Thursday, October 12, 2006

Is Cheap Housing Really Cheap?
Yesterday, Marketplace covered an issue that is becoming a bigger problem in the US, but which not many people seem to be thinking about: Housing costs vs. costly commutes.

When I moved back to North Carolina, I ended up in an envious position. I have a reasonably priced apartment in a very convenient semi-urban location, only a mile from my 30-hour-per-week job (with benefits.) Though not full-time, it's a job I can enjoy doing, and it leaves me with plenty of time to pursue my own interests as I try to figure out what direction I want to take my life in next. My apartment may not have the best bathroom tiling or the most up-to-date electrical wiring, but it's plenty big enough for me and in a nice neighborhood. However, the most important thing that I understand about my situation is that it is unusual and I am incredibly lucky.

If I hadn't found this apartment, the only other ones with comparably reasonable rent rates were another 20-30 minutes away, on the outskirts of what might really be considered the city. If my job were located in the Research Triangle Park, or Durham, or Chapel Hill, again, it would be 20-30 minutes away. If my job didn't provide benefits, I couldn't afford them for myself. And if my job or my apartment required me to drive so far so regularly, I'd be hard-pressed to afford all the gas for my car, (which I am borrowing from my parents, and for which the pay the insurance, because they are wonderful people.) Were my situation only a tiny bit different, I would be in dire straits, and I know it. This scares me, because there are so many people out there who are trying to live their lives on less than me.

Where has all the affordable housing gone? Why does it seem that the affordable housing keeps moving farther and farther away, negating whatever benefit the lower rent might have by correspondingly higher transportation costs? Why are no real estate development companies interested in constructing socially responsible, good, affordable housing in economically sensible places? Why do they only seem to want to tear down the affordable housing to rebuild giant, energy-inefficient, unnecessary megahouses?

Why does it seem like the world runs backwards in our country right now?

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