“If you look at how long it takes for a person to save up to buy a house-that’s sort of the hot indicator now-San Francisco, you know, the Bay Area, we’re looking at 27 to 30 years. So basically, you’re just not going to buy a house. Seattle’s not there yet, but it’s still 15 or 16 years. And if you look back, right before the recession, it was probably eight years. So, what that’s telling millennials is that you shouldn’t even bother. Or you’re going to have to sort of re-think your idea of housing success. Or you’re gonna have to get politically active. So, all those narratives are playing out in cities like Seattle. ”
– Paul Roberts, ‘How Did Housing Become So Expensive?‘, WBUR On Point, Broadcast May 2, 2018
Motivation …A : Affordable Housing, City Living & Settling Down
As I mentioned in my first post of this series, Land ho!, I am a millennial on a limited budget living in an increasingly prosperous city. In general, prosperity is good. Prosperity is sweet. Prosperity is sweet like a pie. This pie however, is unevenly baking. The slice of the pie that one gets depends on the circumstances of one’s seat at the table–if one can actually afford to sit at that table long enough to eat it.
As I get older, I feel a draw to be settled, but as I look around, I am challenged to envision my future within the city limits. Each year, the rent increase at lease signing and the potential of roommate re-finding buzz in my year a little more aggressively, stir my anxiety a little more fervently, than they did 365 days prior. The prosperity is driving up the cost to rent faster than paychecks can keep up, and it turns out that I am not alone. The challenge of affordable housing in thriving big cities is affecting communities all over the country. One affected demographic that I will primarily discuss in this piece is: the millennials.
On April 26, 2018, Politico Magazine published an article by Seattle journalist, Paul Roberts titled, ‘My Generation is Never Going to Have That‘. Yep. You read the title correctly. The bitter twinge of the absolutist introduction sets the stage for a tense, battle-ready, frustrated yet determined tone emanating from the language of the piece itself. Which high-stakes battle yields such a vocabulary from the journalist? The Seattle housing crisis. One example of many occurring in cities across the United States.
In the article, Roberts addresses what he calls “a paradox that threatens many of America’s most successful cities: the younger workers needed to maintain that urban success can no longer afford to live there.” He hones in on Seattle’s crises through the lens of 27 year old Seattle programmer and affordable housing social and political activist, Zach Lubarsky. “Since the end of the financial crisis,” Roberts writes, “… Seattle has added roughly 100,000 jobs, but barely 32,000 new homes and apartment units.” And so long as the demand for housing is so much higher than supply, the future of affordable housing costs continues to be threatened. In Zach Lubarsky’s case, he campaigns against restrictive zoning for single family homes that locks out whole portions of the city to potential tenants, while simultaneously advocating for more higher density, multi-family housing projects. The article goes into great detail about the extent of the housing crisis Seattle faces. It also goes into great detail about the extent to which Lubarsky and his tech peers are organizing to alleviate “a crisis that many in Seattle blame the tech industry for creating.” I recommend reading Roberts’ article in its entirety. There’s a lot learn.
Where Lobarsky focuses his solutions on what can be done within his city’s boundaries, with Land ho!, I turn my own millennial consideration, time and exploratory resources to… the country.
“We have plenty of locations typical folk don’t want to live in,” one commenter wrote in response to WBUR’s May 2nd podcast broadcast titled, ‘How Did Housing Become So Expensive?’, “I think folks need to be a bit more creative with where they look and this includes where business locates. The wealth needs to be spread out across the states. It’s much healthier than building super high densities in the big cities while leaving other smaller cities to rot.“
On this WBUR broadcast, NPR media correspondent, David Folkenflik, features as guests: journalist, Paul Roberts; anthropologist and writer Elizabeth Greenspan; and University of California Berkeley professor, Carol Galante. The four address issues from rising construction costs to zoning laws, to historical racial discrimination in housing and more. The episode is rich with content, and I highly recommend listening! There is at least one weak point however, when it comes to the breadth of their conversation about the US housing and employment status quo; it is thankfully offset by the repeated appeals of callers. Commentary on the impacts of a tech-heavy job market and soaring housing prices skews towards urban centers primarily or urban centers alone. What about the [ripple] effect on the country as one whole? Incoming callers consistently invite the guest experts to consider economically struggling, non-urban communities in the midst of the national tech boom as well.
I posit the following solution, and it falls in line with WBUR’s commenter quoted earlier: Speaking as a city dweller considering how I can invest in a future in the country, settling down, working and participating in community outside of the physical and financial limitations of the metropolis, perhaps part of our national solution lies in an economic and social bridge between the city and the country? At one point in the broadcast, Roberts hints that ideas about investing outside of the city have crossed his path. I am paraphrasing from memory, but as far as he knows, the free market does not seem to favor these ventures. I recall that he did not express much faith or encouragement to explore the possibilities further, yet his response also hinted that creative alternatives to the gravitational pull towards city-life and its aspirations of urban prosperity, still have room to be explored at one’s own risk!
In search of way to wrap this up, I’ll end with these questions:
- If I cannot buy a house in under 30 years, to enjoy it for myself in the prime of my life, does it render the pursuit useless? Does value end at my personal material benefit? What about children, generations to follow?
- Must we only be driven by the markets? Why not be driven by our conscience? Would our collectively shifting desires impact the market to follow our lead? Could we impact businesses to follow our lead as well?
In upcoming posts, I will continue to address the spheres of interest, of passion, of motivation, of and vision that are actively converging as I explore: 1) land ownership, 2) in a rural setting, 3) with the intention to build a home and 4) all on a limited budget.
In the least, with regards to affordable housing, housing stability and settling down, I hope this adventure I’m setting out on is an encouragement towards more creative solutions in our current economy, keeping the entirety of the country in mind. If the door seems shut or shutting on your opportunity to set down roots in the urban environment, or if the urban environment is already pushing you out, perhaps considering investment outside of the city will be the opening of window. Perhaps instead of reacting to change, we can think of more ways to be proactive about a stable, affordable housing future. God willing, this will work out for me, but I hope not only for me. I implore other individuals, couples, friends and small families on a limited budget to not give up on a dream of one sitting at a table and prospering too.
The good Lord, if I look to my faith, has nothing against blessing His children.
Copyright © 2018 A.M. Wilsonne