Suburban Poverty

16 thoughts on “Suburban Poverty”

  1. Cheap money has been flooding the market for years thanks to the Fed. The banksters get the money for nothing then the 1% plow that money into real estate driving up the price. This phenomenon is happening all over the world, and yes it means there is a very real real-estate bubble out there waiting to pop. As you have stated numerous times before, the key is getting to “smart” regulations and eliminating the byzantine rules we have in place today (however, just as bad would be “no regulations at all”). Quite the conundrum we face.

  2. My wife and I lived multiple places in California, including Silicon Valley, before moving to Vegas so we could afford a house again. Silicon Valley does some incredible things, however the attitude there is insular and quite clueless about the outside world.

    The real estate crash here in Vegas was so pronounced that buying or renting is quite affordable. And once outside the Vegas area, it’s just desert,so there are no 90 minute drives to work. The city is kind of an outlier, in that artists can make it here because casinos are such big buyers. My neighbor two houses down has a home business painting murals. I doubt her business could exist elsewhere.

    But yeah, the bifurcation is increasing and a reckoning is coming. And those in power mostly don’t see it coming.

  3. “What we think of as government assistance to the poor is actually public money that goes directly to landlords, grocery stores, and medical providers in the form of vouchers and debit cards. These are subsidies to large powerful interests that use the poor as a conduit to access public revenue streams.”

    It’s good to see someone else express my thoughts on this. I thought I just had a bad attitude. The irony is that there is no assistance for the poor. The existence of Section 8 just distorts the rental market by allowing landlords to charge more for rent that the market can actually support. Food stamps allow more people to eat better by giving more business to Walmart than they could otherwise afford. Public assistance always winds up in the pockets of the affluent.
    That said, I’m not against public assistance. It’s just not a solution to the real problems that it props up. Propping up unaffordable housing with subsidies isn’t a solution to zoning and building codes that manage to exclude real affordable housing, for example.

    Reading Granola Shotgun and Strong Towns leaves me sad a lot of the time, but it helps to understand the situation. And occasionally a glimmer of hope shines through. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  4. Can I just say, I love this blog?
    I discovered it only a few weeks ago and have devoured most of the articles.
    This post in particular really gets me; you break down a major crack in our economic foundation in a way that is easy to follow, but also connects us to the humanity of the issue, rather than just numbers and figures. You illustrate all sides of the problem, so that we feel equally compelled to fix the issue, rather than point fingers and place blame….
    I guess my point is: thank you, and keep writing!

      1. I am currently in Queens, New York. Long Island City/ Astoria to be exact. I work in Manhattan, and also travel within the country frequently for work.

        I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and went to college/ lived in Memphis, TN for 4 years.

        I am addicted to road trips and find myself driving around exploring towns, trying to figure out their identity. I am a lover of architectural history (and history in general), which is what initially brought me to your blog.

        So, to answer your question:
        Atlanta is transforming from a large, spread out metropolis to more of an urban center as the movie industry takes over. With no concern for preservation, gentrification is rampant, new condos and large, cheaply made suburban “Mc-Mansions” are taking over old neighborhoods, and the city is being divided into newly named districts, which are really just to put on heirs of exclusivity and to justify higher price tags.

        Still heavily divided by class/ race (separated by train tracks). The city is finding new life through the arts and repurposing long-abandoned buildings (such as the famous glass pyramid… now home to a large Bass Pro-shop… cue eye roll) for new business, particularly museums and theatres, which is exciting.
        All of the city’s section 8 housing was centralized to one area, which is still largely neglected and hurting. As the University of Memphis expands, and the eclectic “midtown” explodes with nightlife, younger generations can be seen reinventing the city’s identity.

        However, Memphis still remains largely segregated, and dominated by old money. The suburbs (Collierville, Bartlett, et all) remain largely unchanged.

        Last but not least, Queens/ Long Island City/ Astoria area. This “city” is just across the Queensboro bridge…. a river separates the east side of Manhattan and the very beginnings of Queens. Heavily congested and densely populated, the city can have a different identity with every street corner. One part is Long Island City proper; an area filled with young professionals and new young families. It is new, shiny, clean, modern. Filled with boutiques and trendy restaurants, and amazing views over the river.
        Astoria is a neighborhood with a lot of history. A true melting pot, my neighbors are a mix of young, 20-something artists and families that have remained here for 20+ years. Despite it’s <10 minute commute to the center of Manhattan, rents are mostly reasonable (considering) and it remains a well kept secret from the forces that tend to spike rents, gut and remodel neighborhoods. Astoria is a small town in big city clothes.

  5. Wow. One of the best pieces I’ve read in a long time. The otherization of the poor is striking in its boldness – and its invisibility.

  6. Johnny,
    You seem to have a habit of extrapolating California’s problems onto America as a whole. But thankfully, the rest of America isn’t as batshit crazy as California is.

    Case in point: property zoning. In southern states, such as North Carolina where I grew up, there are plenty low cost housing options in the form of trailer homes. You can buy one and small chunk of property out in the countryside and you are all set, no idiot regulations, very few if any NIMBYs, to prevent you from owning your home. And you’ll be able to commute to Charlotte or Raleigh/Durham or Greensboro to work in less than 1 hour.

    The same applies to all the southern red states.

    1. Yes and no. I have an aunt who lives in a trailer on land she owns in rural Georgia. She’s getting older. She’s lonely. She has no neighbors to speak of. She works minimum wage part time (Southern style “right-to-work”) and her low income is starting to force her to choose between the electric bill, food, and keeping her beater car on the road. So let’s not declare a victory for unregulated red states just yet. It’s all just two sides of the same coin in terms of the national economy. Haves and have-nots.

  7. I agree with your observations, I’m seeing the same thing during my travels this summer in the Midwest, South Texas and New Mexico. I’m wondering what you think of Tim O’Reilly’s Next:Economy effort? It seems to me that unless we change the investment rules to favor building long-term businesses instead of unicorns there’s little likelihood grassroots efforts to improve cities and towns will be sustainable. Love to read your thoughts in a future essay.

    1. Good article. O’Reilly is more articulate than I am in expressing the same basic thoughts.

      The rules will change, but not as the result of the interested parties sitting down to address the situation in a calm and measured manner. Instead there will be a protracted period of unpleasantness where the current rules are rejected by those who aren’t being well served by them. The people who are doing great with these rules won’t like that very much and will push back in the usual fashion. That could end in several different ways…

      My expectation is that the world is heading to war – not a little war that Americans watch on TV, but a big one that appears in the living room for real. That will shake things up. The most likely scenario is a land war in the Middle East that pulls in all the great powers. Global infrastructure is highly vulnerable to asymmetric attacks: ports, oil terminals, shipping lanes, pipelines, telecommunications, etc. Everything will get funky in a hurry. The US will become socially and politically galvanized, but will also take on panopticon-like qualities of surveillance and control as a result of random attacks. So we’ll get a new set of rules and likely a new sense of collective well-being and shared equity , but we may not love the trade offs regarding civil liberties.

      Let’s read this blog again in ten years and see how it goes.

  8. The future is hard to predict. I thought offshoring would kill software engineers. But ironically it strengthened their hand because companies realized it’s a discipline that requires intense teamwork to produce even a mediocre product.

    One door closing leads to another. The implementation of software has led to all manner of braindead non-technical positions available for people willing to RTFM. Salesforce admins, medical assistants, office managers, etc. But how many grab the low hanging fruit? There seems to be little appetite for grunt work in our society today.

    1. I have a friend who works for a prominent company in Silicon Valley. When she sees poor people she says, “Why don’t they just learn to code and get a better paying job?” This is the sound you hear echoing inside the tech chamber. I was having lunch with her at one of the heavily subsidized cafeterias at her place of employment and pointed to the people serving the lovingly hand crafted organic food, clearing the tables, and washing the floors. I asked her where she thought these people lived given that the median home price in this particular town was $1.75M and the average rent on a one bedroom apartment was $3,200 – if you can even find a vacancy (which you can’t.) I recall my response was something like, “read the fucking manual” of how to live an hour and a half away and share a two bedroom tract home next to the municipal landfill with seventeen other people.

      1. Whoa, that came off wrong. All I meant was that there are plenty of boring but decent jobs that only require a community college education. But many people seem incapable of even THAT level of effort or feel it’s beneath them to research which jobs might actually pay the bills. Meanwhile, immigrants scoop up these jobs FOB by simply… reading the manual.

        I should know. I was literally a meth-addled sandwich artist going nowhere until I had enough and got a marketable skill in my early 30s. Virtue signaling aside, I did have help, namely relative’s couches when I messed up. But all things considered, globally speaking, this country is easy living. Separate your identity from your day job and and the U.S. is your oyster.

        1. But again….we NEED the sandwich artists. Even in your amended response, there is still an implicit assumption that the poor somehow deserve to suffer. Even though the American economy is based on cheap labor. It’s only a f^%$#ed up system that so devalues labor in favor of silly symbol manipulation.

          That’s not to disagree that many people can’t get their acts together for a variety of personal and societal reasons.

          Now admittedly, it’s better than living in a Rio Favella. One could argue, though, that Rio Favellas at least have more of a sense of community than the isolated poor in American subdivisions.

    2. That seems rather…comfortable…of you Brian. What appetite should there be for poverty level wages for work that the educated betters sneer at?

      I would argue that we need “grunt workers” more than software engineers who design Pokémon Go or cell phone aps that turn the screens different colors to reflect our mood…or aps that serve only to make the lives of the top 10% even more comfortable and posh, but our current socioeconomic system seems to disagree, so….

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