Again, homeownership fails this test. For example, if you work in Manhattan, then you might simply find it unpalatable to buy a home. Either you don't want to pay outrageous monthly maintenance fees for an overpriced co-op in Manhattan, or you don't want a 45-minute commute each way to live in the suburbs. And that's okay. You would then be better off renting. If there are good reasons why someone might not want something, then it isn't part of the American Dream.