The Platypus

24 thoughts on “The Platypus”

    1. This post isn’t a criticism of this housing development or the city of Santa Ana. It’s an exploration of what’s possible and how the numbers work. It’s all about compromise and the platypus is what reality looks like in this context.

  1. Break down on a $700,000.00 for a 30 year loan
    HOA and Insurance-$585,750.00
    Taxes-$300,000.00
    Interest-$487,336.00
    Principle- $700,000.00
    Monthly Payment-$70,000.00

    Our system requires debt

    1. That’s per annum – monthly would be $5833.

      But that still implies a $175k family income (using 40% threshold) – hardly typical middle class when 2016 median family income in California was $77359.

      1. How does the saying go? “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The state average includes families in Fresno, Bakersfield, and Reading that have significantly lower income levels. In parts of coastal California like Orange County $175,000 is a common enough household income to support home sales in the $700,000 range. Add in help from mom and dad or grandma and a $700,000 condo is attainable for a significant segment of the population.

        Personally I’m horrified at the 40% income-to-mortgage threshold since the old standby figure has always been 25%. And then there are the huge numbers of people who will never come close to earning more than minimum wage. Society needs an army of such workers in order to function, but there are currently no accommodations for them.

        1. Even in Orange County the median income is “only” $76,000, which is far too low to pay for something like this. This is upper middle class housing, even in OC.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_California_locations_by_income

          The normal course, as you’ve pointed out, is that housing gets built for the upper middle class, and classes lower down inherit them them later as they move downscale for various reasons. This kind of construction fits into the first part, although the second part has long been short-circuited by a) political incentives to prop up prices by homeowners depending on home value as their primary investment and b) chronically insufficient construction (partly motivated by part a).

          1. No arguments from me. I don’t make the rules. And I have zero control over how these things play out. My guess is that the cycle of new expensive construction and gradual decline toward de facto “affordable housing” is still the long term reality. All the structural economic and financial tinkering, as you point out, only means that when the correction occurs it will be that much more dramatic. Failure ultimately fixes itself.

  2. Thanks for your response Johnny. Going under the radar as you’ve illustrated in recent posts seems like the most viable option. Avoid the rules but also work as legally as possible within the current parameters. Correct me if wrong please.

    1. Going “under the radar” suggests breaking laws and doing unsavory, dangerous, and unhealthy things. That’s not what I’m promoting here.

      Right now in many places it’s illegal to dry your laundry on a line in your own back garden. Is this a dangerous activity? A fire hazard? Polluting? No. But it’s forbidden for cultural reasons having to do with popular perceptions of the kinds of people who engage in this sort of activity and the places where such things are common. The list of prohibitions gets more and more detailed and specific with each new HOA and municipal code review. Many places forbid residents from parking their own cars in their own driveways. Cars must be kept in a garage with the door closed. Growing veggies, keeping a few hens – verboten. The color of your drapes is prescribed by committee.

      Perhaps what I advise people to do is carefully opt out of living in places where such restrictions are overly abundant in favor of more relaxed neighborhoods where the self selecting populations cut each other more slack.

  3. Aside from the garage with accessory housing look, I wouldn’t say this housing was terrible.

    But only if you can walk or bike to lots of stuff.

    Places evolve. That’s what I’ve decided. This is another beginning and not the end.

  4. Within the walls of the gated community it looks okay–and if the area were ALL like that, and there were corner stores and nearby schools and libraries, it could be pretty nice.

  5. Not sure what it is like in reality and maybe the costs are astronomical but the idea of being in a densely populated area where you could live upstairs from your office, I’m attorney. Seems really appealing to me. If you could purchase the commercial space and the condo at a reasonable price with a 30 year fixed rate mortgage, assuming thing remain relatively stable, it seems like you could make a go of it and not have to make a ton of money to do so. In Maine it would not be hard to buy or rent a dual use property in a small city, like the one I’m in, but the population density is too low to run a professional office and make enough money. That’s where the high population could really be boon.

  6. Johnny- you say ” if we changed the rules and we’d get different results” could you expand on that – or perhaps you have and I haven’t read it being new to the blog- . Thanks.
    Robyn

    1. I always say our current built environment is the result of an alluvial delta of accumulated rules, regulations, and procedures that have built up over many decades. It isn’t the zoning restrictions, or the building code, or the fire marshal’s stipulations, or minimum parking requirements, or storm water management, or handicap accessibility, or financing practices, or tax regimes, or home owners associations, or public school district jerrymandering, or NIMBYs, or the DOT… It’s all of it. The entire constellation of parameters taken together means only very large, fairly expensive, and incredibly complex things can be built. Whenever anyone tries to reform the system instead of simplifying things, additional new layers are added on top of the existing ones.

  7. What do you think is the density person per acre of this project? I have spent a lot of time pondering if suburbia and stroads can be retrofitted for transit and also what density is necessary for transit to work.

    Its really hard to make an eight lane road walkable. I’m seeing interest from both the private and public sector in my area to densify existing failing big box sites on our stroads. Density is easy, walkability is more difficult.

    It reminds me of your Mississauga post. I went to Mississauga before reading your blog and had similar thoughts to your density without urbanism post.

  8. 2000 sq ft doesn’t look compressed to me, even for four bedrooms. And 3.5 baths seems like overkill. Are you saying single family homes there would be even larger?

    HOAs are generally awful, but at least the fees force some sinking funding for ongoing maintenance. That is about the only aspect that I like about them.

  9. Another point I wanted to make: this isn’t exactly an example of market forces breaking through crazy government restrictions. Santa Ana is now controlled politically by the Hispanic community, including a lot of recent immigrants, and has become fairly friendly to more urban ideas. Other nearby communities like Fountain Valley and Orange are still allowing almost none of this, even though they face similar economic pressures. They have allowed 2-story small yard developments, but generally only in old industrial areas. Very little has been allowed to 3 stories or in commercial zones, never mind residential zones. Other cities like Westminster and Anaheim are in between, and there too it’s largely reflective of political control.

  10. There are “live-work” spaces like those on the corner of Main and Memory Lane, just across from the MainPlace Mall. They are a joke I’ve commented on earlier, because the bottom floor is zoned *only* commercial and the top two floors are zoned *only* residential. Total idiocy. The ADA compliant bathrooms on the ground floor are so large all that’s left is a small office. To my surprise, there are businesses in many of them but they have a ridiculous turnover. Some places have tried merging two adjacent units but the space is still too small for most retail.

    In spite of being far short of Paris, these places would be pretty decent and walkable if they weren’t walled and gated, and they were a little less overzoned. They’d be fine, even with the stroad there, if there were a corner grocery store on the occasional street corner and you could walk around freely. Maybe in a few decades when the HOA’s deteriorate. Also, even as they are, while they’re not going to be “walkable” in the usual sense, you will be able to manage on foot and bike reasonably if you wish.

    They are still a huge improvement over the used car lots, and they do provide a fair amount of desperately needed housing.

  11. And the ‘modest’ people in the leadership of the company developing the housing lives in the Oakland foothills and have a vacation home in Carmel or the Colorado Rockies.

    1. I’ve spent enough time with developers and municipal officials all over the country to realize that none of the individual players are bad. What gets built – and who builds it – is a reflection of larger complex systems. The “big evil developer” is an expression of the underlying regulatory and financial framework. Likewise, Walmart didn’t create the rules that incentivized the big box model. It just exploited them. If we changed the rules and we’d get different results.

      1. I know what you’re saying, since I’ve been a zoning bureaucrat for 15 years and counting. Our rules are flexible and allow sprawl repair almost as-of-right, but the problem is getting out from under the interia of the existing development pattern and the set ways of the owners.

        As for the redevelopment you’ve shown, it’s good to take what Curt says and you say often in finding the silver lining: It’s better.

        At least (presumably) the people living in these developments are closer to where they need to go (ie work, stores, family, entertainment, etc.).

        I live and work in a “Small Town Urban” city and we’re working on ‘fixing’ our landscape to be more “people first, cars second”, and thankfully we have a sizable intact active traditional downtown that we like to point to when we start working on the sprawl repair areas of the city.

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