Matthew Yglesias is now officially a writer. His first bylined piece in The American Prospect is now up.
He addresses the flip side of the housing boom:
Throughout the Bush recession [Didn’t the downturn start under the Clinton administration? Not that presidents cause recessions, anyway. -ed. ] and the ensuing jobless recovery, the one consistent source of good economic news has been from the housing market. The value of the average home increased 6.48 percent in the 12-month period ending on March 31, and it is up a hefty 38.04 percent over the past five years. This continuing strength has given homeowners a cushion in the value of their assets during an era of declining stock portfolios. It has also provided construction jobs during a catastrophic period for employment in the manufacturing sector.
This has been good news for families who own homes. But the millions of Americans who rent their homes — a disproportionately poor, disproportionately young group — face an increasingly bleak situation.
True. Not to mention those, also typically young, trying to buy their first home and thus starting without equity.
Unsurprisingly, the least-affordable parts of the country are the metropolitan areas around places such as San Francisco, Boston, New York and Washington, but rural America is feeling the squeeze as well. In West Virginia, America’s cheapest state for housing, the local housing wage is 171 percent of the minimum wage. Even in sparsely populated states where land should be relatively cheap, rents may be high simply because few rentable units have been constructed. Alaska and New Hampshire, for example, have the seventh- and eighth-highest housing wages, at $16.75 and $16.49 per hour, respectively. An Alaskan household — either a single person or a couple — would need to work a total of 94 hours per week at the state’s minimum wage ($7.15) to rent a two-bedroom apartment, while a family or single person in New Hampshire (where the minimum wage is $5.15) would need to put in 128 hours to rent a similar apartment.
Yowsa. Intellectually, I’d say that people whose skill levels are such that they can’t exceed the minimum wage shouldn’t expect to support themselves on 40 hours a week’s work. One would hope that, by the time you’re old enough to have to support yourself, you’d be marketable enough to earn a decent wage. I’m afraid people with insufficient IQs to do that are going to be at least partly reliant on welfare programs. [I think that’s what Matt’s getting to. -ed. Oh.]
Still, the housing crisis is largely an issue for the more tightly packed blue states, making it unlikely that the Bush administration will experience a change of heart and come to the rescue with a generous supplemental budget request. Of the 52 jurisdictions surveyed for the NLIHC report (all 50 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia), eight of the 10 most expensive went for Al Gore in 2000. Nonvoting and very poor Puerto Rico took the cheapest slot, followed by 19 Bush states in a row.
Oh, come on! We’re starving the poor in order to punish them for voting Democrat? [Serves ’em right. -ed.]
ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings led the charge to get the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee to block the construction of a new 14-story apartment on the Upper West Side. His campaign is supported, as such things often are, by local liberal state legislators. Commissions and boards of this sort that allow well-off homeowners to protect the “character” of their neighborhoods at the expense of construction that would bring prices down for everyone else are all too common in the United States.
To be sure, such restrictions do not always directly block the creation of housing that would be affordable for low-income families — it’s unlikely, to say the least, that any minimum-wage workers would have been moving in across the street from Jennings. But by capping development in high-income areas, such efforts force builders to put expensive housing elsewhere, which in turn leads to the waves of gentrification that push the working poor farther and farther from centers of employment and transportation. In the worst-case scenario, it pushes them out of housing altogether, onto the streets and into overcrowded shelters.
Aside from the hypocrisy charge, it strikes me as reasonable that Jennings wouldn’t want to have a welfare project built next door. I mean, I’ve got a job and can’t afford to live next door to Peter Jennings. Or, even Sheppard Smith. Indeed, most everyone in the D.C. Metro area either has to endure an insanely long commute or live in substandard housing–or both–in order to make it. That’s, as they say, life in the big city.