Thursday, January 26, 2012

millennials & affordable housing: a clarification

I was taken aback by the responses to Tuesday's post on the Millennial generation (today's twenty-somethings) and affordable housing, both here and on Greater Greater Washington, where it got 176 comments as of last night.

The comments I received could be organized in one of three categories:

1) People who think I'm being "entitled" and/or "whiny" in calling for an increase of reasonably-priced housing in close-in neighborhoods.

2) People who may agree that housing is expensive, but suggest that I just live with their parents/in a group house/commute from the suburbs/live in an on-the-edge urban neighborhood while saving up to move somewhere better.

3) And, finally, people who sympathize with my argument, which was that it's in the interest of Montgomery County (or D.C., or any of the counties around the Beltway) to ensure an ample supply of housing for its workforce by making it easier to build more and different types of housing, not by providing subsidies. Otherwise, they'll either commute from further out, which causes traffic and creates suburban sprawl, or they'll just leave the region altogether.

These are all valid opinions. Maybe I'm being whiny. In order to save money, I have lived with my parents while commuting an hour each way for work, in a group house on the far side of Petworth, and in apartment shares, including the one where I currently live in Philadelphia. People often have to make compromises in where they live, but this is only part of the solution. The study I cited says that there's a need for 60,000 new homes in Montgomery County in coming years just to accommodate new households, whether it's a single person renting a studio apartment or four people sharing a house.

I was especially struck by the sentiment that living in a close-in neighborhood, particularly one where you can walk to things as I suggested, is some kind of luxury deserved only by wealthy people who can afford it. I'm not saying that 20-something entry-level workers should all be able to live in Logan Circle for free. But I am saying that 20-something entry-level workers, or better yet anyone, be able to afford to find decent housing (whatever that may be) in a place where they can get to work, the grocery store, or other amenities without driving there. By not having a car, you're saving money. That alone makes housing more affordable.

We can make that happen by allowing the development of more housing in areas where that already exists, like downtown Silver Spring, and by creating more walkable, amenity-served neighborhoods, like in White Flint. This is a good thing. It keeps workers in Montgomery County; creates shorter commutes, thus reducing traffic; and drives investment to established neighborhoods rather than to the region's fringe.

Increasing the housing stock isn't about entitlement. It's about creating a stronger region and ensuring that the next generation can be a part of it.


Greg Sanders said...

So there weren't many comments calling for affordable housing via subsidies? Interesting.

I'd guess that would reflect a policy shift in group 3. Groups 1 and 2 don't really see a problem so I doubt that they are the traditional affordable housing advocates.

Greg Sanders said...

I just read through some of the of the comments. It really is remarkable how many people assume you're calling for subsidies given the total absence of call for such (or even set asides or other less direct mechanisms) from your article or the comments.

toberead2 said...

It's not just 20-somethings. There's also a limited amount of housing for middle aged folks with moderate incomes, especially singles. I'd like to see a broader range of housing options for everyone.

The problem with subsidies is that they tend to split the housing market into very low end and very high end, as developers try to offset the subsidized housing with extremely expensive units. People in the middle who don't qualify for subsidies tend to be priced out of the market.

Run a Game said...

Presumably the savings -- gas, car, time -- would pay for the higher rent. All the urban living advocates I know tell me that living in a city saves you more than it costs because of the ability to walk everywhere, the short commute, etc, etc.

If you shop locally and rarely drive, you'll save a few hundred dollars a month, plus dozens of hours of time, which is why urban living is cost effective. Consider: If you shave 90 minutes off your commuting time and can walk to work, and you value your personal time at just $20/hr, you save $600 a month. Not driving is $120 a month in gas, and probably as much in wear and tear on your car, which you probably don't even need anyway, so you can ditch the $200/mo car payment, $50/mo insurance, and so forth (though Zipcar rentals and metro fares for social outings will add up, so we'll call your car savings only $100/mo). Now you're $820/mo richer.

Most of that is in saved time, not actual money -- only $220 is money). If you use your new time effectively, you can use it to either find savings elsewhere (cook your own meals to save money for lunch and dinner), or make money (side business).

My SIL has a small 1br, just three blocks from the Capitol building, that costs under $1500/mo utilities included. The difference between a Columbia 1br and that is more than made up by the savings of living in the city.