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Hilarity and Affordable Housing and the NY Times, II

One of the prerogatives of being on the VC blog is that one can take prior discussions and reframe them more to one's liking. The comments on my previous post ("Hilarity (Presumably Unintentional) at the New York Times") were quite interesting, and I want to respond.

Some commenters took me to task for my "childish" tone. Well, what can you do -- getting "tone" right for all readers in a blog (especially a collective blog) is a tough thing to do. But the Times editorial actually made me laugh out loud, it was so silly -- and I was trying to get you to see how silly it was.

So I'll try again. The editorial begins with a description of a building that has opened up on the Upper West Side and that offers "dormitory-style" living, aimed at the recent-college-graduate market. It's a damned good idea -- I lived in NYC recently and in the past, and I'm the parent of a recent-college-graduate who is among the zillions of recent college graduates piling into NYC. There is indeed a "shortage of affordable housing."

So you'd think the Times would say: "this looks like a damned good idea; we hope it spreads." Here's what they say:

"It's an idea that could spread. Recent graduates working long hours and filling their free time with dates and parties require little more than places to sleep and communal stoves to boil the occasional pot of noodles. Dormitory living also carries a whiff of nostalgia. It almost sounds like fun until you stop and remind yourself that these dorms for adults arise from the rigors of the housing market and not from any desire to live in close quarters with strangers.

"It almost sounds like fun ..." If I took a "childish" tone in my original posting, perhaps it was because I was following the Times' lead. Who said anything about it being fun?

But it is, to the Times, not fun -- no, it's not fun, because these dorms "arise from the rigors of the housing market and not from any desire to live in close quarters with strangers."

Come on, people -- look at that sentence! Surely you must agree that it is, if not laugh-out-loud funny, very odd. I don't even know where to begin. It would be "fun," except that it came from the market. What does that mean?

And (2) it came from the market, and not "from any desire to live in close quarters with other people."

What, renters are going to be herded in at gunpoint? If someone rents an apartment in that place, seems to me they do "want to live in close quarters with other people" -- at that price, they're willing buyers. Would they rather live in Greenwich with the editors of the NY Times? Sure -- who wouldn't. But that, as I would have expected the editors of the Times to understand, is not the way the world works.

But wait -- there's more!

"There is a nobler alternative — to make affordable housing a higher priority for a city that caters more and more to its richest residents. Families with small children that are living off dishwashers' and even teachers' pay are also adrift in this cutthroat market. For the working poor, and increasingly for middle-class families, dorms are not an option, but neither is the going rate on a comfortable home."

Not "better," or "more likely to provide affordable housing," or "more efficient" -- no, a "nobler" alternative. "For the working poor, dorms are not an option." Um, thank you, NY Times, for telling me what the working poor consider to be their options -- as if you had the faintest idea! Actually, they are an option -- now. [Didn't this start out as an editorial about precisely that? about the opening of a dormitory-style building??] Maybe the "working poor" will choose that option, maybe they won't. That's why we have entrepreneurs. We'll find out. But for the Times to have already decided -- it's just

There's something about the Times editorial board trying to tell me what the working poor consider their options to be, and about the extent to which people "desire to live in close quarters," that I find hilarious -- I'm thinking of what Mark Twain could do have done with material like this, or Monty Python.

But I guess it's like explaining a joke. If you don't think it's funny, you don't think it's funny, and that's that.

Tracy Johnson (www):
Didn't they use to call those tenements. Or, you could refer to images painted from Ayn Rand's "We The Living." Families huddled around a "Primus" stove. And of course, the government commissar who decides who gets to live there. An the seemingly endless subdivision of living space...
7.21.2006 10:38am
Frequent Reader:
I appreciate the efforts to clarify. At this point, though, I think it's best to let a sleeping dog lie. I didn't comment on your earlier post, b/c I thought other comments had already made the point. But this post - like the last - still seems to be an awkward attempt to try to slap the "elitist and pretentious" moniker on the Times, without much in the way of support. I'm referring in particular to the "live in Greenwich like the Times editors" point. That's overly personal, has nothing to do with the merits, and reeks of an more deeply rooted problem with the Times and its staff.

It's a newspaper editorial making the point that recent developments highlight a lack of affordable housing. It seemed reasonable to me when I read it, and still does.
7.21.2006 10:47am
W.D.:
Let's try this instead:
Living in a tent almost sounds like fun until you stop and remind yourself that these tent cities arise from natural disaster and not from any desire to go camping and live outdoors.

or:
These candle-light dinners may sound charming, until you realize they arise from the city-wide power outage, and not a desire for romantic ambiance.

The point of the editorial clearly was that these "dorms" are a somewhat creative, but wholly inadequate response to a severe shortage of affordable housing. It contrasts the recent college grads who may not mind it with the real working poor, for whom a glorified flophouse is not a practical, dignified option. The dorm angle was only the hook to talk about the bigger problem. I'm surprised the plain meaning of the editorial so eluded the distinguished blogger.
7.21.2006 11:11am
anonyomousss (mail):
the point about how it came from the market, not "from any desire to live in close quarters with other people" strikes me as completely reasonable. some people might see the ability to live in dormitories, a presumably highly social setting, as a feature they'd be willing to pay more for. if the people doing this see the dormitory setting as a disadvantage, it indicates that the market is forcing people to downgrade their expectations relative to what they could have afforded in the fairly recent past. why isn't that a bad thing?
7.21.2006 11:11am
Paul Gowder (mail):
"Ha, ha, ha! Those stupid journalists accused the market of doing an injustice! Don't they know that the market is definitionally incapable of doing injustice!"
7.21.2006 11:12am
jdmurray:
Frequent, it sounds to me like the Times has published an article about one of the solutions the market has found to a lack of affordable housing and doesn't realize it. It seems to see this particular solution as a problem itself. That's funny.
7.21.2006 11:15am
Christopher M (mail):
Yeah, it's really not "odd" at all. Most people don't like living in extremely close quarters with strangers. The NYC housing market is such that a number of people are forced to choose between living like that and moving out of NYC altogether (with all the cost, disruption, and general disutility that involves). The NYT thinks some better-off people (wealthier taxpayers, landlords, someone) should sacrifice some money (in rent revenue, in taxes, whatever) so that NYC's poorer people don't have to live in dormitories. Sacrifice for others is characteristically noble. (Hence "noblesse oblige.") Obviously a serious libertarian will disagree, but what's so funny about it?
7.21.2006 11:17am
madpie:
1. Why were the commenters on the earlier post so enormously touchy re the tone? I don't agree that the NYT piece was "hilarious," but neither do I see any problem with the argument made in the post. Having a "polite" discussion and making a vigorous and even pointed argument are not mutually exclusive, I hope.

2. And I agree that the NYT's vague call to "make affordable housing a higher priority," if not hilarious, is the kind of content-free assertion that could mean absolutely anything at all -- or nothing. Who should make it a higher priority? How, specifically, should it happen? The NYT doesn't say, and is content simply to suggest that some "nobler" types ought to come along and solve the problems of poverty. Post is right in calling the paper to task for pretending to take the moral high ground while offering no actual alternative to the status quo.
7.21.2006 11:25am
cathyf:
Jog my memory here... How is a "dorm for people who can't afford better" somehow different from the "welfare hotel"? You know, where hotel owners take their flophouses and cram families into each single room, and charge the government $1000-$1500-$2000 per month in rent for each one?

I mean different other than the lower rents, the extra dignity of the working poor paying their way through money rather than enduring the humiliation of the welfare system, the lack of the government middlemen, the lack of corrupt cozy relationships between politicians and flophouse operators, all that...

(Disclaimer -- I live in rural red-state America, where you can rent a 4 bedroom house for $500-$600 per month. The idea of the government paying 2-3-4 times that for a room in a flophouse just boggles my mind.)

cathy :-)
7.21.2006 11:27am
Bruce:
David, I'm laughing on the inside.
7.21.2006 11:37am
RainerK:
The point of the editorial clearly was that these "dorms" are a somewhat creative, but wholly inadequate response to a severe shortage of affordable housing.

Why is this reponse inadequate? What would be the better solution? Government intervention? "Affordable housing" at tax-payers' expense? Take it from the "well-to-do" and distribute it to the "working-poor"?

David Post is completely on the mark. This editorial is sadly hilarious. It is childish and betrays the writer's and the editors' disconnect.
Living in NYC and not wanting to live too close too each other? Somewhat mutually exclusive, no?
7.21.2006 11:39am
Christopher M (mail):
What would be the better solution? Government intervention? "Affordable housing" at tax-payers' expense? Take it from the "well-to-do" and distribute it to the "working-poor"?

Yep.
7.21.2006 11:58am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
My last NYC apartment was a $1300 studio in a dilapidated building around the corner from the Bowery Mission, and accordingly swamped by bums of all sorts. The studio was so small that I was able to open the fridge from my bed. (This, I think wass a convenience, actually). But I couldn't really bitch about it. No one, after all, twisted my arm and said, "Thou shalt not live in Forest Hills."

If you want to be in Manhattan, be it to ensure proximity to work, vanity, or simply because Daddy has always gotten you what you want - you have to pay the man - usually, the scruffy Moroccan Israeli with a sketchy Lower East office. If Manhattan is out of your price range, I have the world's smallest violin, all tuned and ready to go.
7.21.2006 12:00pm
jdmurray:
Maybe NYC also needs to deal with its "wholly inadequate" solution to the affordable transportion problem by finding a way to replace its dorms on wheels, aka "buses" and "subways", by finding a way to provide everyone a Corolla Camry.
7.21.2006 12:08pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
How about this?

Undergraduates working long hours and filling their free time with dates and parties require little more than places to sleep and communal stoves to boil the occasional pot of noodles. Dormitory living almost sounds like fun until you stop and remind yourself that these dorms arise from the demands of the state-run university and not from any desire to live in close quarters with strangers.
7.21.2006 12:12pm
jimbino (mail):
Living in a "dorm" is the rule in many parts of the world. European housing destruction and dislocation after WWII led to the creation of such dorms, called Wohngemeinschaften.

As an adult in Munich, I have more than once shared the top floor of a 5-storey walkup in a Wohngemeinschaft with between 5 and 14 others. The ease of all the sexual and cultural intercourse made it a most pleasant experience, even if we did have to share one bathroom, one kitchen and a tiny fridge.

A similar thing happened in Buenos Aires, where in 1989 I lived in a room for 67 cents/night and shared a cooking area with lots of single mothers and small families. It was a wonderful experience. Americans need to get out more!
7.21.2006 12:13pm
FXKLM:

The NYT thinks some better-off people (wealthier taxpayers, landlords, someone) should sacrifice some money (in rent revenue, in taxes, whatever) so that NYC's poorer people don't have to live in dormitories.


All of those proposals would make the housing shortage worse. The lack of affordable housing has nothing whatsoever to do with the incomes of the people living in the city. Manhattan is a small island where many millions of people want to live. That means that most of the people who want to live there will be unable to do so. Right now, we more or less ration living space in Manhattan through high prices. Artificially reducing prices or subsidizing rent will do nothing at all to resolve that situation.

Your problem is that you view the scarcity of Manhattan apartments in terms of price. You see that apartments are horribly expensive and the poor cannot afford them. So you assume that if we made the apartments cheaper, everyone would be able to afford them. It's superficially reasonable, but it's dead wrong.

If you can't afford to live in NYC, live someplace else. Make room for the rest of us.
7.21.2006 12:25pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Sasha Volokh's Vysotskiy post reminds of this line, describing the experience of living in a Soviet communal apartment:

"To thirty-eight cubbyholes, just one washroom."*

That's pretty accurate. Bitching yuppies with useless liberal arts BA's living the world's most luxurious city need to try that on for size.



* Все жили вровень, скромно так: система коридорная,
На тридцать восемь комнаток всего одна уборная.
7.21.2006 12:28pm
Dylanfa (mail) (www):
My lease on my apartment arises from the rigors of the housing market and not from any desire to live in less than 10,000 square feet without an ocean view.
7.21.2006 12:33pm
Lively:
Mike BUSLO7
The Times Editorial reminds me of my favorite Monty Python skit:


EI: I was happier then and I had NOTHIN'. We used to live in this tiiiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.

GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!

TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! We used to have to live in a corridor!

MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin' in a corridor! Woulda' been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.

EI: Well when I say "house" it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpolin, but it was a house to US.

GC: We were evicted from our hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!

TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.

MP: Cardboard box?

TG: Aye.

MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o'clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out.
7.21.2006 1:07pm
josh:
Yep, still childish.

I think WD hits it right on the head w his/her tent/candlelight analogies. Simply saying something would be fun but for tragedy or life difficulty doesn't make it funny. I know funny. That ain't funny.

Also, kudos to Frequent Reader, who gets the real joke here: Post's post is "overly personal, has nothing to do with the merits, and reeks of an more deeply rooted problem with the Times and its staff."

Post writes, "Um, thank you, NY Times, for telling me what the working poor consider to be their options -- as if you had the faintest idea!" As a recent study discovered(http://www.slate.com/id/2132709/) they do.

Unlike Post, I think Mark Twain would have a heck of a time parodying the Upper East Side millionaires who get million-dollar mortgage write-offs, when workers (including Times reporters) who need to reside in the city or uproot entirely can't afford their own bathroom. These reporters Post derides definitely fit Twains description of those who are "now fast rising from affluence to poverty".
7.21.2006 1:19pm
Justin (mail):
For the working poor, and increasingly for middle-class families, dorms are not an option, but neither is the going rate on a comfortable home." (emhapsis added).

This is a true statement. That you find it funny does not make it any less true.
7.21.2006 1:21pm
BGates (mail) (www):
Josh/Wd,

You think substituting natural disasters or a power outage for the market* makes a good analogy? It's tragic that somebody is trying to make a buck by meeting people's needs for housing? Are you planning on doing your whole careers pro bono?

Here's a quote from Josh's link about how the NYT does too understand the plight of the working poor:
Most experienced reporters and editors at the publications in question earn salaries in the low six figures. They can expect salaries to rise by a few percentage points a year, if they're lucky.

I expect to see some of these guys in the background of the next Sally Struthers commercial.

Look, if it will help those who can't afford Manhattan housing, I think we should loosen our immigration policy and let them come to the North American mainland. (Unless Justin tells me moving is not an option, for whatever reason
prevents the working poor from using the dorms).



*Not quite the 'free' market in NYC, with rent controls etc.
7.21.2006 1:44pm
Guest!!:
The comparison of "recent college grads" who apparently don't mind living in dorms versus the "working poor" for whom dorms are unaccepable is quite funny, too. I lived in dorms for four years in college and I hated every minute of it. I hated the close quarters, I hated the communal kitchen, I especially hated the shared bathrooms. It's cramped, unsanitary, inconvenient, and loud. As a recent college grad, I still hate dorms with a passion. My solution was to go to law school. Now I can afford my own apartment in Manhattan.

Long story short, there's no material distinction between "recent college grads" and "working poor." If the dorm sacrifice is good enough for one group, why not for the other? And vice-versa.
7.21.2006 1:45pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Agreeing with Josh agreeing with WD.
Putting up with something (like living in a tent) for a few weeks or a few years because you voluntarily made that choice from among several viable alternatives because of the tradeoffs is not the same thing as doing out of desperation because the only other choice is being in the same place without the protection of the tent. And being a 20-something is very different from being the parent of small children.

As I said in the Philadelphia comments, I'm a New Yorker. It's been 20 years since I moved out, 15 since my parents moved (making me collect my stuff, and losing my bedroom in the north Bronx), and 10 since I've been back home at all. As much as I miss it, I can't understand why anybody who isn't either single and in his 20s or rich bothers trying to live there.
7.21.2006 1:53pm
anonyomousss (mail):
Long story short, there's no material distinction between "recent college grads" and "working poor." If the dorm sacrifice is good enough for one group, why not for the other? And vice-versa.

there are several material distinctions. the most obvious ones are that recent college grads who live in dorms tend to be single and childless and can expect their incomes to rise relatively quickly. for them, living in a dorm is a temporary solution for a year or a few years until their family and financial situations change. the "working poor" often have spouses and/or children. and because their incomes don't tend to rise over time, they need a permanent low-cost solution, not one to get them by for a few years at most. there are also significant differences in asset availability. for example, recent grads can often get their parents to lend them relatively small but nontrivial quantities of money if they need it (e.g. for a deposit). doubtlessly others can think of other material differences.
7.21.2006 2:02pm
Christopher M (mail):
Your problem is that you view the scarcity of Manhattan apartments in terms of price. You see that apartments are horribly expensive and the poor cannot afford them. So you assume that if we made the apartments cheaper, everyone would be able to afford them.

I don't assume that. Scarcity is an obvious fact of the situation. The point is that the ultimate result of a pure free-market price system for rationing will be that only rich people can live in New York. Some of us see that as a bad thing.
7.21.2006 2:11pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

The point is that the ultimate result of a pure free-market price system for rationing will be that only rich people can live in New York. Some of us see that as a bad thing.

Do explain how. (While you are at it, explain why it's a bad thing that only rich people can live in Beverly Hills, or Greenwich, or Alpine).
7.21.2006 2:15pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Justin,

For the working poor, and increasingly for middle-class families, dorms are not an option, but neither is the going rate on a comfortable home." (emphasis added).

This is a true statement. That you find it funny does not make it any less true.

That's a "true statement"? This is in an article about "dorms" as an option, a cheap one. Why the "working poor" are automatically shut out of such an option I don't know. And it's not clear why the "dorm" option is "increasingly" unavailable to "families" of any income level. Really, either small children are permitted or they aren't. Nothing in the piece suggests that they once were, but now ("increasingly") are forbidden.

Yes, of course it's obvious what the writer meant to say, which is that this sort of setup is all well and good as a stop-gap for singles and childless couples who can expect to be moving up in a short time, but impractical in the long term, especially for families with small children. But the thing is worded extraordinarily badly. I think writing like that damn well ought to be mocked.
7.21.2006 2:33pm
DClawer:

The point is that the ultimate result of a pure free-market price system for rationing will be that only rich people can live in New York. Some of us see that as a bad thing.


I'm not that knowledgable on NY (due to a probably irrational dislike of skyscrapers), so perhaps you need to explain to me two things:
(1) Why is being unable to live in one's own apartment in a particular borough the same as being unable to live in NY?
(2) To use an example I know better: Is it also a bad thing that only rich people can afford decent condos in Georgetown? Or houses in McLain VA? (Cause personally I kind of like it...it keeps out the riffraff)

The weird thing about conversations about the high prices in NY is that in every other city in the world people long ago accepted that you probably can't afford to live within a mile of both your office and your recreation. (It's not that you can't afford the space to sleep, it's that you can't also afford the little luxuries like breathing room and a modicum of personal safety).
7.21.2006 2:34pm
Debauched Sloth (mail):
Hopefully, a future editorial will address the shortage of high-paying jobs at places like the New York Times. All those poor dishwashers and teachers wouldn't need government-sponsored "affordable housing" if the skinflints at the NYT would simply create a bunch more jobs that pay $200K a year. You know come to think of it, why doesn't the NYT pay all of its employees at least $200K per year? It wouldn't have anything to do with that awful, immoral free market, would it?
7.21.2006 2:37pm
The Original TS (mail):
Apart from the content, I'm surprised everyone isn't making fun of the abysmal writing skills on display.

For the working poor, and increasingly for middle-class families, dorms are not an option, but neither is the going rate on a comfortable home.

The implication seems to be that some number of middle class families are perfectly fine living in dorms but that none of the working poor would consider it.

This reminds me, just a little, of the post a few days ago discussing whether judges attempt to shoe-horn dramatic-sounding phrases into their opinions even when they don't really fit.
7.21.2006 2:41pm
Aultimer:
Forgive me for being childish, Christopher M: but I found this quite funny.

Most people don't like living in extremely close quarters with strangers.

Of course, where I live, the working poor measure their rental properties by the quarter acre so I find it funny that anyone in NYC (not just Manhattan, either) considers themselves in anything BUT "extremely close quarters".
7.21.2006 3:10pm
Gob Bluth:
Debauched,

I believe, in fact, that the Times editors in that Slate article (or another I forget, it was a joke to me at the time) do bemoan the fact that they only get paid in the low six figures. They threaten that if the Times won't increase its pay, its in jeopardy of losing the high quality journalists.
I mean, how do you satirize that?

FXHLM is entirely right. Doesn't anyone remember what happened when we had price controls on gas?

Also, I find this hilarious:
"when workers (including Times reporters) who need to reside in the city"
Yes, workers are totally helpless. In fact, there are no jobs in the rest of the country. Last I checked something like 1000 people per day flee the northeast for better living in the South and Southwest. The reality is workers do make choices.
7.21.2006 3:50pm
Despiste (mail) (www):
Christopher M wrote:

The point is that the ultimate result of a pure free-market price system for rationing will be that only rich people can live in New York. Some of us see that as a bad thing.

I think anyone who has a low-rent apartment in Manhattan is rich. Their wealth is not denominated in dollars, but it is wealth. This is evidenced by the efforts people make to leave this wealth (in the form of rent-controlled apartments) to their family, by the payment of large sums of real money called "key money" for the right to rent one of these apartments, and by the efforts either not to earn more than is allowed for a given housing program or to hide the excess earnings.
7.21.2006 4:10pm
josh:
BGates missed the point of my post. I wont speak for WD.

The analogy between tens and candlelight and dorms wasn't so much that the three were the same. It was that the logic behind all three was the same, and, thus, not funny.

Animus toward the Times (and anyone else who deigns consider sacrifice for those less fortunate) is what drives this "hilarity"
7.21.2006 4:10pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
I'm with Dave on this one. Manhattan has had housing problems like the ones mentioned in the article for over 100 years.

The hilarity of the editorial to me is its implication that "somewhere out there" there are solutions which the article, coincidentally, fails to mention.

It is the same scolding tone that seems to permeate NYT editorials that I find worthy of laughter.
7.21.2006 4:24pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

Animus toward the Times (and anyone else who deigns consider sacrifice for those less fortunate) is what drives this "hilarity"

That cross you've nailed yourself to doesn't look particularly comfortable. To be sure, it's not that NYT-brand liberals are the only ones who consider the plight of the "less fortunate." It's just that this author seems to think, as do many of his ideological brethren, that (1) economic inequality is per se wrong; (2) it can always be fixed; (3) with someone else's money. I'd too find it hilarious, if this world-view wasn't so damn widespread.
7.21.2006 4:40pm
Aultimer:

Animus toward the Times (and anyone else who deigns consider sacrifice for those less fortunate) is what drives this "hilarity"

I have no idea whether Prof. Post holds such animus generally, but you say more about yourself than "conservatives" when you presume a libertarian-leaning professor of Post's stripe falls into
the Hannity/Limbaugh camp.
7.21.2006 5:02pm
Bob Smith (mail):

The point is that the ultimate result of a pure free-market price system for rationing will be that only rich people can live in New York. Some of us see that as a bad thing.

The problem with that analysis is that the reason for a lack of affordable housing isn't the free market. Rent control, severe development restrictions, and wasteful bureaucracy are the causes of a lack of affordable housing, all of which are government in origin. NYC is famed for its "urban green space" advocates and other far left nutters who protest any development, along with the planning boards that enable them. Never mind the question of why, if you want green space, do you live in NYC?
7.21.2006 5:33pm
Christopher M (mail):
I think anyone who has a low-rent apartment in Manhattan is rich.

Right. The point is, when there are no low-rent apartments, no one who is nominally poor will be made "rich" in the way you describe.
7.21.2006 6:05pm
Christopher M (mail):
Do explain how. (While you are at it, explain why it's a bad thing that only rich people can live in Beverly Hills, or Greenwich, or Alpine).

If I wanted NYC to become anything like Beverly Hills or Greenwich, I'd agree with the initial post entirely.
7.21.2006 6:06pm
Christopher M (mail):
It's just that this author seems to think, as do many of his ideological brethren, that (1) economic inequality is per se wrong; (2) it can always be fixed; (3) with someone else's money.

A straw man unjustified by anything in the quoted article. "Per se wrong"? "Always"? No. Sometimes, and sometimes.
7.21.2006 6:12pm
Gob Bluth:
Christopher M,

And who should get determine which of the nominally poor get to be made "rich." This benefit can't be bestowed upon all nominally poor. You approve of inheritence as a scheme? - the old fashioned way, as it were.

So what's more fair: Allowing a nominally poor person to get a low-rent apartment in Manahattan by inheritance, or renting the apartment at a market rate to a person who probably earns a wage to afford it?

Full disclosure time. Christopher - you live in a rent controlled apartment, yes?
7.21.2006 6:21pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
If you're ever in Manhattan, visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which has 'preserved in amber' examples of working class housing from 1840, 1870, 1900 etc.

Then count your blessings.

The funny thing about the Times editorial is that splitting rent has been going on in their community forever, but they don't know it. Until recently, my son, who works in Manhattan and lives in Queens, sublet part of his apartment. For him, the goal was to obtain enough space to maintain a workshop within his residence.

Recent college grads hired by the Times do not make six figures, by the way. Starting pay for reporters is around $75K. Actually, the way the Times works it, not many fresh grads get hired for the paper. Likely prospects are steered to papers in smaller cities, often with editors who used to be Timesmen, for experience. They may enjoy starting pay as low as $20K. Rent in those places can be pretty low.
7.21.2006 6:48pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
there are several material distinctions. the most obvious ones are that recent college grads who live in dorms tend to be single and childless and can expect their incomes to rise relatively quickly. for them, living in a dorm is a temporary solution for a year or a few years until their family and financial situations change. the "working poor" often have spouses and/or children. and because their incomes don't tend to rise over time, they need a permanent low-cost solution, not one to get them by for a few years at most.

Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit -- that applies to recent graduates who spend a few more years living as students. It is less likely to apply to those for whom so-called "affordable housing" is expected to improve their lot.

- - -

(1) Why is being unable to live in one's own apartment in a particular borough the same as being unable to live in NY?

In fact, it's being unable to live in one particular half of one particular borough. Although what's now sometimes called Hudson Heights may be gentrifying, a generation ago when Haarlem Heights was called Washington Heights it and Inwood were indistinguishable from the adjoining parts of the Bronx; see the Columbia thread from a few weeks ago about the fuzzy border between the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights and Harlem (and Columbia's plan to expand from the first into the other two.)

- - -

As for Greenwich and Beverly Hills, there is a certain human energy that is generated where there is wealth, working poor, and bohemian in the same general area. The market doesn't capture this positive externality, but I prefer its natural ebb and flow (these days it has flowed from the Village to Brooklyn, and from Harvard Square to Central Square and Somerville) to the homogenization of centrally-imposed solutions.
7.21.2006 7:11pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Bob Smith:

Your analysis is right on, but don't leave out the unions. I've seen studies suggesting that crooked union practices in NYC increase construction costs by between 30-50%.
7.21.2006 7:19pm
e:
I don't want to be stacked with too many other people or pay too much for housing. So I don't live in NYC.

Not a hilarious article or discussion, but definitely displays the warped perspective of urban dwellers and their supposed needs.

Yeah, yeah, some people are born there, want to do the same sort of work as their parents, want to live in the same neighborhood, expect a right to always have jobs available near their home. Humans can adapt or chose their current circumstance.
7.21.2006 7:20pm
The Real Bill (mail):
Well, I thought it was kind of funny.

A couple of points:

I don't have any sympathy for the poor families with children. Why? Because I think it is irresponsible if not outright immoral to create a human being that you can't support. Actually, I do care about these poor children born to people so selfish as to create a human being without the wherewithal to support it.

Subsidized housing is a horrible scam on the poor. It is basically a subsidy for the rich. If housing is too expensive for people who work in industries that provide services for the rich, the rich will go without such services or they will have to pay much more for those services so that the workers can be paid enough to live within a reasonable distance from work. Subsidized housing allows Starbucks and the like to pay lower wages and charge less for lattes than they would have to in a free market. Eliminate the housing subsidy and the lattes will cost $12 and the wages will be $25 per hour.
7.21.2006 8:50pm
Christopher M (mail):
Full disclosure time. Christopher - you live in a rent controlled apartment, yes?

No way -- I have the good sense to live in Chicago. I don't think we'll be forced into dorms for a while yet here.
7.22.2006 1:12am
Daryl Herbert (www):
"Ha, ha, ha! Those stupid journalists accused the market of doing an injustice! Don't they know that the market is definitionally incapable of doing injustice!"

It sounded funny when I first read it, but upon reflection, I think that is in fact true. One can decry the outcome of market forces, but the market forces themselves are not capable of committing "injustice," and more than the laws of physics are capable of committing "injustice." To commit injustice, one must make a decision to do something that is less just than the alternative. The market is "definitionally incapable" of making decisions in that sense, so it is incapable of injustice.

Unjust outcomes? Sure, even the rightest of right-wing economists who practically define justice according to market function have to acknowledge things like the problem of negative externalities. But why accuse the market of producing an unjust outcome in this case when an entrepreneur is trying to create a better option for people?

It's not the market's "fault" that NYC is small in square miles and big in people.

It's certainly not the market's fault that rent control is holding people back from building enough apartment towers to house the city. With enough towers, there would be enough space. The more space there is, the less people will pay for any given square foot of it. The less people are willing to pay for it, the less other people will have to pay to get it. But who would undertake the risk and cost of building a tower, if they knew the gov't would step in to strip them of any profits (assuming they actually made any profits)?

It's not the market's fault that Section 8 housing brings in criminals/druggies/etc. into what would otherwise be nice places to live, ruining property values and the quality of life of the other people.
7.22.2006 1:19am
Justin (mail):
A FAMILY of four living in a dorm room is fine, I guess - if you're talking about the destitute of Cairo or Mexico City. But to say that its just like a single 20something living in a dorm room is absurd. Even a couple living in a dorm room would be hellish to most couples - the inability to get away from your partner would be traumatic, as funny as that sounds.

Of course, when social conservatives talk about "family values" they don't actually value helping families - they just want to punish people for not being like them, not adopting their values, beliefs, or preferences, in order to feel better about themselves.
7.22.2006 1:43am
Justin (mail):
PS - I'd be shocked if the dorms did their best to keep out children and couples, probably through restrictive covenants. So there goes that option, regardless.
7.22.2006 1:44am
DCP:

Of course, when social conservatives talk about "family values" they don't actually value helping families - they just want to punish people for not being like them, not adopting their values, beliefs, or preferences, in order to feel better about themselves.



What does free market capitalism have to do with "family values"? I'm sorry you can't afford your dream apartment in Manhattan. Neither can I. Nobody is punishing these people. They can move to Staten Island...or Huntsville, Alabama where a modest wage can still get you a multi-bedroom house, full service kitchen and big green yard for the kids to play in.

That's why you and the Times can't comprehend the complete insanity and unintentional comedy that the original blog illustrated. These people chose to live in one of the most expensive places in the world next to maybe Hong Kong and London. How is the idea that someone can't afford better (read multi-room, non-dorm) housing in the cultural and economic hub of the country offensive or upsetting to anyone?
7.22.2006 3:15am
DCP:

Of course, when social conservatives talk about "family values" they don't actually value helping families - they just want to punish people for not being like them, not adopting their values, beliefs, or preferences, in order to feel better about themselves.



What does free market capitalism have to do with "family values"? I'm sorry you can't afford your dream apartment in Manhattan. Neither can I. Nobody is punishing these people. They can move to Staten Island...or Huntsville, Alabama where a modest wage can still get you a multi-bedroom house, full service kitchen and big green yard for the kids to play in.

That's why you and the Times can't comprehend the complete insanity and unintentional comedy that the original blog illustrated. These people chose to live in one of the most expensive places in the world next to maybe Hong Kong and London. How is the idea that someone can't afford better (read multi-room, non-dorm) housing in the cultural and economic hub of the country offensive or upsetting to anyone?
7.22.2006 3:16am
DCP:

Of course, when social conservatives talk about "family values" they don't actually value helping families - they just want to punish people for not being like them, not adopting their values, beliefs, or preferences, in order to feel better about themselves.



What does free market capitalism have to do with "family values"? I'm sorry you can't afford your dream apartment in Manhattan. Neither can I. Nobody is punishing these people. They can move to Staten Island...or Huntsville, Alabama where a modest wage can still get you a multi-bedroom house, full service kitchen and big green yard for the kids to play in.

That's why you and the Times can't comprehend the complete insanity and unintentional comedy that the original blog illustrated. These people chose to live in one of the most expensive places in the world next to maybe Hong Kong and London. How is the idea that someone can't afford better (read multi-room, non-dorm) housing in the cultural and economic hub of the country offensive or upsetting to anyone?
7.22.2006 3:16am
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
To commit injustice, one must make a decision to do something that is less just than the alternative. The market is "definitionally incapable" of making decisions in that sense, so it is incapable of injustice.

Is this the "Kantian nihilism" this Day By Day Cartoon talked about? Ironically enough that mentioned the NYT as a Kantian nihilist.
7.22.2006 5:49am
goldsmith (mail):
Who wants to live in New York anyway? Large, stinking cities are soo 19th century.
7.22.2006 6:07am
FXKLM:

If you're ever in Manhattan, visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which has 'preserved in amber' examples of working class housing from 1840, 1870, 1900 etc.


When the city preserves ancient buildings to show the horrible, cramped living conditions of previous generations it is blocking the construction of new housing on that spot thus contributing to the housing shortage and forcing people to live horrible, cramped dormitories today. Does anyone else see the humor in that?
7.22.2006 9:17am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Well, I'm sure you could tear down Gracie Mansion and squeeze several hundred condos onto that lot, too.

The 'city' did not preserve the buildings. The market did. The museum is scattered in apartments in several buildings in an economically functioning neighborhood (turning Asian these days). The start was the discovery of an intact tenement apartment in a building whose owner walked away in 1930.

The building had sat there, unused, for more than 30 years.

You, especially, ought to visit it, I think.
7.22.2006 5:04pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
David, you should be ashamed of yourself - laughing at the disability of these people (in this case, congenital asininity).
7.22.2006 5:38pm
Michael Tinkler (mail) (www):
When *I* read the piece I remembered the shutting down of SRO Hotels...was the time in favor of keeping those, or not? Very odd.
7.22.2006 8:20pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Yes, I thought of them, too.

In 1985, I was visiting a friend who worked at the Times, and he explained to me that since the SROs had been removed from the hotel that sits across from the entrance to the Times offices on 42nd St., he no longer had to worry about being hit by balloons filled with piss as he walked in to work.

You cannot say, or at least you could not say in 1984, that Times editorial writers were entirely insulated by their six-figure salaries from contact with New York's underhoused.
7.22.2006 9:42pm
markm (mail):
"The point is that the ultimate result of a pure free-market price system for rationing will be that only rich people can live in New York. Some of us see that as a bad thing."

Actually, the result of a pure free-market system would be that there would also be relatively inexpensive but far-from-ideal places to live, even in Manhattan. Most people could choose whether to live in such circumstances or leave the Big Apple for places with lower population density. The effects of government intervention are to reduce the total housing supply, while allowing certain favored people to occupy apartments at less than cost.

Of course, another effect of government regulation is to prevent the building next door from becoming a hazard to *your* health by renting out floor space at 10 square foot per person, and further saving money by not bothering with plumbing or rat control.

If you want to live in an enclave of rich people like Beverly Hills, you need either highly restrictive governmental regulations, or covenants that give the equivalent result. Minimum lot sizes, bans on multiple-unit buildings, and minimum square footage requirements for houses all help keep the poor priced out of a neighborhood.
7.23.2006 9:53am
MnZ (mail):
Here are the facts:
1) A business decides that there is enough demand in Manhattan to make dormitory apartments work.

2) Those dormitory apartments - unsurprisingly - appeal to young singles.

3) Without those dormitory apartments, many of the young singles would be either not living in Manhattan. (Either they would would be living in another borough or...gasp...not moving to New York in the first place.)

4) Most New Yorkers with families, regardless of wealth, cannot afford and do not live in Manhattan.

5) Commuting from a borough/suburb to Manhattan is not that difficult.

There are better and less quixotic ways to help the working poor and middle class than trying to make Manhattan affordable.
7.24.2006 1:31pm