Homeowners feel let down by falling values, critics say the American Dream has become a nightmare and others say renting is the best option now — a seemingly somber state of affairs for homeownership.

There is no doubt that many have suffered at the hands of bad lending practices and economic turmoil associated with the recession.

However, owning a home has always been a huge part of the American Dream and will continue to be so long after the current economic crisis and wave of defaults have passed.

Our homes are a place of security for our families and for establishing traditions with our friends. Our homes are a daily grounding and a trusty retreat from the outside world.

No one can argue against the benefits that homeownership provides to our communities and to society in general. Homeowners have a higher level of self-esteem, education and involvement in civic activities. Let’s not undermine these fundamental truths simply because we are in a downward part of the constantly dynamic cycle of real estate.

The inherent meaning of homeownership is undeniable as one of our country’s most valued privileges. When the pendulum begins to swing the other way, the fuzzy vision that is predominant right now will start to regain focus on why homeownership will always remain a vital part of the American Dream.

Paul Suding, a real estate agent with Cool Santa Barbara Homes and Village Properties, is president of the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors. He can be contacted at paul@villagesite.com or 805.455.8055.