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Thread: How did middle class/lower class people afford to build houses?

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    Cyburbian
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    How did middle class/lower class people afford to build houses?

    In my area only wealthier people can afford to build houses. Even a brand new starter home today is almost impossible to afford for many people. As I look around at all the lower class housing built in the past I wonder how did these people afford to build them? Was it just that much cheaper or was it changes in the banking system, etc?

  2. #2
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by paiste13 View post
    In my area only wealthier people can afford to build houses. Even a brand new starter home today is almost impossible to afford for many people. As I look around at all the lower class housing built in the past I wonder how did these people afford to build them? Was it just that much cheaper or was it changes in the banking system, etc?
    A few things.

    1) Labor costs were far lower adjusted for inflation. In some ways, this still accounts for the low prices of new houses in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and the Southeast compared to new houses in the economically struggling Rust Belt, where the hourly cost of construction labor is much higher, and often prevailing union wage.

    2) Land costs. In booming metros, raw land is harder to find. 30 years ago, the cost of raw land in now-pricey metros like NYC and Boston wasn't that much higher than in places like ... oh, Rochester or Columbus. 20 years ago, I remember visiting my then-girlfriend's parents in a suburb of Los Angeles. They lived in a new house that cost about as much as what a similar house would have sold for in suburban Buffalo. Zoning is somewhat responsible, too; in the outer ring suburbs of the Northeast where land is still available, minimum lot sizes are typically much larger than in suburbs that are closer in.

    3) Housing in the past had few of the amenities now taken for granted even in new starter homes; multiple bathrooms, walk-in closets, and so on. Kitchens were very utilitarian, and lacked counter and cabinet space. Insulation.was uncommon until the energy crisis of the 1970s. Basements had low ceilings, with no consideration given to eventual finishing. HVAC and electrical systems were far more primitive; many of Buffalo's telescoping houses are heated with one large space heater in the living room.

    4) In the Rust Belt, where there's a declining population and demand for new housing, the housing needs of lower income groups are met through neighborhood succession rather than new construction. Houses built for higher income groups are passed down to lower income groups as neighborhoods change. Why spend $120 a square foot to build a new starter house in the Detroit area, when one can buy an existing house for $25/ft2 in the city, or $50/ft2 in a blue collar suburb? In the Buffalo area, there's almost no new housing being built at the middle of the market. Almost all new construction is at the high end of the market, with the housing needs of the middle class met by the existing housing stock.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Dan hit on the major causes pretty well, I think. The bottom line is that wages have not kept pace with housing costs. I have mentioned this before, but when my parents bought the house I grew up in, there was a basic rule of thumb: never buy a house that costs more than one year gross salary. Those days are long gone.

    I work in affordable housing and the struggle to get working people into decent, affordable homes (ie. where the monthly debt burden does not exceed 30% of monthly income) revolves around this escalation of home prices and lagging wages to create what we call the “wage gap.”

    Another factor I have seen referenced is the proliferation of dual income households that had the unintended consequence of driving up home prices. With two folks working, purchasing power is enhanced and market prices have increased accordingly. And this in turn has made dual income households almost a necessity for middle class status. The dog chasing its tail.

    Personally, I think home ownership (or not owning at all, as is the trend among the youngest sector of the housing market) and the expected profit from it will need to be dramatically rethought. My job operates using a community land trust model which, simply stated, separates the value of the land from the home (or “improvements”) on that land. Residents in these homes only purchase the structure and lease the land which is held/owned by the non-profit I work for and whose members include all homeowners. They have rights to their yard and from the outside, the arrangement does not appear any different from conventional home ownership. However, we also restrict the resale on homes in order to pass that affordability on to subsequent owners. So, no making a killing buying into an up and coming neighborhood. You do get something back (depending on how long you were there) and you do have a mortgage from which you will build some equity (again, depending on how long you are there).

    It’s a good deal more complicated than that, but that is the gist of it.
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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I agree with what was said above and yes, Federal lending regulations have changed over the years. It all depends on what era housing you are thinking of. At one point or another, every generation had some type of middle class/lower class housing built. There was also massive suburban housing booms with the creation of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and after WWII.

    Additionally in some cases what was upper class housing at one point sometimes will transition into middle class housing at some point. For example, I live in a very mixed income neighborhood yet all the houses were constructed 100 to 120 years ago as upper income homes.
    Invest in the things today, that provide the returns tomorrow.

  5. #5
    It's important to remember that before WWII home ownership in the US was about 44%. By 1960, the number had risen to about 62%, thanks in large part to the GI Bill and strong post-war economy. So, the middle and lower income populations didn't build most of those homes: they rented them. The homes were built (or owned, in the case of older homes) as speculative housing by investors.
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    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    It's important to remember that before WWII home ownership in the US was about 44%. By 1960, the number had risen to about 62%, thanks in large part to the GI Bill and strong post-war economy. So, the middle and lower income populations didn't build most of those homes: they rented them. The homes were built (or owned, in the case of older homes) as speculative housing by investors.
    So we're basically going back to what it was before the WWII/GI Bill housing boom.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    So we're basically going back to what it was before the WWII/GI Bill housing boom.
    Nope. Before the GI Bill, landlords had an incentive to keep occupancy levels high as they were on the hook for property taxes, mortgages, etc.The note holders in today's post-bubble housing market do not have a similar incentive. Hence the vacancy/dilapidation and the negative impacts on non-foreclosed homes that you are seeing throughout the country.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    You may be interested in this map - Hours at Minimum Wage Needed to Afford Rent
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    There are a few other things to consider. Until the end of WWII it was not uncommon to see a majority of city housing in two-flats or three-flats that allowed the owner to live in one unit while renting out the second, making ownership more affordable. These were also developed on small lots, so that net densities of 16-20 units per acre were not uncommon. As we moved to suburbs we codified minimum lot sizes of 8000, 10000, or more squre feet per unit, and then often exceeded the minimums. Hence, land is a much larger share of total housing cost. Add to this that homes have gotten ever bigger up until 2008.It used to be that families were bigger but could get by with a three bedroom house. Mom and Dad got the master bedroom with attached 3/4 bath, the boys shared one room, and the girls had the other. Maybe even Grandma or Grandpa lived int he household in or fourth bedroom. Now parents often believe each child has to have his/her own room and bath, and their own master suite needs to have a dressing area, walk-in closet the size of a 1940's era bedroom, and five piece bath. Interestlingly, we are starting to see a greater number of multigenerational households once again.

    It is interesting to watch the "people buy a house" shows on stations like HGTV. The people can often irritate me. "We have to have hardwood floors.: "We need separate walk-in closets and a jacuzzi." Not only does each kid need their own room, but the husband needs his man cave and the wife needs her own pilates room. The house must have a pool and a three car garage.

    New housing can be built for many households. But I think we need to look back to the past for inspiration. Small lots, two-flats, smaller houses and similar ideas are part of the solution. Creative new takes on these ideas, like cottage housing (pocket neighborhoods) seem to have potential. Certainly we do need to keep some of the enhancements since the 1940's, like insulation ad other energy efficiency measures, better building codes, etc. But do we really need granite countertops? And if we really had options for transit - which gets to where we build housing and employment - would we really need huge garages or even two cars (or more)?
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    New housing can be built for many households. But I think we need to look back to the past for inspiration. Small lots, two-flats, smaller houses and similar ideas are part of the solution. Creative new takes on these ideas, like cottage housing (pocket neighborhoods) seem to have potential. Certainly we do need to keep some of the enhancements since the 1940's, like insulation ad other energy efficiency measures, better building codes, etc. But do we really need granite countertops? And if we really had options for transit - which gets to where we build housing and employment - would we really need huge garages or even two cars (or more)?
    You make some really good points. I have identified some of these things in my own experiences, especially pre-2008 when it seemed like every 40 year old couple I knew was upgrading their kitchen or remodeling the home in some expensive fashion. To me, these are the kinds of things people do after the kids leave for college, not in your late 30's and early 40's. Where do you go from there? What do you aspire to?

    But I will say that, even with these things you mention, it remains challenging to build homes that can sell at an affordable price. We build within the urban core, separate the land value from the home itself and have a high level of density (most homes are single family detached, with a smaller number of duplexes/townhomes thrown in). Our builders are constructing for about $122/sf including contingency. We (the developer) take a 12 percent developer's fee per unit which is the only income get from the deal. In the end, we STILL need to leverage federal homebuyer subsidies to make these homes affordable for people earning 80 percent of AMI and below. Part of it may be that we do insist on a certain level of energy performance and durable finish materials to ensure the owner can not only afford to buy but also operate the home affordably.

    While this is certainly the way to develop in an affordable manner, construction costs and land costs continue to drive higher prices even on smaller lots in the urbanized area. The response we see here to try and reach this moderate and lower income market (those on the verge of middle class status) is to develop at the urban edge, bring down the land costs (both by buying at the edge and by developing surprisingly small lots) and build at large scales to take advantage of economies of scale.But in this climate, that's a big gamble, too, as homes are not selling at a very fast rate. And, of course, we know that there are hidden costs in this approach as well that are borne by the buyer.
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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    You may be interested in this map - Hours at Minimum Wage Needed to Afford Rent
    Not affordable in ANY state.

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    There are a few other things to consider. Until the end of WWII it was not uncommon to see a majority of city housing in two-flats or three-flats that allowed the owner to live in one unit while renting out the second, making ownership more affordable.
    Even new construction in urbanized towns is built like that in NJ. Don't get me started.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  12. #12
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Forget build - in the BosWash corridor, it's near impossible for a middle class household to buy a detached single family house within 30 miles of the urban core. The GF and I have a household income well over six figures, yet we live in an 800 SF co-op apartment deep in outer borough NYC. Student loans, car payments, and other bills eat up our income real fast and scraping together a sufficient down payment for a $450,000 house is not possible. The two of us are on the straight and narrow, do not have kids, yet here we are.

    Societal norms have not caught up to the reality we're facing. My Boomer dad, for instance, still assumes that we are in a transitional phase on the way to single family homeownership.I can't get it into his head that it is just not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

  13. #13
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    There are a few other things to consider. Until the end of WWII it was not uncommon to see a majority of city housing in two-flats or three-flats that allowed the owner to live in one unit while renting out the second, making ownership more affordable. These were also developed on small lots, so that net densities of 16-20 units per acre were not uncommon.
    This was the norm in Buffalo, where two-flats are the modal house.

    I did a "visualizing density" presentation with more local examples for our comprehensive plan committee. This is 14 units/acre in Buffalo; a mix of single family and two-flats.







    I think we also assume that housing was extraordinarily cheap in the good 'ol days. because the prices were in low dollar amounts. It's like old folks reminiscing about 20 cent/gallon gasoline and 50 cent movie admission; inflation doesn't register, and we see those old prices in today's dollars. Here's a real estate ad from 1938 in the Philadelphia area.



    $6,250 in 1938 was the equivalent of $99,000 today. Still a low price for a new house by today's standards, but considering the size of the house (guessing about 1200-1500 sq ft), it's still the equivalent of about $70 to $80 a square foot; not that much cheaper than now, and about the same as what one might see in much of Texas or the South. Also, consider the country was crawling out from the Great Depression, labor costs were far lower in inflation-adjusted dollars than today, the location was remote by the standards of the day, and the house had a 1930s physical plant; probably simple forced air heating, 75 amp electrical service, and one bathroom.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I am definitely low class so I don't worry about buying new homes.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  15. #15
    Though there are obvious exceptions. For many large and healthy US cities, there are no affordable single family homes within 20 miles of downtown. The land costs just wont allow it

    And way out? maybe yeah there is something somewhere, but the commute will kill you.

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames
    Forget build - in the BosWash corridor, it's near impossible for a middle class household to buy a detached single family house within 30 miles of the urban core. The GF and I have a household income well over six figures, yet we live in an 800 SF co-op apartment deep in outer borough NYC. Student loans, car payments, and other bills eat up our income real fast and scraping together a sufficient down payment for a $450,000 house is not possible. The two of us are on the straight and narrow, do not have kids, yet here we are.

    Societal norms have not caught up to the reality we're facing. My Boomer dad, for instance, still assumes that we are in a transitional phase on the way to single family homeownership.I can't get it into his head that it is just not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
    It's not likely on my end either, I am in NJ and pay pretty high rent as well. What's said is that my rent is significantly more than my mortgage payment for a new house I owned in South Carolina was.


    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I am definitely low class so I don't worry about buying new homes.
    LOL. I can't even buy an old house.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  17. #17
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post

    .
    Holy crap, Dan! Where did you find this?! The house I was born in (well, I was born in the hospital, then I came home) was on Green Valley Road in the "Heatherwold" section of Wallingford!! It was one of the brick ones and they bought it somewhere around 1965. We moved about a 1/2 mile from there when I was ~ 1year old to the house I grew up in on Providence Road (which is referenced in the ad above). But I always knew which had been my family's home and I had a lot of friends who lived in Heatherwold.

    Just for some reference on how astounding this is - Green Valley Road is only 1500 feet long with 36 homes on it. About 13,000 people in live in Wallingford as a whole. Its a very small town.
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  18. #18
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Holy crap, Dan! Where did you find this?! The house I was born in (well, I was born in the hospital, then I came home) was on Green Valley Road in the "Heatherwold" section of Wallingford!! .
    Holy s**t! I did a Google image search for "1925 real estate ad" or something similar, and it was one of the images that came up, even though it's actually from 1938. Were you really born in one of those houses?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  19. #19
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Holy s**t! I did a Google image search for "1925 real estate ad" or something similar, and it was one of the images that came up, even though it's actually from 1938. Were you really born in one of those houses?
    Yes, I really was. And every time I see a Green Valley Road (there is one in Albuquerque) I remember that. Gonna send a copy of that to my brother who is older and remembers the house well. Better yet, maybe I'll post it to FB. I've got a couple of "friends" who grew up in Heatherwold.

    Thanks - that made my day!
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  20. #20
    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Yes, I really was. And every time I see a Green Valley Road (there is one in Albuquerque) I remember that. Gonna send a copy of that to my brother who is older and remembers the house well. Better yet, maybe I'll post it to FB. I've got a couple of "friends" who grew up in Heatherwold.

    Thanks - that made my day!
    Off-topic:
    We have a Green Valley Road in my fair 'burg. Alas, no 'Heatherwold' though I might suggest it for the next subdivision that comes along GVRd...
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  21. #21
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    I think up until the 1980s or so, housing was fairly cheap in most of the US. I think a large part of that was land prices, but also, the idea of "starter homes" and using your home as a wealth accumulator just wasn't part of the equation. Most people lived in the same homes for decades, moving in sometime during their early years of marriage and only moving out at some point at/toward the ends of their lives.

    Some price examples:
    • In 1960, my parents bought the farm I grew up on for $10,000: 132 acres, house, barn, garage, chicken coop. We looked at several country homes in the area with about the same acreage in the same price range. They passed on a much larger farm (350 acres) with a massive dairy barn, numerous outbuildings, and tenant house because the price was $35,000.
    • I remember seeing new ads for new homes in Amherst (Buffalo suburb) for "$29,999" when I was in college.

    I think, too, that we judge the past by today's standards and assume people prior to the 1970s lived the same kind of lives we do, especially since a lot of our knowledge of the past is filtered through the prism of old movies which tend to portray people in the upper or the upper middle class. The truth is that lower and middle class people generally didn't have our lifestyles. People simply didn't spend as large a percentage of their income on so many of the things we do:
    • When most married women stayed home and took care of the kids, families only went out to dinner on special occasions. The idea of people regularly going out to eat in fancy restaurants was what the wealthy and the upper middle class might do, NOT what most people did. Even ordering or going out for a pizza was an infrequent event.
    • Women not only cooked and baked, they cooked and baked from scratch. They frequently canned fruits and vegetables in season. They packed lunches for their husbands and kids to take to work and school.
    • Many women sewed, especially mending garments, and especially school skirts and dresses. Some expert sewer moms even sewed prom dresses and their daughters' wedding dresses.
    • Clothes were handed down, too, and kids pretty much wore what their mothers gave them to wear. They had one pair of school shoes and a pair of sneakers, and parents would moan about them outgrowing both before they wore them out.
    • Married couples might go out on Saturday night to a dance hall or the movies, but most socializing was really with family or friends: Sunday visits, Friday night card games, etc. Attending the local HS football and/or basketball games were important even for people who didn't have kids in school. Church membership also had a lot of social activity associated with it.
    • First there was the radio for entertainment and then came TV. After the initial investment in a TV set (BW until the mid/late 1960s) and an outdoor roof antenna, TV viewing was essentially free. Three stations and PBS. Oh, and if you lived along the Canadian border (as in WNY), and Dad sprung for a big rotating roof antenna, you could pick up Channel 11 in Hamilton and a couple of Toronto channels as well.
    • Most families had 1 car (station wagons preferred). After all the kids were in school and mom "went back to work" part-time, the family would scrape up the $$$ for a second vehicle, usually a used one for a few hundred dollars, for her to drive to work and shopping -- if she even had a driver's license (one of my aunts didn't get her license until after her husband died, and a couple of others never had licenses). You could buy a used beater car that ran for <$300 into the 1980s at least (my first car cost $250, one of my bros bought a Corvair for $125).
    • The kids walked to school or rode school buses, even after they got their licenses. You borrowed a family car for after school activities -- maybe. A lot of times, Dad or Mom just dropped you off at the movies or the school dance. City kids walked to neighborhood theatres or took buses downtown, and many didn't bother getting their licenses until after they graduated from HS and were out on their own.
    • Vacations were family affairs, and frequently involved tent camping or staying in cabins in state parks. Camper trailers didn't become really popular until the late 1970s.

    To quote the Bucky Covington song, "it was a different world".
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

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  23. #23
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    This was the norm in Buffalo, where two-flats are the modal house.

    I did a "visualizing density" presentation with more local examples for our comprehensive plan committee. This is 14 units/acre in Buffalo; a mix of single family and two-flats.





    And a form of development that is illegal in nearly all of the USA now due to local zoning laws.

    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I think we also assume that housing was extraordinarily cheap in the good 'ol days. because the prices were in low dollar amounts. It's like old folks reminiscing about 20 cent/gallon gasoline and 50 cent movie admission; inflation doesn't register, and we see those old prices in today's dollars. Here's a real estate ad from 1938 in the Philadelphia area.



    $6,250 in 1938 was the equivalent of $99,000 today. Still a low price for a new house by today's standards, but considering the size of the house (guessing about 1200-1500 sq ft), it's still the equivalent of about $70 to $80 a square foot; not that much cheaper than now, and about the same as what one might see in much of Texas or the South. Also, consider the country was crawling out from the Great Depression, labor costs were far lower in inflation-adjusted dollars than today, the location was remote by the standards of the day, and the house had a 1930s physical plant; probably simple forced air heating, 75 amp electrical service, and one bathroom.
    From my figuring, $6,250 in 1938 money is likely closer to $300-400K or so in today's money. IMHO, 'official' inflation tables are waaaaay low in actual buying power comparisons since 1933 (end of the gold standard).

    Before the feds started meddling in the residential real estate market with this and that subsidy during the New Deal™ and to ever-increasing scales since then, owning a house was indeed the 'American Dream™' that many aspired to - not the 'American Right' that one was entitled to. You rented a cheap flat (and there was zero stigma in that!), saved up for a down payment (20% was the norm) and worked to have sufficient cash flow to cover the payments on a 10-20 year maximum-term mortgage loan. Back then, in major part due to the cash-only nature of nearly all of the day-to-day economy, we also did not give in to the temptations of instant gratification and the 'credit card' mentality to anywhere near the scale that we do now. We would simply forgo things that we did not have cash in the pocket for, so personal debt loads were far lower, if there were any at all - and thus we were more able to save up and cover those payments.

    What we are seeing now is the manifestation of all of that misguidedness of the mid to late 20th century.

    Mike

  24. #24
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Probably just repeating this, but two things are 1) higher cost of materials and 2) higher standards for building.
    Quoted for truth. I've said this before, but it's a very popular belief that houses were more solidly built back in the good 'ol days. In Buffalo, there's the meme that everything built before WWII, even the most modest telescoping house, was "lovingly crafted by German immigrant carpenters who spent decades working on the great cathedrals of Europe". It's a classic case of survivor bias; we don't see many of the crappy buildings that were built long ago because they either fell apart, or became functionally obsolete and were replaced by something better. Meanwhile, the tiny Cape Cods built in the early 1950s, "made of ticky tacky" and "designed to last only 25 years", are still mostly extant, at least in the Buffalo area.

    Yes, there were some overbuilt older houses. However, "framing on one foot centers with real two-by-fours of old growth oak" is a rare exception, not the norm. Anyone who has ever tried to install new doors or moulding in a vintage house can tell you that true right angles are also a rare exception for most homes from the era. In Buffalo, many pre-WWII houses have had their exterior architectural details stripped, often replaced with Staten Islandesque decorative metal and the like, because they rotted away; it wasn't the virgin hardwood so many armchair urbanists think was the norm.

    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I think, too, that we judge the past by today's standards and assume people prior to the 1970s lived the same kind of lives we do, especially since a lot of our knowledge of the past is filtered through the prism of old movies which tend to portray people in the upper or the upper middle class. The truth is that lower and middle class people generally didn't have our lifestyles. People simply didn't spend as large a percentage of their income on so many of the things we do:
    Excellent post. Even as a child in the 1970s, I recognize most of the things Linda listed as part of everyday life in the era. I don't have a cite, but I've read that an American household can live comfortably by 1960s/1970s standards on a very low income. That means no cell phone, no cable, no DVD player, no movie rentals, no computers or Internet access, no video games, a basic landline phone plan, limited kitchen gadgetry (basic kitchen appliances, no microwave oven or dishwasher), fewer prepared meals, no organic/local/artisanel foods, macrobrew beer and Gallo/Taylor wine, less dining out (limited to family restaurants and red sauce Italian), limited wardrobes, fewer toys (and none that are electronic), and simple vacations.

    Also, the price of a typical new car has kept up with inflation, but that new car is loaded with features what were considered extravagant luxuries on cars from the 1970s and 1980s. Even a basic Kia Forte of today has more standard features than a loaded BMW M3 of the 1980s. It's impossible to get a new car with rollup windows and no AC outside of the developing world. The closest thing available in an industrialized nation might be a Dacia Logan, which isn't sold in the US. A new stripped Logan sells for about US$8,000, or $1400 in 1970 dollars. In comparison, the sticker price of a base VW Beetle in 1970 was $2,000 in the dollars of the day.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  25. #25
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I like Linda D’s assessment of how the economics of the household have changed over time. The world she describes I realize is the world that changed while I was growing up. My mother excelled in the domestic arts and made a good deal of her own clothes while also keeping us in ours as we tore them or needed the cuffs to be let down. She made quilts. She cooked most every night and they also went out dancing on Saturday nights (without kids, of course). I walked to school and I also had a lot of unstructured time where I was on my own with friends roaming the neighborhood, meaning no parent was chaperoning us around or sitting on the sidelines at some practice, providing time for other investments of time into the household.

    But that all changed in the 1970s with the recession and rising oil prices. My mother went to work as well and I became a latchkey kid. Looking back, I realize this was in large part due to the increasing home values (and subsequent property tax increases) and the desire my parents had to maintain a middle class existence they had worked hard for and which my brother enjoyed (he’s 11 years older than me). At one point in the early ‘80s we moved to a neighboring town and downsized our home because of all this and the fact that my brother was off to college. But the old house wouldn’t sell and a year later we moved back.

    As far as home values, my parents purchased the home I grew up in for $35,000 in one of the most desirable Philadelphia suburbs. It was on ¾ acre with 5 bedrooms and 4 baths, built in 1917. Granted it needed a lot of work, but even accounting for a conservative inflation estimate, the ratio of cost to salary was much better than you would find today for a comparable home. Again, they purchased it for the same or less than one year’s salary for my father. That house sold last in 2005 for over $500,000 (a friend has done a lot of renovation on it and keeps me updated). Even with rising wages, there is no way my father would be making $500,000 for the work he did. There is no doubt (and I have charts that illustrate it somewhere around here) that the wage gap between salaries and home prices is continuing to widen.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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