Thursday, July 8, 2010

Housing Choice that is affordable

Two articles this week have proven that what we need in this country is not a fight of urban vs suburban and ultimately which is better. The NY Times article profiled this couple who had to move from the city to the suburbs to get what they wanted at the price point they could afford.

Ultimately, deciding which lifestyle best suits you — and where to buy — comes down to personal preferences. But if the deciding factor is the relative cost of each, the answer is quantifiable, even if it not immediately obvious given the different tax rates and other variables.

So we set out to do the math, based on an apartment and a house in the New York metropolitan area. Here’s what we found: a suburban lifestyle costs about 18 percent more than living in the city. Even a house in the suburbs with a price tag substantially lower than an urban apartment will, on a monthly basis, often cost more to keep running. And then there’s the higher cost of commuting from the suburbs, or the expense of buying a car (or two) and paying the insurance.

The NY Times math is very fuzzy and doesn't really prove much at all. Urban living can be quit costly, but so can the suburbs. The choices you make in regards to both is what really dictates costs. With the unaffordability of homes in NYC these folks decided to go to the suburbs. A clear lack of housing choice that is affordable for all.

In this post Joe Kotkin blasts Richard Florida for pushing a "back to the city" theme when that is not what is really happening. He blames the over abundance of downtown condos as one reason people aren't excited about the city. He clearly believes that the Amercian Dream is a singly family home. Kotkin states:

But the great migration back to the city hasn't occurred. Over the past decade the percentage of Americans living in suburbs and single-family homes has increased. Meanwhile, demographer Wendell Cox's analysis of census figures show that a much-celebrated rise in the percentage of multifamily housing peaked at 40% of all new housing permits in 2008, and it has since fallen to below 20% of the total, slightly lower than in 2000.

The problem again is that we deem suburbs single family homes on large lots and cities are high rise condo buildings. This simply is not the truth when it comes to many urban and suburban neighborhoods. Actually many places have a decent amount of mixed housing (single family, duplex, apartments, condos, ect.) so I am not sure why we have drawn this line in the sand.

What we need to discuss is how to provide housing opportunity for all people regardless of where they want to live. Not everyone in the suburbs wants a single family home and not all city dwellers want to live with 40 other units. Housing choice needs to be a key factor and the cost of that housing. I find all these arguments wrong because there are suburbs, long island for example, that are denser than some of our biggest cities. What we need to do is find a way to integrate these different housing typologies so that we can accommodate all our current and future residents.


Mike Hicks said...

Yeah, the costs and benefits are never clear for things like this. I hope to buy a home in the city fairly soon, but I get frustrated because even many places in Minneapolis and Saint Paul proper are fairly suburbanized or cut off from other parts of town due to highways or rail lines. I'm also sensitive to noise, so finding a balance is very difficult for me.

One issue is that a suburban home can actually be bought and will store equity, while an apartment is essentially a service that you pay for each month. If you can afford the house, today's common wisdom is that you should buy it.

Of course, I think the Twin Cities is kind of upside-down on that idea -- it's basically cheaper to buy a house within Minneapolis or Saint Paul rather than do the monthly payment for an apartment -- especially if you need more than two rooms or want more freedom to modify your home.

Unfortunately, zoning has screwed things up all across the country. We really should be doing transit-oriented development every half-mile along every bus line that we have -- promoting mixed-use development and upzoning nodes near these stops so that larger apartments and condo buildings are in close proximity to jobs and retail, but with public spaces and a decent amount of the good old single-family home mixed in.

teb said...

You seem to be portraying the New York times article as more negative on the city than it was. It actually showed the city coming out better on cost. And the couple moved not primarily because of cost but because of a lifestyle choice; size of dwelling and lot. You could argue that that is really cost, that if they could have afforded a larger dwelling in the city that they would have stayed, but surely you're not advocating larger backyards in Brooklyn? said...

I am advocating for housing choice. In an ideal world this family should have been able to afford a house in the city limits with a yard (yes, they do exist in the 5 boroughs). Instead we have lost them to burbs of NJ.

My wife and I relocated from NYC because we couldn't afford to upgrade from our 1 bedroom co-op apartment. The jump up to more space and even a small backyard was just way beyond our means. How are we justifying a 6 fold increase?

Ngan Gaerla said...

Let's hear it for free housing. Let's buy cycling gear from