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Sam M

OK. USA TODAY is listing median home price in U.S. at $220,000. And as stated above, median household income of $48,000. Meaning houses cost about four and a half times what people make. On the median. Since that's where you want to measure it.

Census Department lists some dated values for Pittsburgh, and they are stated a bit differently, but here goes:

Median Household Income: $28,588

Median value of owner-occupied housing unites: $59,700

That is, on the median, homes cost about twice the median income. Far less than the national average. (Again, allowing that there are likely som differences involved in these specific measures.)

Still, Pittsburgh's not sounding so bad. Judging from the median numbers.

Now, I agree that your typical middle-class family is going to want something nicer than the houses listed at $60,000. But using median income is an asinine way of measuring middle class.

What's middle class? A nurse, I think, is a fair measure. Well, nurses in Pittsburgh easily make $50 grand. And if she married another nurse, you do the math. Even if she had kids and wroked part time, you are looking at $75,000 annually. More than enough to live here comfortably. If we are using the national average of 4.5 times household income, as a matter of fact, those people would be looking at homes in the $340,000 range. Which would put them in just about the nicest homes in my neighborhood.

Just because Pittsburgh has a lot of poor people and old people on fixed incomes does not change the definition of middle class. Nor does it magically transform nurses and skilled laborers into some kind of Upper Crust.

The fact of the matter is, if you live in the Pittsburgh region and have a decent job, you can live in the city.

It is not true to say that middle class people cannot afford it. Unless you are on a crusade and define terms in such a way as to ensure that your conclusions match your prejudices.

CB

Ignoring the class debate in there and just throwing out as disclosure that I am born and raised in Bloomfield for the most part.... this whole debate over "income" stats is just confusing. "Income" does not mean "earnings" and a lot of the income of local residents is in the form of Social Security and retirement benefits. So the fact that there are so many low income households here (pulling down medians of course) says nothing about the ability of the typical younger household to afford current real estate prices. In fact, many of our relatively low income elderly households are in homes they own outright at this point anyway. That right their breaks this linkage that some want to draw between our lower income numbers and home ownership opportunities. Income metrics for the city are all screwed not just because of elderly but also student populations. If you look at poverty incidence (i.e. low income right?), or just above poverty incidence across the city you see a lot of it correlates with student neighborhoods. Shadyside in fact shows up with a lot of low income (under 200% of poverty threshold) households... yet the arguments here want to infer from that something bad about the neighborhood and thus the city. That argument has an unstated premise that those people are all destitute and excluded from the American dream just because their income tax forms show low income while they are in medical school or whatnot. So all that argument over "take the city median income" and compute what house you can afford is about as convoluted as you can make that argument and may have it backwards when you do the proper adjustments. Bottom line: if you want to measure whether your average worker can afford a home, look at average "earnings" or wage data, not income data to begin with.

That is not to say there are not a lot of people who are excluded from homeownership by income or other reasons, especially in the city. But this gets to the fact that the city of Pittsburgh is a relatively small part of the county/region and as a result has a larger concentration of poor residents that in other regions would be not be as concentrated in a single jurisdiction. So yes there are problems, but the income stats thrown out above are not the reason for it.

For an idea on what local earnings (not income) are for local workers:

http://www.bea.gov/regional/reis/default.cfm?catable=CA34§ion=2

for housing costs across region the ACCRA data isnt bad:

http://cgi.money.cnn.com/tools/costofliving/costofliving.html

and if you want to look at the earnings of city specific jobs try:

http://socds.huduser.org/CBPSE/CBPSE_Home.htm?

Paul

"How do you explain that?"

Quite simply: you live in a neighborhood with an exceedingly poor school, in a bad and growing worse school district, within a short distance of some of the highest violent and drug related crime areas in the city in housing stock that is old, very often in poor condition and only in demand by small percentage of people.

In short you are willing to accept conditions that the vast majority of middle income wage earns deem unacceptable for raising a middle class family.

I know that many of the urbanist types don't to want to hear this and simply choose to ignore the problem... but the reality is when someone says Friendship, Bloomfield, Southside, Greenfield, Spring Garden, etc is a great neighborhood with great homes most people who know the areas think you're completely insane and turn and run for the burbs. Especially those of us who've lived in and around those areas and seen how much more home, better schools and safer environments can be had for the same money just a few miles outside the city.

Be my guest and keep trying to convince people that the city has great middle class neighborhoods, great middle class homes, but every time a new census numbers comes out it basically reveals that fewer people are buying into it every year.

I said it before I'll say it again pick a city home in any price range you choose and I will find you several homes outside the city that are bigger, newer, in a demonstrably better school district and nowhere near the crossfire of dueling drug gangs and cup shaking deviants who roam the streets AND they'll have lower taxes to boot.

That is simply the reality of the situation, choose to believe otherwise if you wish and nothing changes.

Paul

"$75,000 annually. More than enough to live here comfortably. If we are using the national average of 4.5 times household income, as a matter of fact, those people would be looking at homes in the $340,000 range. Which would put them in just about the nicest homes in my neighborhood."

Assuming all your numbers are correct Sam I can only suggest you do one thing; take that house price of $340,000 and look at the property you can buy in Hampton, Mount Lebanon, Oakmont or anywhere you choose in the North Hills and compare it to the "nicest" properties in your neighborhood.

Most people don't consider the definition of comfortable living to include a 100 year old home with all the problem of an older house, crammed up against other 100 year old homes just a stones throw from public housing and row upon row of dilapidated rowhouses and walkups and the constant sound of police sirens punctuated by gunfire.

What some people of a particular political persuasion call "character," the rest of us call old, obsolete, inefficient, cramped, dirty and ugly.

Sam M

First of all, thanks to Cris Briem for explaining why income, particularly median income, is a ludicrous measure in this discussion. I think that settles it.

Second, to Paul, I can only say... "no kidding." Now your argument appears to be that you get a bigger house and better public schools in the suburbs. And that a lot of people prefer that. I defy you to find one statement I made claiming otherwise. I never said that for X dollars, you get a home in Bloomfield that's larger than anyplace in the county, or that the schools are the best anywhere. I said that your statement claiming that it's impossible for middle-class people to live in the city is dead, flat wrong. And it remains dead, flat wrong.

Your arguments now have a lot in common with the "urbanists" who speak in absolutes about how "everyone" loves city living. About how everyone wants to live within walking disance of theaters. How everyone hates McMansions and neighborhoods without sidewalks. Well, that's nonsense when they say it, and it's nonsense when you say it.

The fact of the matter is, people value things differently. A lot of people are willing to sit in traffic for what I consider obscene amounts of time to get to work. Lots of people are willing to spend extra hours every week tending to larger homes and larger yards. Lots of people love their SUVs and want a huge garage. Others have hobbies like woodworking and need extra space for it. Lots of people have thought it through and need a great public school for junior. I am with you on that. These are some of the people who LOVE living in the burbs. Despite the fact that the urbanists I mention refuse to admit such people exist.

But that works both ways. There are some people who don't give a damn about the public schools because they plan to send their kids to Catholic school. Like me. (Not because of some upper-middle-class concerns about status--because I am Catholic and I know I would be a pretty bad teacher of the faith. Does that mean I am sone rich guy who can just write a check? I don't think so. My sisters have all their kids in Catholic schools, and pay for it through volunteering countless hours. Which is easier when you don't commute an hour and a half to work every day. ) There are some people so averse to traffic that they would rather sacrifice a significant amount of space (interior and exterior) to be able to walk to work. There are some people who have a vastly different concept of what constitutes a "safe neighborhood. (Maybe Bloomfield is a shooting gallery to you, but I know dozens of families with kids here, and none of them are particularly irresponsible or stupid.)

My own household has a lot of these contradictions. I love living here because it's close to stores. But my wife hates it because it's not. (She defines "stores" as "Target." I define is as "Italian Gtoceria.") I love living here because we can walk to church. She wishes the parking lot were bigger so we could drive in inclement weathr.

I don't know why my stated preferences are so threatening to you. Or why yours are so threatening to the urbanists. But you can't get around the fact that I exist. And getting back to the point at hand, the fact that I exist--and I live along so many others like me--simply destroys your central claim here, which is that it's impossible for middle class people to live in Pittsburgh.

It's not.

Do those middle class people have to sacrifice things to live in the city? Sure. And do demographic trends indicate that over the past 50 years, more and more people have been making decisions that indiciate they prefer the kind of life you are talking about? Sure. But again, I never claimed otherwise.

What I said was, middle class people can live in the city.

Which is absolutely, 100 percent correct.

As for convincing people to agree with me and getting them to move here, I don't give a shit where they live. I am not prosthelyzing. And I don't feel like I need to. If I want to see some middle-class families in my neighborhood, all I need to do it look out my window. Literally. I live with a one minute walk of the Waldorf School, a five-minute walk of the Pittsburgh Montessori School and countless other intitutions that cater to families like mine. And I can see the strollers roll by CONSTANTLY.

Or maybe I am imagining them?

Paul

"First of all, thanks to Cris Briem for explaining why income, particularly median income, is a ludicrous measure in this discussion. I think that settles it."

Oh my god! This is exactly why cities like Pittsburgh are in the perpetual death spirals they are ... because the people who think they should be the destination of choice for families just want to keep dancing around the problems and never want to face them head on.

We're talking about real estate prices and their effect on the choices of traditionally middle class families' home purchases and where they'll live - play semantics all you want but NOTHING affects that decision more than income and what a person can get for their home buying dollar.

You've now gone from arguing that I was wrong and not interested in a reasonable discussion and that there are all these great middle class neighborhoods that people could choose to live in ... to restating exactly what I said to start with in a different way.

I never said you CAN'T live in the city - I said in the city of Pittsburgh you can live in one of the upscale neighborhoods if you have a lot of money or you can live in a poorer section of town that by any measure of is growing poorer - but you can not find what most people consider a middle class home in a middle class neighborhood (which include all traditionally middle class "amenities" like good schools, homes with modern conveniences, safe low crime areas etc) on a middle class income.

You concede as much every time you say "sacrifice" when you talk about living in the city. The whole idea of being middle class is to NOT have to sacrifice to get what you need/desire.

Sam M

I think you have become completely unhinged.

What you have said is that a middle class person cannot live in a decent city neighborhood. To prove it, you did some calculations based on median income. Which is NOT, by any reasonable standard, a reasonable measure of middle-class capabilities. It just isn't Paul.

A miuddle class family in Pittsburgh makes more than $20,000 a year. The decision to use the person smack in the middle of the income spectrum as middle class is ludicrous. For all the reasons Chris mentions.

You just CANNOT get around it. A skilled laborer married to a nurse has not problem finding a decent house in the city. How do I know? Because I'm married to a nurse, I make far less than a skilled laborer, and we found a decent house in the city.

And this:

"You concede as much every time you say "sacrifice" when you talk about living in the city. The whole idea of being middle class is to NOT have to sacrifice to get what you need/desire."

Tell it to the people who drive in to work on the Parkway East and Rt. 28 everyday. maybe you don't consider sitting in traffic for an hour a sacrifice. I do.

As for this:

"I never said you CAN'T live in the city - I said in the city of Pittsburgh you can live in one of the upscale neighborhoods if you have a lot of money or you can live in a poorer section of town that by any measure of is growing poorer - but you can not find what most people consider a middle class home in a middle class neighborhood (which include all traditionally middle class "amenities" like good schools, homes with modern conveniences, safe low crime areas etc) on a middle class income."

But Paul. I live in a middle class home. And I make jack shit for income. By what measure do you consider Friendship "growing poorer"?

The people in the $430,000 Victorian down the street would really like to see your answer.


John Morris

Getting back to Virginia's great piece, I think her major point is about the relationship between land use and other regulatory restrictions and housing prices. It's also a big factor here. Stories about development downtown always talk about these costs but nobody ever digs into how much the rules and required spending might be adding.

Sam M

John,

And that's not even including regulations (zoning) that often make it ILLEGAL to add density. Matthew Yglesias discusses that here:

http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/10/zoning_ourselves_to_death.php

In his DC neighborhood, it is agains the law to build higher than three stories, illegal to occupy more than 60 percent of the lot, and verboten to build units smaller than 800 sf. That is, the law is basically mandating SFH, or something close to it.

So what happens if you don't do that? Well, tons of "historic" buidlings get ripped down. In baltimore right now, where the home prioces are through the roof because of deman associated with military bases, preservation groups keep protesting when people rip down decrepit old rowhouses.

That's not the only hurdle. But it's one of them.

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