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The risk of eviction, meanwhile, can be roughly measured by the percentage of people’s incomes that they spend on shelter each month. As of 2015, 17 percent of Americans spent half or more of their incomes on rent.

This is why we (here in the US) need to address housing. And I don't know what term to use. "Affordable housing" is the term I want to default to, but that gets misinterpreted by people and ends up being a pointless argument where we talk at cross purposes.

Historically, we had more housing appropriate for single people with not much income and childless couples with not much income, etc. We largely eliminated those options as we defaulted to a standardized expectation of a family home designed for a nuclear family and the footprint of such homes has more than doubled since the 1950s. Meanwhile, the average size of the actual nuclear family in the US has shrunk as we are having fewer kids and, simultaneously, our population has diversified away from the nuclear family towards more single people, childless couples, single parents, etc.

It also used to be more feasible to live without a car in the US. Now, we default to assuming you drive and own a car. That is in the process of changing, but it is still a pretty standard assumption baked into residential construction. Some US cities are starting to loosen parking requirements for rentals near transit stations, among other things. But we still mostly assume that you drive, you own your own car and you don't object overly much to driving fairly long distances for daily essentials like getting to work and doing the grocery shopping.

I don't have a term for the kind of housing that doesn't default to assuming you are part of a nuclear family with at least two cars. I don't know of anyone inventing terms for an alternate concept here.

But this is part of why we have terrible housing insecurity in the US. From what I gather, other countries tend to be better about having housing available that isn't a terrible burden to some large subsection of it's population -- ie everyone who isn't part of a nuclear family with either a very well paid head of household or a two career couple situation (and I say career, not job, to try to evoke something that probably pays better than minimum wage, has benefits, etc.).




The other major issue with the single family home focus in the US is with how much wealth Americans have tied up in their homes–the goal of having affordable housing is at odds with the goal of having houses be investments that forever increase in value.

Plenty of people will advocate for ensuring that there is plenty of affordable housing, but as soon as prices actually go down and homes become more affordable it's as if the sky is falling. It makes sense given there are millions of people whose net worth/retirement/future stability is tied up in the long term growth in the paper value of their houses, but it's a tough problem to solve from a policy point of view.


Adam Smith observed years ago that cost of housing tends to eat up most people's pay raises. Which is to say if you can afford more you get more.

Of course there are limits. Everybody has a point where their house is big enough for them and there are no better areas to move to (or the better areas are out of reach). Then they improve it for lack of anything else to to with their money.


There's also the issue of rent-seeking hoarders. If "everyone" can pay more for the same thing, the cost of that thing rises to what the market will tolerate. It's basic Econ-101.

"A place to live" is only elastic in the number of people that want to live there. Right now more people want to live in cities than there are places in cities (particularly well built, noise and odd smell insulated places), so even though the quality of housing is lower than alternatives the cost to rent or buy is not reflective of that lack in quality.

The cost of building, in terms of land, approvals, delays in construction, etc is also not favorable.

At least to me as an outside observer, it seems EXTREMELY LIKELY that the 'market' is misaligned to the needs of the people and in need of a deep systemic overhaul including a review of regulations that encourage / discourage various activities.


The bigger issue is that as society in general gets richer much of the increase is being captured by landlords (and to an extent older property owners.) In the UK, the size of new build homes is at a 90 year low. [1]

[1] https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/04/shrinking-homes-the-ave...


Ironically Adam Smith also pointed that one out.

He also suggested a tax on rent as one of the best ways to tax, since it ends up being paid by the landlord.


It was more feasible to live without a car in the US because we didn't have that option. We weren't out of shape. We were used to long and unpredictable delays. If we needed to walk a hundred miles, we did it. Going longer distances, we might hope to get a ride on a sailing ship, but some people still walked.

This is still possible. Obstacles like large interstate highways are no worse than obstacles like large unbridged rivers. Not many people will tolerate it.


Good comments. Just FWIW Strong Towns (StrongTowns.org) the housing you’re taking about is often referred to as “the missing middle” housing types.




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