Thursday, January 25, 2007

Beyond Cadogan Place

Earlier this week, mwbh reported on the sale of a former servant's quarters, about the size of a walk-in closet, in a high-rent London neighborhood. This writer submitted that it was a model for alleviating the affordable housing crisis in America.

It's been said here before, and will be said again: From 1950 to 2000, the average American home doubled in size, and had half as many people living in it. This is where our resources are going, this is what the housing industry insists must be built, as this is allegedly where the "demand" is. Yet outside the Nation's capital, in the suburban counties of Fairfax and Loudoun, Virginia, huge megahomes aimed at the "luxury market" -- as if only the rich ever needed a place to live, without a place for their maids to do the same -- are sitting on that market for weeks, with the asking price continuing to go down. Fairfax County is considering the extension of housing subsidies for people with six-figure incomes.

You read that right. Six. Figure. Incomes. I read it in the Washington Post last fall. This could have been avoided.

Say you had a proposal to build one dozen 3,000 square-foot houses, each sitting on a half-acre lot, each selling for $650K. (Consider these prices in terms of East Coast markets like Washington; in the Midwest, the cost would be around half.) What if, instead, you built two-dozen 1,200 to 1,500 square-foot houses, each on quarter-acre narrow lots, each selling for $300-350K. All would have two- or three-bedrooms, and some would have walk-out finished basements. All would have separate one- or two-car garages in the back, with steeped roofs for an unfinished den or guest room. (Of course, the danger of not having attached garages is that one might actually see one's neighbors, but never mind that, since they might just as easily be attached.) The builder would still get roughly the same return, the houses would move more quickly, the local tax base would benefit from a more stable return as well, since the buyer is less likely to suffer from fluctuations in the market.

This is basically a conventional suburban scenario, for which this writer doesn't care, and for that reason alone. But it demonstrates how developers don't have to be pigs to make a living. And in some of those garage apartments could be the family's aging parent, who could be spared the fate of a nursing home. Or the occupants could be taxpaying, job holding citizens, who would otherwise be out on the street at one point or another. Being out on the street makes it harder to hold down a job, while being out of a job makes it harder to find a place to live, because... you know the rest.

There was a time when the above would have been considered normal. Yes, perfectly damn normal! People like to blame Reagan for the greediness of the 1980s. Seems to me there were plenty of others involved, and not all of them Republicans. The aging hippies predominating in Takoma Park, Maryland, don't look like they're suffering. Not if their real estate assessments are any indication.

So, you're saying to yourself: "Hey, what's this doing on a 'Catholic blog'"? Uh-huh.

Part of being Catholic, is bringing those values into the world, which doesn't always happen on the Parish Busybody Committee. Most people who do "peace and justice" work are wasting their time, as real solutions to anything generally involve more than whining. It may have been the Mennonites who said it: "Live simply, so that others may simply live." How many of us don't, and what is that costing our neighbors?

Our next installment on this subject will include a more radical scenario -- with pictures. Stay tuned...


Dad29 said...


Brought that up to a few friends a while ago--under the heading of "Things the Archbishop Will NEVER Talk About."

I don't care WHICH Archbishop we have.

Another thing: think of all the debt-dollars sucked up by those monsters which could be used for a LOT of other purposes. Put another way, look at all the asset-dollars stuck into those elephantine rooms--which could be productively used elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to part II in this series.

To be honest, I'm not that big of a fan of low income subsidization. Subsidizes for people making six figures? Wow.

mrsdarwin said...

Not five minutes ago my husband was telling me that one of his co-workers (married, but not planning to have children any time soon) just bought a 3200 sq. ft. house. Heck, we could fit TWO of our house into that, and we have three children and a cat. What does one do with all that space?

I think this is a very appropriate discussion for Catholics to have. I'm looking forward to Part II.

Chris said...

Don't want to make anybody jealous but here in Indiana, three years ago I built a 2400 sq ft house (not including unfinished basement) on 4 1/2 acres for $201,000. My family of 6 fits quite nicely in it.

David L Alexander said...

Well, I know in the rural areas of the state, at least the southeast, that would not be difficult at that price. How many more kids you planning on fitting in there, eh?

Dad29 said...

FYI, we had 9 chilluns stuffed into a 4BR 3BA ranch, 2300SF plus 1200SF finished basement on 2 acres.

Now 3 chilluns (plus several hundred cu.ft. of older-child crap stored here) in 3BR 1.5BA 1200SF.

We could live very nicely without the stored-crap, thanks!

David L Alexander said...

Oh, I've got one for y'all. I grew up in a ranch-style starter home, three bedrooms, under 900 sq ft above ground with (back then) work-in-progress basement. Mom, Dad, and two sons, two daughters, sharing one bathroom.

Try and beat that one!

Chris said...

How many more kids you planning on fitting in there, eh?

unfortunately because of health issues none, unless we adopt.

BTW southeast is correct.

Property tax is an issue with me.
With the amount I pay in property tax, 70% goes to the public schools. 60% of my tithe at my parish goes to the parish school. I end up paying 3 times as much to educate other peoples kids than I do to homeschool my own. Somethings wrong with that picture.

CMinor said...

2 parents, 4 kids (two grown), 4 large dogs & 2 rabbits in 1900 sq ft for 91K, in the Southeast. Lived in the Balto/Wash corridor some time ago; am always floored by the cost of housing in the DC area. Glad not to be there, actually; 300K for a townhouse is insanity (not to mention more than we could afford.)