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Breakfast links: Houses and cars


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Washingtonians spend too much on housing: Despite the relative affluence in the DC area, many people are burdened by housing costs, particularly renters. The problem is almost as great in many outer counties as in DC, even before accounting for transportation costs. Tellingly, people are losing their homes to hold on to their cars. (Post)

New suburbanites struggle without cars: As urban poor are forced to become suburban poor with rising city housing costs, they are finding surburban life difficult without a car, which they didn't need before. (WAMU)

Shoo, parties: Mike DeBonis says DC should switch to nonpartisan elections, which such similarly stalwart Democratic cities as LA and Chicago have done. (Post) ... It should include Instant Runoff Voting as Topher Mathews recommended here. Could Congressional Republicans give DC a House seat in exchange for nonpartisan local elections, as some Twitterers suggested?

Local design criteria have value: Protracted design review gave Georgetown a more Georgetown-like Apple store rather than the company's off-the-shelf minimalist facade. Edward McMahon argues that replicating chains' standard architecture diminishes a neighborhood's unmatched value as a unique shopping destination. (PCJ, Eric Fidler)

Start of a new cycle in Rosslyn?: Rosslyn real estate tycoon Anthony Westreich is betting on low interest rates and construction costs to usher in a new era for Rossyln. He is building a new office tower without any committed tenants, hoping to entice a high-end occupant across the Potomac. (Post)

Virginia has a lot of aging bridges: Some 1,800 of Virginia's bridges and culverts, or 9% of the state's inventory, are structurally deficient. VDOT says it would cost $4 billion to repair them all. (WTOP)

Former DOT secretary prioritizes roads: Former Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta stressed the need for the federal government to make a major investment in transportation infrastructure, but said the priority should be road and highway maintenance. (Transportation Nation)

Detroit fills grocery void with independent markets: Since no major supermarket chain has a store in Detroit, independent grocers fill in the void. Can the same happen for the area's food deserts? (CNN Money, Eric Fidler)

Demand for 2BR apartments growing: New York City is seeing a revival in its 2 bedroom apartment market. The recession forced some into smaller homes, while those unfazed by the downturn took advantage of lower prices and traded up for larger homes. (NYT)

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

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I've made the point about affordable housing for federal workers before. Rent takes nearly 40% of my monthly net pay and when my lease is up in April I expect that number to rise, and not in accordance with my grade increase and non-existent cola.

Yes DC developers continue to construct luxury apartments we can't afford. Maybe Congress needs to mandate some zoning changes to the federal district about affordable condos for federal employees.

by Redline SOS on Nov 29, 2010 9:31 am • linkreport

Re: Housing costs

I think atleast some of these folks who are low skilled and only earn $29,000 need to consider moving to another area. I'm glad they like Fairfax, DC, etc.. But if they don't have a skillset in demand or that sets them apart in the labor pool they might be better off somewhere else. There are actually areas outside Pittsburgh, Detroit, etc were they could buy a home for $20K. Rather than struggling and bellyaching look for a better opportunity. That used to be the American way. I'm not advocating for everyone in the low skilled sector to leave but we have an oversupply and some out migration would be healthy. We certainly can't subsidize ALL these people.

Another option is to seek further education in a specialty that the market does demand. I know dental hygenists who make >=70K and the schooling for that is not very intense.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 9:31 am • linkreport

There are actually areas outside Pittsburgh, Detroit, etc were they could buy a home for $20K.

The problem is that a $29k/year worker in DC will likely be a $0/year worker in Detroit.

by andrew on Nov 29, 2010 9:39 am • linkreport

@Redline SOS

Somehow, thousands upon thousands of civil servants manage to live in this area on government salaries. Your whining constantly falls on deaf ears here.

Maybe you should work harder to get a promotion, or live in a less expensive area.

by MPC on Nov 29, 2010 9:41 am • linkreport

The Washington Post story had misleading table that proported to show how people in each income group have a harder time re housing in DC versus the USA as a whole. This, of course, ignores that the DC salary is, on average, higher than the USA. The reality is that housing is expensive in a lot of places in the USA, and lower housing prices often accompany lower salaries.

by SJE on Nov 29, 2010 9:49 am • linkreport

GGW to poor people: Move or get a better job?

$1300/month really is a lot for the average rental in the area. The height restriction lobbyists would have a better case if they argued for increased density in fairfax and Montgomery county rather than building more luxury condos in DC itself.

by charlie on Nov 29, 2010 9:49 am • linkreport

>>"DC developers continue to construct luxury apartments we can't afford."

Well the luxury apartments they are constructing meet demand. The people moving into those apartments will no longer be competing with you on the 30 year old housing/apartment stock. Do you really think *new construction* with all it's capital costs should be dirt cheap? If you don't make much money you probably should be living in older housing stock.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

The numbers in the Post's chart don't seem to me to add up. Given 1) quoted percent is just 'carrying costs', i.e., some combination of rent, mortgage, property tax, condo fees, utilities and 2) quoted percent is fraction of pre-tax, pre-insurance, pre-savings income-- how can the fraction for owners > $75,000 in Loudoun County be 85%? No comprendre.

by MattF on Nov 29, 2010 10:02 am • linkreport

@MPC - Whining? The Washington Post just did an article which reiterates my point, "more than half the renters with household incomes of $50,000 to $75,000 spent more than 30 percent of their income last year to keep a roof over their heads."

And while I may be in Montgomery County, the point remains valid. I'm at the top end of that spectrum, but you add in the 20% of my net income which goes to student loans and I pay 60% of my net before I earn it.

That has nothing to do with my abilities or where I live, it's a symptom of a dysfunctional America. One where higher education enslaves the middle class and puts the American Dream of homeownership into a nightmare status of being ever out of reach. It's a failure of government policies in education, housing, zoning and employment.

by Redline SOS on Nov 29, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

Regarding aging VA bridges: maybe more of them would be in better shape if they just bothered to perform basic preventive maintenance on them. How about repainting the steel beams so they don't rust through? I see that everywhere along 395.

by NikolasM on Nov 29, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

I think atleast some of these folks who are low skilled and only earn $29,000 need to consider moving to another area.

Question: when all of these people move away, who is going to make your sandwich, clean the bathroom at your workplace, etc?

An economy needs people at all different levels in order to function. How is it an "oversupply" if this person has a job? If they have a job then they are in demand for something.

The real problem is the complete and total stagnation of wages, especially at the middle bottom. The middle class responded to this first by adding a second income to their household (both adults working) but that doesn't really help single parents.

I'd be interested to see what the numbers are for housing+transportation affordability, similar to the study that was mentioned a few months ago here.
http://htaindex.cnt.org/

by MLD on Nov 29, 2010 10:32 am • linkreport

Regarding the snarky comment about prioritizing roads:

The fact remains that while we'd all like better rail and bike path infrastructure, it currently doesn't exist everywhere while miles of roads do. Letting the roads crumble in order to build new rail isn't the answer. After all, what would I drive my zipcar on when I go to IKEA? :-P

by Teyo on Nov 29, 2010 10:33 am • linkreport

Why should an open primary be tied to congressional representation? The two are separate issues, and even with an open primary any representative will be a Democrat and that's the problem for Congress (or the republican party).

BTW, while an instant runoff is great theoretically (and even in practice) I can't really imagine many voters in DC figuring out how it works.

by ah on Nov 29, 2010 10:35 am • linkreport

The Washington Post article is bogus. While $776 is still a lot of money for someone making $29k a year thats pretty low for the area in both rent and pay.

My guess is that same person lifing in other cities would not make $29k a year doing the same job and would end up in the same situation most likly. Lower Rent, but lower pay.

by Matt R on Nov 29, 2010 10:37 am • linkreport

@ah

I believe the potential bargain was for DC voting rights in exchange for non-partisan elections, not in exchange for open primaries.

Non-partisan elections are quite different.

by Alex B. on Nov 29, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

@Matt R

The whole point of the discussion is that wages and rents do not increase in lock-step.

You might make 20% more money in DC instead of another city, but if your rents are 35% higher than that other city, then the added income isn't of much help.

I do agree with MLD that location and transportation costs should be taken into account. The second link in the post about the suburban poor struggling to get by without cars underscores the fundamental links between transportation and land use.

by Alex B. on Nov 29, 2010 11:03 am • linkreport

@MattF:

I believe what the statistic is saying is NOT that Loudoun County owners with income above $75,000 are spending more than 85% on housing, but that 85% of those owners are spending more than 30% of their income on housing (whereas nationwide only 28% of similarly high-income earners spend more than 30% on housing). Given the large number of McMansion developments in Loudoun County that well-off county residents (including many of my coworkers) aspire to, this number actually seems quite reasonable to me.

by rock_n_rent on Nov 29, 2010 11:08 am • linkreport

@SJE, I don't understand your summary of the table. The table shows "burden" by income group. Thus those in any given income group aren't earning more or less than anyone else in that same income group nationally or locally. Are you saying that the disproportionate high median income in the area results in higher housing costs across the board? That may be and thats the point of the report, that housing costs are skewed up b/c of the high median income, increasing housing burden in the area for lower incomes compared to other places (or nationally) where the median income isn't as high. That's how I interpreted it.

by Tina on Nov 29, 2010 11:11 am • linkreport

@MLD

Question: when all of these people move away, who is going to make your sandwich, clean the bathroom at your workplace, etc?

They would never ALL move away. This is strawman. I doubt more than 10% would move away. I'm just throwing it out there that it is an option these people need to seriously consider rather than resorting to bellyaching that government needs to intervene with subsidies.

An economy needs people at all different levels in order to function. How is it an "oversupply" if this person has a job? If they have a job then they are in demand for something.
People working the 17K/yr jobs should modestly step up their skills to work the $29K/yr jobs. Then the unemployed unskilled workers take the $17K/yr jobs.

The real problem is the complete and total stagnation of wages, especially at the middle bottom. The middle class responded to this first by adding a second income to their household (both adults working).

That is a national problem. The dialog about affordable housing is a local one. It's not within our grasp to fix the national problems in our local economy. That's unsustainable.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 11:17 am • linkreport

@Jason, but the DC area has the lowest unemployment in the nation, Yes? Therefore this is the place to come/look if you're seeking employment opportunity no matter your skills. It wouldn't make sense for someone to go to an area with higher unemployment hoping for a better opportunity than what s/he has here. The only way that would make sense is to secure the job before leaving.

by Tina on Nov 29, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport

@Jason, P.S. I think you're also overlooking the value of social capital that a person has in a place where they've lived and have established relationships. Going somewhere new means all that would be lost. There's plenty of evidence that these types of networks have quantifiable value.

by Tina on Nov 29, 2010 11:32 am • linkreport

People working the 17K/yr jobs should modestly step up their skills to work the $29K/yr jobs. Then the unemployed unskilled workers take the $17K/yr jobs.

This is the kind of mentality that got us into this mess in the first place. Should we encourage people to increase their skills in order to get better jobs and make more money? Yes. But that is only a solution for that one person, it does not address the systematic devaluing of certain jobs to the point where people cannot live on the salaries provided by that job. Someone is going to have that $17K, $29K, etc. job. And if the wages for those jobs don't rise to keep up with the cost of living in an area, then you're just increasing the proportion of the population that will be living in a 3rd world hovel without enough to feed and clothe their family.

Oh wait, welcome to the last 30 years in the USA!

by MLD on Nov 29, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

@Tina

Re: lowest unemployment
The area also has high housing costs. So people flock here because they here unemployment is low oblivious of the realities of the cost of living and that's society's burden to help them afford the area?

Re: Social capital
I won't refute that social capital is real even if it's hard to quantify. My sister in CT relies on her mother in-law for babysitting, etc... I get it. But if the value of that social capital isn't enabling you to make ends meet maybe it isn't worth clinging onto. Out of my high school graduating class < 10% still lives within 50 miles of our hometown. We left for education and opportunity. Unskilled labor needs to consider their options for opportunity as well...

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

Also, this article was a missed opportunity for a "the rent is too damn high" reference.

by Alex B. on Nov 29, 2010 11:59 am • linkreport

>> Someone is going to have that $17K, $29K, etc. job. And if the wages for those jobs don't rise to keep up with the cost of living in an area, then you're just increasing the proportion of the population that will be living in a 3rd world hovel without enough to feed and clothe their family.

In my hometown in CT it was a combination of part-time high school students and seniors who worked the cashier jobs. Here in DC it seems to be the cashiers are unskilled adults who complain they aren't paid enough. Those adults need to aspire to more.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 11:59 am • linkreport

@ NikolasM; agreed. I have no idea why they do that -- perhaps on paper it makes sense to do all the work at once, rather than doing constant upkeep. However, it does lead to where bridges, etc are close to breaking before the replacement/rebuild takes places -- rather than extending the useful life.

by charlie on Nov 29, 2010 12:01 pm • linkreport

There's going to be major societal issues in our future if the government doesn't focus on developing some kind of functional and reliable transportation infrastructure to the suburbs. The trend is obvious that we (in DC) are going to have more suburban poverty with richer neighborhoods at the center. There will always be Potomacs and McLeans, but the vast swaths of cheaply built post WWII subdivisions that will never regain their value will become concentrations of poverty. The only difference with the inner-city slums of the 20th century is the virtual isolation one would experience with out adequate transportation. For 50 years our government has been subsidizing an unsustainable lifestyle, I guess becasue they could never fathome "third world" societies becoming first world ones, and out competing us for the natural recourses that it takes to sustain these life styles. Either way, I hope that we come to the realization quickly that rather than the endless fights about what's market driven or socialist, we need to get in the game and put our ever dwindling recourses/riches in to a future that will pay real dividends for our future and kids future quality of life.

As for not being able to afford DC, I feel you, but if you can afford to leave one of the few relativley healthy job markets, more power to you, and best of luck.

by Thayer-D on Nov 29, 2010 12:10 pm • linkreport

Probably to the surprise of some other readers in this thread I am a Democrat rather than a Tea-partyist. But most of my friends and family are republicans so my democratic ideologies always get challenged. I believe that makes me more realistic than some liberals who only discourse with like mind individuals. Many of them want the hand of government hand in anything that they feel has any level of social injustice. They fully stick to their idealogies and don't view things pragmatically.

My aunt an my mother have both spent a good deal of time on one incarnation of welfare or another. My aunt lived with my grandparents until she was 35, had a child out of wedlock that she couldn't support, watched TV all day while smoking pot, and didn't even show enough dedication to show up on time to the 7-11 job she briefly had which was two blocks away. She was depressed but the government aid and my grandparents were purely enablers to her laziness. She got her act together in her late 30s, moved to NC, and has a steady job and pays her bills on time. Today she even admits she was immature and lazy.

My mom had a different arc. She had a family and worked from 20-43 but quit caring after a divorce and still hasn't rebounded in the last 12 years while on state aid and an allowance from my grandfather. Both are enabling her to be irresponsible and wallow in self pity.

So like I said, I'm not a teapartier just a realistic democrat. I recognize that there is a republican party that disgrees with most government spending and expansion. As democrats we have to prioritize our government spending programs. For spending I value education and multi-modal transportation infrastructure as these are investments in our future. For social justice I do believe in SHORT TERM safety nets but these long term welfare programs, affordable housing subsidies, etc take entitlements too far and reduce accountability of individuals to society.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 12:42 pm • linkreport

I am college-educated and work a professional/office job, and 40+% of my take-home pay was going to housing for my first two years on the job until I got promoted. I made (and make) a pretty decent salary for my peer group, and I wasn't living anywhere fancy either (shared house in Rockville, then a mostly-unrenovated shared house in Columbia Heights). I survived, but if any large unexpected bills came up I frequently found myself selling excess possessions to cover the cost. This is a real problem, even for people at the equivalent of federal GS-5, and folks like Jason pretending it's just a matter of people not working hard enough is absurd.

by Nate on Nov 29, 2010 12:47 pm • linkreport

Perhaps a working definition of a great city is a place where people are willing to pay 40% of their income to live. Would you rather pay 45% of your income to live in an even greater Washington? Or 20% to live in a not-so-good suburb?

by Jim Titus on Nov 29, 2010 12:54 pm • linkreport

@Nate - I lived in a share/group house as well until I was 28. Do you think a few years of sacrifice as you progress up the career ladder is unreasonable? I know America has become land of instant gratification but come on...

I thought the dialog about affordable housing was related to unskilled labor. If people want to expand that to housing for recent college graduates I think that's an even bigger non-starter.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 1:01 pm • linkreport

That has nothing to do with my abilities or where I live, it's a symptom of a dysfunctional America. One where higher education enslaves the middle class and puts the American Dream of homeownership into a nightmare status of being ever out of reach.

I think everybody having access to an instant mortgage is the least of our problems.

by monkeyrotica on Nov 29, 2010 1:36 pm • linkreport

No. I expected to have to live in a group house. I did not expect to have to live in a group house and still have to rack up debt or sell possessions when I had to get cavities filled, or get new glasses, or whatever. Yet that's exactly how it was for the first two years. You can convince yourself that's reasonable, but I think most people would say it's not.

DC, NY, SF and maybe Boston are about the only places I'm aware of where it's that way. Anecdotally, I think DC loses a ton of young talent because of it. I've occasionally looked for jobs in cheaper cities, and I know other people who have left the area in part for that reason. You seem to think that's okay. I am not sure everyone would agree.

by Nate on Nov 29, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

It takes resources to move too. Its pretty difficult for a lot of people to come up with 1 or 2 months rent security deposit on a new place in a new city if they're just getting by in the current city.

by Tina on Nov 29, 2010 1:44 pm • linkreport

@Tina: the burden does not account for relative costs of housing. For example, more people in DC making 50-75K spend more of their income on housing than someone making 50-75 elsewhere. However, the person making 50-75K in DC is likely to make less if they moved to Appalachia, and the person making 50-75K in Appalachia is probably at the top end of the income distribution there. Raw numbers are misleading: expressing it as quintiles would be better.

by SJE on Nov 29, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

Since we're on the subject...

I'm in that 50-75K range. A quick calculation shows that I'm paying 31.7% of my take-home pay on rent....double what I average a month on my car (15.7%).

That said, I'm also saving 9.5% of my take-home pay a month through various investments. I'd like to say I live fairly comfortably on the rest, but it doesn't hurt that I'm single with no dependents.

by Froggie on Nov 29, 2010 2:24 pm • linkreport

@Froggie
It is intresting how 50-75k is a lot of money and a good salery for the area, but if your single / live alone suddenly that is not very much money anymore.

I am in a simular pay bracket and if payed for my home by myself I am at an even higher 36% of my take-home, and mortgage is low enough that moving to an apartment would not save much money. But since I live with my wife who makes the same as me my % drops to 18%

We live in a region where is is assumed that most dwellings will be for two people, which makes it hard for the single moms out there.

by Matt R on Nov 29, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

>> "We live in a region where is is assumed that most dwellings will be for two people, which makes it hard for the single moms out there."

It is no doubt tough on single moms. But does that mean the market rate should be set at whatever single moms can afford? Or does that mean local governments should provide high subsidy amounts to all single mothers?

People shouldn't have kids they can't afford. It's not the kids fault and therefore some aid is necessary to low income single mothers but it should be targeted to what those kids truly need. The kids need food. A roof over the head is important too - but that could be anywhere in the region - it doesn't need to be across the street from the Columbia Heights metro in new construction.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 3:03 pm • linkreport

You have to fix the construction industry. This industry hasn't changed much in the past 100 years and it is very inefficient.

One group in SF has the right idea with their breakthrough system to cut constructions coast and schedule in HALF. Have a look: http://www.2020b.com

I'm following them for their energy deal, too.

by AndrewW on Nov 29, 2010 3:38 pm • linkreport

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