Living in a safe neighbourhood and being able to afford housing costs are more important to people than owning a property, a report by Shelter says.
Shelter found home ownership is less important than quality of life
A survey of 2,027 home owners and tenants in Scotland, England and Wales found most ranked affordability and security ahead of owning property.
The charity says its findings call into question the government policy of using public cash to help first-time buyers.
But the government says most people would like to buy if they could.
"If the government really wants to meet people's housing aspirations, it should focus public money on helping them to live in a decent, secure home in a neighbourhood where they feel safe, rather than encouraging them to chase the property dream," Shelter said.
As well as the 2,027 people surveyed, focus groups - made up of 65 people on low incomes - were interviewed in Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and London to help form the report's findings.
The YouGov survey for Shelter was conducted online between 3 and 6 June and found 72% of respondents felt the most important aspect to a home was feeling safe in their neighbourhood.
Being able to afford living costs came second at 40% and actually owning their home was third on the list of priorities at 39%.
When asked what they wanted for their children, affordability was ranked highest for 63% of people, followed by a safe neighbourhood on 59% and ownership on 34%.
The Shelter report comes amid a government drive to increase home ownership by one million over the next five years, partly through shared equity and starter home schemes.
Shelter said renting was still the only option for many.
"The policy drive towards home ownership risks entrenching ownership as the only tenure of choice, and marginalising even further those people who rent," said Shelter director Adam Sampson.
"A more balanced housing strategy is needed, one that promotes different tenures and housing options and, above all, delivers an adequate supply of low-cost rented housing for those who need it."
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) said the government was committed to increasing investment for social rentals.
"But we have not been building enough new homes to meet demand and make housing affordable for the next generation," she said.
"That is why we have set out plans to build more new homes, both social and private housing.
"It is only by building more new homes that we will make housing affordable in the future."
Research showed that a majority of social and private tenants would like to get onto the property ladder if they had the chance, she added.