Seattle Under Siege

Large (family-sized) houses, cheap houses, and reasonable commute times. You can have any two, but not all three.

In the post-war period the predominant change in urban form in American and other New World cities was for the inner cities to empty out in favour of the suburbs. Now that the inner city has come back into vogue, the greater demand for land and housing - a shift in the underlying ‘fundamentals’ of the market - has put ‘family-sized’ housing in the inner city under real price pressure.

Part of the solution is in improved mass transit links, especially rail, as this reduces commute time over driving and makes it feasible for people with families to still live some distance from their work and still get there in a reasonable time. This is how British cities of any size work, leaving the inner city with something of a skewed demographic (more single adults and fewer children) - and quite evident in the churches, as well, as any look at Redeemer in NYC will make clear.

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Probably not “conservatives.” NIMBYism is a universal phenomenon.

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I’ve wondered over and over what you meant by that. Am I missing something? Did somebody advocate that here?

While it’s certainly true that houses in the suburbs, then as now, are larger than those in inner cities, Americans had been raising families of all sizes in inner cities until after WWII. The thing that drove people to the suburbs was crime. And lo and behold, after 20 years of more-or-less falling crime rates, middle-class people are moving back to inner cities. It’s true that most of the folks doing this are not looking to raise large families, but I’d argue that’s mostly because innser city schools are horrible, even by declining American standards.

(I’d argue that awful public schools across urban, suburban and rural parts of the US are a major driver in small family size, but that’s a little OT for this thread.)

Yes, a universal phenomenon that includes “conservatives” who claim to be “free-market”. It is ironic to hear people complain that the state legislature is “liberal/socialist” when it is considering a law that would loosen very burdensome local regulations on housing. E.g., freedom is when you are able to stop your neighbor from building a duplex. Socialism is when the state government tells you that you can’t stop your neighbor from building a duplex.

It was a general observation. Concerning housing, Soviet-style planning is what we have in the United States, especially in California, and we are so immersed in it that we can’t see straight, even “conservatives” (see above). The level of regulation is so great that market principles don’t apply, which causes a great deal of confusion. The link you posted above is accurate enough, but the lack of fungability between different classes of housing I think still reflects the lack of a genuine free market. When housing is very regulated and very little housing is built compared to demand, then yes, adding a few luxury condos or a few studio apartments doesn’t do much to help families. My point is that we shouldn’t think the free market is failing when we are nowhere close to having a genuine free market.


For my part, I guess I’ve just concluded that we live in a country that is now hostile to the family, and so it follows that the housing market would reflect our values. Having a large family has become an increasingly abominable hindrance to the pursuit of the American dream in the last 30 years or so, so it follows that homes built in the last 30 years aren’t going to be geared toward that. Combine that with the radical notion of fathers being providers and wives being at home, and housing becomes that much harder to find. The world simply isn’t built for the single income family model anymore.

That said, I am grateful for God’s provision for my family. As our family has grown, he has always met our needs when it comes to housing. But house-shopping has been eye opening.


There are a lot of large homes that have been built in the last 30 years, and they aren’t selling as fast as smaller homes, which works nicely for those who are interested in buying them.


Anecdata: we bought our current home last year in a market where 3 bedroom homes were under contract within a week, mostly. Shopping for a 4/5 bedroom place, we had plenty of time to shop around, do comparisons and make offers. The house we wound up buying had been on the market for 4-6 months, with the owner steadily lowering the price and she was ready to sell when we were ready to buy.

I grew up around Seattle through the eighties, and what you are seeing now is nothing particularly new. There has always been homelessness and campgrounds around Seattle, even back then. The violence was heavy too; a close friend was beaten by a Samoan gang into a coma from which he never recovered. He was simply defending his girlfriend from their advances. Crack and heroin killed off many acquaintances. Where do you think the energy and angst of grunge came from?

I’m not saying it’s “all good”, but the measure of problems may be a bit dilated by some kind of romantic idea about the past. There has been an ellipsis in the situation because of Microsoft, the DOS gangs and Internet stuff brought in cash (and big building projects). But the underbelly of Seattle is not new.

The thing is, each part of the USA is a region, and there are aspects that make each what it is that might have less to do with the polarity of Liberal VS. Conservative (which is, arguably, just an expression of Modernity / Nihilism), and more to do with the temperate climate, the fresh water, the forests and the number of bridges you can camp underneath.

Have you been to Seattle lately? I’m led to understand that things on the west coast are getting worse.

I have spent some time on business in Silicon Valley in the last two years, and I can say that it’s awful. The numbers in the newspaper tell us that the economy is doing well, and Silicon Valley (like Seattle) is one of the boomtowns driving the US economy. Yet the homelessness looks like it’s out of the Grapes of Wrath.

Every place has its problems, but I think this is different.

Here’s a counter-article on whether building more housing will alleviate pressure.

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Interesting. Not sure why the prices wouldn’t be affected if this were the case, though.

Supply and demand would simplistically seem to dictate that if almost 50% of the moves trickled up ultimately from the bottom, then pricing should drop down there, too. However, the link above indicates that price basically doesn’t drop beyond one segment lower than the one built in.

It’s possible that the explanation is that the ones that move up in the housing market in this study are doing so based on increasing personal income. That would mean the conclusions of this latest paper are wrong.

Or it’s possible that the confounding factor on pricing is the relative size of the upper and lower markets. Thus the conclusions of the first paper would be wrong. Presumably though, this would mean that changes in the pricing of the lower, larger market would have a greater effect on the smaller market than vice versa. IIRC, though, that wasn’t the case, implying that the markets are segregated as claimed.

One thing is sure, I understand much better now why you were associating my arguments with soviet planning. That’s what most of those in this debate with my position are basically calling for, it seems.

My own solution would be to let the market solve it by removing restrictions, recognizing that it will take time, and the rich will get served first, as always. :moneybag: talks, after all.

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The economic background underlying all of this is that there has been increasing geographical concentration of high-skill and high-paying jobs over the past couple of decades. So people move to Seattle, Silicon Valley, etc. not because they like the locale but because that is where the high-tech high-pay jobs are. And people endure the high housing costs and hassle because there aren’t that many high-paying jobs elsewhere, unlike what was more the case fifty years ago. Housing costs are low in Cincinnati, but what’s the high-skill high-pay job market like there?

So building a few luxury condos in Seattle, Silicon Valley, etc. probably doesn’t do much to relieve housing costs lower down because there is too much demand from people continuing to move there for the jobs. So the complaint goes that building more housing just brings in more people, which is true to a certain extent, but those people would be moving there anyway and squeezing out the working class and middle class even worse without a small amount of luxury housing being built. Over the past couple of decades there has been an exodus of working class and middle class people from California that were squeezed out by the high costs and who could not compete with people brought in by the high pay tech job market.

The reason that affordable housing isn’t built is because it’s not profitable with the costs of land and regulatory burdens so high. Really, affordable housing is dense housing (which zoning largely prevents) or old housing (luxury housing several decades later). So it is crazy to expect developers could build low cost housing but are just choosing not to, but that’s a common sentiment.

My current neighborhood ought to be ground zero for low-cost affordable housing - small houses built for the working class sixty years ago, but now even more depreciated, outdated, and worn out. But region-wide supply is so limited and demand is so high that prices have risen to the point that only double-income professionals can afford to buy in the neighborhood. The couple next door moved in a couple years ago and just had a baby and the wife is returning to work after only a few weeks, I assume because they cannot afford to live without her income.

So it’s not just the case that building luxury housing isn’t freeing up housing lower down the scale – it’s that the people who would normally live in luxury housing can’t do so because the supply is so small so that they have to go far downscale and live in 60-year-old working class housing.