Friday, November 2, 2007
Today, let’s move up the economic ladder from the homeless and talk about the problem of affordable “homes” in Los Angeles. In the news this week was the heart-warming story of modest-income families moving into new houses built by Habitat for Humanity and its most famous hammer swinger, Jimmy Carter. This is good news for the handful of lucky new homeowners, but it won’t, of course, solve the broader phenomenon that the median price of a single-family house in Los Angeles is more than $500,000. And with the mortgage crunch, families with modest incomes and shaky credit history find it difficult to obtain mortgage loans.
What troubles me in particular, however, is the commonly expressed perception that ONLY a single-family house is a “home;” small apartments aren’t worthy of such a designation. Both the L.A. Times and NPR suggested this in their reporting on Los Angeles this week. Earth to the United States: In almost all nations of the world, nearly all families, from poor to rich, live in apartments, not in single-family houses. From Paris to Buenos Aires to Osaka, it is accepted that the advantages of living in a big city come with the drawback of having to live in an apartment. But not in the United States, and especially not in sprawling cities such as Los Angeles, where the American Dream is dying hard. But with nearly 18 million people (more than the entire state of Pennsylvania, and more arriving all the time) in the fixed space of the L.A. area, the old luxuries simply can’t be expected anymore.
Our land use laws need to be loosened to allow (and maybe even encourage) more construction of apartments (how about on land currently occupied by foreclosed single-family houses?) to house the millions of new urban Americans.