Wednesday, February 3, 2016

We Don't Need High Priced Homes for High Quality Neighborhoods

We can have a high-quality-of-life neighborhood without having the highest priced homes. It's not the monetary value of real estate that define the neighborhood. It's the people who live and work here.

Redfin, a web-based residential real estate company, recently created a blog post about which U.S. neighborhoods they consider the "hottest." The methodology was pretty simple; they base the rankings on the number of page views for homes in the neighborhood and number of "favorites" (you can mark individual home listings to monitor pending status, price changes, etc). By these metrics Mount Pleasant was the 5th "hottest" neighborhood in the United States.

But, they also note that the median sales price for a home in Mount Pleasant in 2015 was $760,000, more than any other among the top ten hottest neighborhoods. Number 8 on the list, Hamden (Baltimore), had a median home price of $198,000. 

A $760,000 home with a 30 year mortgage and 4% interest rate, would result in $3,628/month payment. If you wanted to put 20% down, you'd need $152,000 in cash. The $3,628/month does not include taxes, mortgage insurance, HOA/condo fee, or utilities. Assuming those costs totaled $4,000/month (v. conservative), and you aimed to spend a third of your take-home income on housing, you'd need to be making a yearly salary of $144,000, after taxes, to afford the average home sold here in 2015.

According to BLS, the median hourly wage for all occupations in the District (in 2014) was $31.20, or about $64,900 per year. You'd need more than two of those salaries to afford the median priced home in Mount P. For DC workers in office and admin support occupations, the median hourly wage was $21.90. For workers in food prep and food service, it was $10.82. The current minimum wage in DC is $10.50 per hour.

Look, I agree with Redfin. Mount Pleasant is an awesome neighborhood. We kind of have it all:
  • Mixed-use zoning resulting in our own "Main Street" with neighborhood grocery and other needed retail
  • Wide variety of housing options including large multi-family buildings, single-family rowhomes, rentals large and small
  • Interesting and varied architectural styles
  • Walkable to an elementary, middle, and high school
  • Walkable to a Metro station
  • Two buses to the city center (S and 42/43), two cross-town buses (H3/4 and H8)
  • Circulator stop
  • Bikeshare station
  • Rock Creek Park
  • Mount Pleasant Library
  • Engaging history
  • Farmer's market
Seem like a perfect place for workers, professionals, artists, single people, coupled people, big families, students, children; pretty much anyone. That's why the $760,000 number is so disheartening. Where are the new mid-range and human-sized housing options? With Howard University recently moving students from Meridian Hill to make way for "luxury apartments," boutique hoteliers planning to upend Union Arts artists, the city's controversial plans for Barry Farm, and the legacy of the Deauville fire displacements --among other examples-- its seems like the ability for average person to just stay put is eroding. It's not just that one can't afford to purchase the priciest condos, it's the alarming idea that just staying where you are, even if you have paid on time/followed rules/done due diligence since day one; even the ability to just exist as-is can come into question.

For all the great transit infrastructure, unique retail options, pizza shops, and restaurants, it's really the people that make our neighborhood. Not page views, bids-over-asking, or fewest days on the market. 

Mount Pleasant has been a great place to live because of the people I've lived with (or next to, or above), whom I met drinking a beer near the fire pit, listed to music with at Lamont Park, emailed me to put an event on the blog, laughed at me for trying to order a vegan pupusa in I'm sure what was broken Spanish, recommended a book at the library, asked me to watch their dog while they ran inside, handed me a hot chocolate at Lamont Street Halloween, played a show in a sweltering basement, helped me count down a new year at Haydee's, showed me the best trails through Rock Creek, hosted me at Passover Seder, or drove me to work on the 42 bus. 

It's the people that make the neighborhood "hot." My wish is that they all have the option to live here, too. To find their place. And be able to keep it.