In January 2018, we moved back from Charlottesville, VA (which itself isn't even "urban") to Harrison, AR. I was able to buy a five bedroom, two bath home on a half acre in a quiet neighborhood for under $125k.
My wife and I are beginning to put together our requirements for our next home, which will likely be a bit further from other people, outside city limits, and likely be on 5-10 acres. The cost will till be far less than even a three bedroom townhome would have been in Charlottesville.
In terms of prescriptive advice, high-density housing reduces urban sprawl. If you can convince a third of suburbia to change to denser housing, commute times for everyone would be cut in half. Vast swaths of land could also return to farmland or nature preserves.
So even people who personally prefer to live "just outside the city" should advocate for denser housing. When the city builds up, everything moves towards the center.
I just measured the distance from city centre to the countryside for two cities of about equal size:
Hamburg (Pop 1.5 mil): 8mi
Houston (Pop 1.8 mil): 22mi
(I chose these because LA and Chicago have coastal layouts which aren't comparable. They also connect directly to other urban areas which for the purposes of this exercise should be considered as "farmland". Or you could add their respective populations which would further amplify the difference)
Thanks for making this point, so many people vociferously object to any density anywhere. Nobody is being forcibly relocated to dense living, but people are being forcibly denied the option of dense living.
It's similar to transit and traffic: though other people taking transit helps drivers encounter traffic, far too many drivers will attack transit because it's "not something they use." Realizing that other people want different things and that those different things might help you with your own wants is a complicated topic for public discussion.
Now if we could only get a better political separation between urban and rural; right now, since the urban areas have higher population density, they effectively set the policy for those in rural areas, generally without caring much about the fallout.
How much more do you think the urban populations would be paying for these essential products and services if you wanted to go tit-for-tat?
Related, I looked at a house that had a co-op for water. It was $25 a month and controlled completely by the homeowners, compared with the $100+ I'm paying for water in town where I'm subjected to the whims of the city council.
Got any evidence to back up your claims?
Perhaps it's different where you live. But, aside from roads, what other infrastructure is massively subsidized by those in the urban areas?
I started working remote, and my mind went immediately to moving to a less populated area.
I really don't understand the appeal of living in a city. There's a ton of traffic and noise, and it seems that people are way more busy in larger cities. But different strokes for different folks I suppose.
> This is the New American
Home for 2018. It’s a sprawling
monstrosity of more than
Wait a minute, you mean the trade association for residential homebuilders thinks we should build absurdly large, expensive houses? Well, I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you.
Like, I get that some people want big lawns and backyards but I don't get why this needs to be the only housing that's legal in the majority of all suburbs in the country (even many inner suburbs just a few miles from major urban centers). Why can't I do what I want with my property? Is there really that much of a public interest in forcing an entire neighborhood to be grass farmers?
Also, economics is weird. Townhomes cost almost the same as nearby houses, perhaps because they are relatively limited supply and more cost-efficient to maintain, so people look at the sticker price and think "oh, I can get a lot more footage for a little more price".
Also, townhomes tend to get built as sound buffers alongside highways, making them unpleasant to live in.
Additionally, THs are considered "starter" homes. Certainly here in DC, a couple is expected to "move up" to a single-family in the outer 'burbs when their family grows.
It's all quite silly. And I say that having bought the single family in my 20s, hated it, sold it in my early 40s to go back to a TH. Now I walk to work, shorter drive to pretty much everything when needed, less maintenance. I'm much happier.
Yep, I'm in DC too, and happen to live in a condo. There's lots of townhomes near me, but it amazes me how many people willingly move out to Haymarket or Warrenton to buy an McMansion and then drive 2+ hours/day, mostly sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-66. Now the government has cut down all the trees and dug everything up around that highway so they can widen it, which of course isn't going to help one iota.
>It's all quite silly. And I say that having bought the single family in my 20s, hated it, sold it in my early 40s to go back to a TH. Now I walk to work, shorter drive to pretty much everything when needed, less maintenance. I'm much happier.
Interesting: you sound a lot like me.
Even still, in growing suburban areas, you do typically see what you're proposing: conversion of a multi-acre lot to many, high-density homes (e.g. 'carriage' houses.)
Still, for any person who is a fan of urbanism it's easy to be salty about this topic. City planning has favored motorists living in sprawl for half a century. Nobody cared about the noise pollution that would result to those living in the inner cities when public policy pushed everyone to the suburban fringe. Nobody cared about the risks and the inconveniences to pedestrians and cyclists when we designed our cities to favor motorists.
And yet, the moment we start to talk about allowing some multifamily units in a place that is traditionally single family you are immediately bombarded with the Concerns. My schools! My traffic! My parking spaces!
I wish the same concern was shown before we covered the entire nation with the suburban blight that rules today.
They cut down huge trees that provided tons of shade, build something new, plant a sapling, and call it even. I swear half the time the tree wasn't even in the way.
Anyway, this process also tends to repeat every twenty years or so as buildings get old, companies die, and style changes. So as soon as the tree is starting to hit it's stride, start all over.
Transparency is another problem area: it is often difficult, without going though the expense of making a purchase offer, to get HOA terms, details of board meetings, and budgets; this makes it tough to go in with informed consent when making one of the biggest purchases that you will make. I had to withdraw a purchase offer (and lose my option fee; I since learned that a good realtor would get the information before going through the process of making an offer) once after reading the 60+ page HOA terms, which appeared to mandate that the buyer must leave a key with the central office and that the latter may visit properties as they needed with unacknowledged prior notice.
I wish HOAs had to be treated as public concerns so that the light would shine brightly on pathological boards and buyers would have the best available information possible.
> This is the New American Home
for 2018. It’s a sprawling monstrosity
of more than 10,690 feet (the lot
encompasses 65,340 square feet).
Even properties that Red Sox players are living in west of the city are rarely over 6,000sq/ft. When I see a listing for a home over 3,000sq/ft here it's a rarity.
~1200-2400 sq/ft homes are pretty average in the Boston/Cambridge area. Many condos are more in the 800-1600 sq/ft range, and it's also not uncommon to find 1200sq/ft houses.
I guess that being said, almost everything here is 100 years old. I'm personally against a condo for myself because I'm just too damn loud (drums and guitar), and I'm sure to piss off most neighbors with that. If it wasn't for that hobby, I'd be totally happy with a condo.
I just checked, and there is one property for sale in Boston-proper (which includes JP and Dorchester) over 9,000 sq/ft for sale right now, and it's a 15k sq/ft estate for nearly 4mm.
I briefly lived in an 8.5k sq ft house with two other people and on many mornings I felt like Jack Nicholson in the Shining. Never again.
I used to live with my two brothers (so three people total) in a 860 sqft apartment and we never had problems with stepping on each other's toes.
That's actually a steal (unit price wise) in the Boston/Cambridge market right now.
The price curve starts flattening just above the median sized house for a given area.
Operational and maintenance costs are a different factor; we were talking about house price, and I went into construction cost. Operations costs are different, and consumers are pretty infamous for only looking at initial costs and not thinking about operational/maintenance costs. This is especially true with cars: people look only at the purchase price and don't think about how much gas costs, so they buy a giant SUV even though it gets 50% worse fuel economy, and then they complain about how much it costs to refuel.
Of course it doesn't scale linearly with volume, it scales linearly with exterior surface area, which itself scales with square footage, which was the base metric I used, not volume. The shape that minimizes the surface area to volume ratio is a sphere, which most houses are not.
In most newer SFH developments, house size is usually dictated by exclusionary zoning (i.e minimum lot and house sizes) and developer business priorities, not by what is financially prudent for buyers. And as your SUV example illustrates, bigger sells better.
Choosing not to buy in to that usually requires relocating to an area that values efficiency over size, and those are often very expensive areas, since they are few and far between.
>And as your SUV example illustrates, bigger sells better.
There's no such thing as "vehicle zoning"; if consumers wanted to buy smaller vehicles, they're out there on the market. No one's forcing them to buy and drive huge SUVs.
>In most newer SFH developments, house size is usually dictated by exclusionary zoning (i.e minimum lot and house sizes) and developer business priorities, not by what is financially prudent for buyers.
This is controlled by the local government, which is controlled by the voters, who are the consumers.
They don't have these problems in Japan, because they don't have exclusionary zoning. If you own the lot, you can build whatever the heck you want on it, and the neighbors have no power to stop you.
In a condo, if an HOA is required to fix plumbing or landscaping, paint, or roofing, then it comes out of the CAM fees paid by the residents. However, if the HOA does NOT pay for that work, or tries to stiff the construction firm they hire, the construction company can take out a lien on the property until their bill is paid.
That lien means you cannot sell your condo until the HOA pays their debt. In my friends case, the HOA had blown all their CAM money on lavish vacations and dinners for key members of the HOA board. They had no money to pay for a sewage repair job, and left 54 members of the housing compex stuck with a $20,000USD repair bill. After a grisly court battle the HOA was disbanded, CAM fees were agreed to be paid directly to the plumbing company for the year, and the complex went into foreclosure after the debt had been paid as most tenants had sold.
I am genuinely amazed at how petty they are. They also upgraded the part of the complex they live in for 3 years in a row and keep postponing the other areas.
They write hilarious monthly updates cheering how much damage their new tall speed bumps have done to cars.
I would be pretty pissed if I actually owned one of the condos, but as it stands, its pretty funny.
Also, not all condo HOAs are a mess like you describe. I'm part of a 3 unit HOA on subdivided infill lot. It's dense, but no shared walls or structures. The low HOA fee covers the shared insurance policy and nothing more. Within my exclusive use area I'm free to do anything reasonable with landscaping, etc. Only structural changes to my unit require HOA approval
The dysfunction of some HOAs is more a function of the misplaced priorities of the members, as in the example you gave, not with the idea of shared ownership itself.
No, in the same way that a corporation is not just the group of stockholders; it's a distinct legal entity operationally controlled by it's own management (either employees or a contracted management firm), who is accountable to a board, who is normally accountable by election to the condo owners. Owners, or groups of owners, suing HOAs are just like shareholders suing corporations, it's not an uncommon thing.
Also, lots of HOAs are actually structured to be effectively controlled by the original developer until certain time and/or unit sales triggers move them out of a privileged role, and may have rules set in place during that time that place high procedural bars on changes that would provide effective control to the actual homeowners even if the homeowners have nominal control.
HOAs are a hotbed of principal-agent problems.
Certainly easier to do in a neighborhood-run HOA for a small building or TH cluster than a high-rise, but the point still stands, I think.
And who would you have them vote for anyway? Yourself? I don't know about you, but I have no time or inclination for such a job. Frequently, HOAs turn out this way because the people who do have time for that crap are the people who really are a problem. This is a strong argument in favor of professional property management in fact (which is what my condo has, and doesn't seem to have any of these problems).
Also, things like meeting minutes and annual budgets are generally required to be transparent in most HOA founding documents (constitutions, articles of incorporation, bylaws). You don't have to want to be a board member to review meeting notes (or directly attend meetings in most cases), and especially to review an annual budget of how your money is spent. 54 different people in the example above had an opportunity to review the budget? Did they just not care? Was it "creative accounting" fraud? (If so, why weren't the people responsible personally liable for fraud? White collar crimes are still crimes.)
My HOA maintenance fees include major utilities so we all assume year-to-year increases, but just about everyone in my building still seems to take a fine tooth comb to the annual budget every year in the hopes of avoiding an increase or finding a possible decrease.
(Also, property managers are generally orthogonal concerns to HOAs given they have different goals and most property managers still report to an HOA. You can still have good property company reporting to a bad HOA. There are also plenty of horror stories of bad property management companies out there. My HOA has already been through a small handful of property management companies trying to find a good one. We seem to have lucked out with the current one, at least, given all that we are going through.)
That simply isn't true. As bad as voter turnout is in the US, it's still over 50%. The winner is ignorance, as so many voters actively vote against their own best interests (e.g., poor people voting for the party that passes tax breaks for millionaires).
>why weren't the people responsible personally liable for fraud? White collar crimes are still crimes.
Now this is an excellent question here. I have no idea what the answer is, but it seems like the US is really bad about this kind of thing, and not just with HOA management. It seems like prosecutors here just don't want to bother with cases like this, maybe because not enough money is involved?
>There are also plenty of horror stories of bad property management companies out there.
Yes, but at least here, as you found out with your case, you can just hire a different company when you need to. It seems like the best case is what your HOA has going on: an HOA composed of owners, acting mainly as overseers for the professional management company that does that bulk of the work of managing the place. The HOA horror stories I've seen (and experienced) seem to involve HOAs which do their own management, so basically some busybody in the neighborhood who has time and interest gets voted in along with a few of his cronies, and then mismanages the funds badly.
And yes, talking to 50 neighbors sounds like a big PITA to me, when you aren't even on the board and don't have a way to contact everyone and arrange a meeting; you'll have to go door-to-door and hope to catch people when they're home.
That's a significant project. You don't have to do this in neighborhoods that don't have HOAs. And finally, again, WHO will you have them vote for, if you can convince them to not vote for the other guy who's mismanaging funds? Are you volunteering to spend all your free time on this payless, thankless job?
(I might use magical technology like mailboxes to facilitate asynchronous communication if I didn't already have access to the email address of every homeowner, which as a member of the HOA you should have)
Maybe you're willing to volunteer your time for another job, but I'm not. Moreover, I'm under no illusion that people would vote for me; I'm not highly charismatic.
So who is someone like me supposed to get people to vote for? Where's this magic person in every subdivision who has the time and talent to take on this thankless job? Your solution doesn't scale.
Yes, condos have a place, and are necessary sometimes, but they're an unfortunate compromise, not even remotely a "dream home".
But I'm not gonna bet too heavily on builders caring about those features.
I also don't tend to find a lot of new condo developments in this area that are for sale. They all seem to be rented by the builder. My presumption being that credit continues to be so cheap, they can afford the slow burn down from rents, since thye're not getting crushed by the interest payment. But, I'm not a landlord, so I don't know for sure.
Living in high density areas is a trade of individual rights for job opportunities. And it makes sense. You can't have people in high density areas playing around with things that make loud noises because everything you do in such areas effects others. It's just common curtesy if not against the local laws.
It's not about house size. It's about all the comprimises you have to constantly make when you don't really own the land or building you live in and can't chose what behaviors you want to do even if they don't hurt others (ie, San Fran saying they can tell you what you can do with your apartment or house re: airbnb). This diminishment of the individual is bad for US society as it has existed for most of the past. Unfortunately the urbanization of America by relative population is unlikely to stop and those born into it will likely never know freedom is available elsewhere.
ps, high density areas have terrible, terrible radio frequency interference. If you want to set up an amateur radio astronomy kit or do a bit of ham radio you're pretty much out of luck except for the line of sight VHF and up bands that are, mostly, boring. And don't even try to to put up a decent size tower; it won't be approved because all the people nearbye will be "effected" by being able to see it and complain (if it's not explicitly against local law).
> This diminishment of the individual is bad for US society as it has existed for most of the past.
This statement is vague, presumptive, and poorly justified. For those who prefer to live in the cities can you justify there is a diminishment of the individual? In what ways is it "bad for US society"? And finally, I'm not even convinced on "has existed for most of the past"
But first, back to specifics. It is not controversial to say you have to give up many individual rights by living within city limits. My example above was the lack of property rights when living in a large city like San Francisco. You can't do with your property what you like because the city values social harmony over individual volition and rights. They effectively own your property and allow you to do some subset of things on their whim. Another example of this is city wide smoking bans in privately owned businesses and property. Depending on your point of view this may be an entirely worthwhile thing if it betters society as a whole. But it is definitely the diminishment of the individual. It is a restriction of their behavior despite no use of force or fraud.
More generally, there are two takes on freedom as implemented by governments. The first is that of negative liberty as originated by Kant and fleshed out and implemented in foreign and domestic policy by Isaiah Berlin and his contemporaries in the US federal government in the 1950s-1980s. It is the idea that freedom is the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints imposed by external agents. In it individuals are free to the extent that they are not interfered with in their personal choices or behaviors. This fits snugly with the US founding documents like the declaration of independence and the bill of rights. US citizens have generally been free to do whatever they want as long as they are not hurting our defrauding others. I will not try to convince you this has existed for most of the past because it is incredibly obvious and the very heart of the country's founding ideology.
Almost all other countries take a different approach. They believe that individuals do not really have full volition and that often internal things restrict their freedom just as much as external things. Like the smoking example above, no one is forced to go to a resteraunt that allows smoking. But in a collectivist point of view people that do go aren't really in control of themselves and need to have their behavior restricted for the greater statistical good. The individual's volition is not valued nearly as high as that of social harmony and so force is used to constrain their behavior. This is positive liberty. It is not inherently bad but it often leads to troubles with authoritarianism due to the concentration of power and acceptance of the use of force to interference with individual choices. This is bad and often has lead to very bad things happening.
Even if you value social harmony over individual choice the slow shift of the balance towards positive liberty in urban areas of the USA is bad if only because the USA is the last nation left that prioritizes the individual choice over social harmony. If wiped out here it the world becomes a much less diverse and free place.
*, potential: And this is another key point. In political systems that value social harmony first decisions are made based on potential future outcomes. This leads to things like future crime wherein certain behaviors that don't hurt or defraud others are met with violence by the police because there's a statistical chance the person involved may do something bad later. The epitome of this is drug laws but it also applies more generally.
> the US's incumbent system of individuality versus the rest of the world's collectivism.
>Even if you value social harmony over individual choice the slow shift of the balance towards positive liberty in urban areas of the USA is bad if only because the USA is the last nation left that prioritizes the individual choice over social harmony.
I do think it is a bit of a broad brush to paint the world in this manner, polarized between the individualist united states and the collectivist everybody else. Certainly the difference between China and the United States is day and night, but I find it unlikely there is such a wide difference between say Australia and the United States.
> This is positive liberty. It is not inherently bad but it often leads to troubles with authoritarianism due to the concentration of power and acceptance of the use of force to interference with individual choices. This is bad and often has lead to very bad things happening.
While I can't disagree that this "positive liberty" can certainly be bad, or even terrible, when misused, I don't agree this meets the standard I was looking for, that the usage of positive liberty as seen in US cities is bad for US society.
>This fits snugly with the US founding documents like the declaration of independence and the bill of rights.
I can't say I disagree, however I question how much of a role I would place the countries historical individualism in our modern public policy. Do I want a repeat of the Boston Molasses Flood because it's that important to me that we embrace our historical individualism, therefor we must not place restrictions on the activity of those doing private business in a city?
2. Roads are needed to transport goods from urban center to urban center in addition for rural to urban. Years ago the livestock industry changed their slaughtering and processing from urban center to rural (or small town).
3. This author is based in San Francisco. By the standards of my part of the world, SF is now a third world country, people shooting up in the street, taking a dp where hey like (in the road, etc. If she can't fix where she lives what right does she have telling me how to live?
No, this is an exaggeration for the sake of a highly slanted opinion piece. The average size of a new house in the US is about 2500 sq ft if I remember correctly.
>Does anyone need 10,000 square feet to live in?
Does anyone want to put up with petulant condo associations/HOA squabbles? Besides, if someone wants to pay housekeeping to clean it or spend half their week cleaning that's their business.
>Enter the Green New Deal
oh so this is just a thinly disguised anti-rich opinion piece
No, the NAHB titles their test home "The New American Home".
are you rich?
I'm very anti-rich.
> just another coastal elite telling Americans they should aspire to live and die in a cold steel and concrete box partitioned out in a shared building with neighbors on all sides pestering them
Isn't it reasonable to have a conversation about what kind of houses we want to live in, we want builders to build, we want government to encourage?
Concrete is warmer than wood, it's a much better insulator.