I’ve lived in the backwaters of small-town America far too long to have any sense of what it costs to live in the real world.
The narcosis had soon worn off after I asked my sister what she pays in rent; she resides in San Francisco.
To her understandable frustration, I insisted she repeat that number several times to make sure I had heard correctly.
I was stuck; I just couldn’t make the mental adjustment necessary to move the decimal place one digit to the right.
I didn’t have the temerity to ask about other living expenses.
Here’s what my morbid curiosity unearthed: the median price of a single-family in San Francisco is $1.6 million dollars, and the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,700.
In the metro area, more than 80 percent of homes cost more than a million dollars.
I’ve since removed my rose-colored lenses and discovered that although San Francisco tops the list in real estate values, home ownership and affordable rents across America’s urban landscape are in crisis, and represent fundamental economic dilemmas.
What about the working poor, about the 50 percent of households that live paycheck to paycheck?
What about those who just lost their paycheck to another corporate merger?
What was sold as the American Dream of home ownership has been sold-out.
The growing ranks of the homeless – 7,500 and counting in San Francisco alone – must sleep well at night knowing the National Association of Realtors has an “unwavering commitment” that all Americans have the opportunity “to attain a decent, safe, and affordable home.”
And on the legislative side, the latest panacea for lower- and middle-income earners is the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act which aims to funnel millions into a series of federal housing funds that “could lead to the creation of 3 million housing units … and reduce rents by around 10 percent.”
This would amount to, if passed, a thin legislative band aid at best.
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the shortfall of affordable housing is around 7 million units.
Add this to the seven and a half million Americans who are already receiving Section 8 housing vouchers or currently reside in public housing and the three million families who are on the waiting list for vouchers!
There is something more insidious underlying the vast bogs of tents and cardboard that decorate our metro landscapes — domiciles for our local Third World populations — and that is, for the first time, we are witnessing a disconnect in the relationship between housing starts and housing prices.
Historically, as the market value of real estate increases, new home construction increases as well; when values drop so does construction.
We’ve seen an annual 6 percent average increase in home values since 2012, yet housing starts haven’t come close to that number.
We know what happens when demand exceeds supply.
But why the disconnect? Why aren’t developers tasking their architects to design more tulip-lined culdesacs?
Could it be that land prices are prohibitively high? Or is there a shortage of skilled framers, plumbers, electricians, and the like? What about financing — fear that interest rates will take off again? Or is something else rotting beneath the sill plate?
I suspect so.
While dreams are not limited, natural resources are. While high paying, mortgage-qualifying jobs are available, they just don’t happen to match the skill sets for the majority of workers.
If the color of your rainbow happens to be database programmer or electrical engineer you will soon get to know your local lender … if your thing is teaching preschoolers or caring for the elderly, reimagine your residential plans — or better yet, marry an electrical engineer.
Our lifestyles and neighborhoods have never been more fragmented, cleaved along widening socio-economic gaps.
While home prices have risen, lower and middle income wages have not.
Add to that, a system which rewards the “flipping” of homes and Airbnb rentals and a picture begins to emerge.
We aren’t so much short of vouchers and public housing units as we are a collective will to see one another as equals.
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view.
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