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digital_sandlapper

Suburbs: The Next Slum?

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Very, very interesting article in online edition of The Atlantic Monthly on the suburban to urban shift we are all witnessing:

Article in Atlantic magazine:

The description of what the suburbs will become is chilling. I especially liked the description of the glut of shoddy construction:

Many of the inner-city neighborhoods that began their decline in the 1960s consisted of sturdily built, turn-of-the-century row houses, tough enough to withstand being broken up into apartments, and requiring relatively little upkeep. By comparison, modern suburban houses, even high-end McMansions, are cheaply built. Hollow doors and wallboard are less durable than solid-oak doors and lath-and-plaster walls. The plywood floors that lurk under wood veneers or carpeting tend to break up and warp as the glue that holds the wood together dries out; asphalt-shingle roofs typically need replacing after 10 years. Many recently built houses take what structural integrity they have from drywall-their thin wooden frames are too flimsy to hold the houses up.

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I think its already starting to happen.

Here in Charlotte, the subprime mortgage 'crisis' has already started to affect the more suburban and lower-middle class sections of town, and sort of 'jump-started' this trend that you metion. These are places where these once nice and new subdivisions were bought up by people who could not actually afford a house, and then they were forclosed on. The houses, in turn, are being bought up by slum lords who rent them out. These new subdivisions are becoming defacto apartment complexes, but with no HOA or NA to keep up the premises. It has become very difficult for police to patrol these neighborhoods because they are all in cul-de-sacs, which increase the time needed to get from one neighborhood to the next. What's worse is that there is no reason for anyone to go in and reinvest in these neighborhoods becase 1) they are poorly built 2) they are in poor condition because of #1, and 3) why buy something that is 3 or 4 years old when you can buy something that is brand new and looks exactly the same just a mile down the road?

This is already becoming a real problem in Charlotte. In fact, this very topic has been discussed at length in the Charlotte section which I will be glad to point you to if anyone is interested.

What's also interesting is that the in-town market seems to be holding relatively steady, albeit faltering somewhat due to oversupply and the national housing market in general.

For South Carolina's cities, it may take a while longer before this problem effects them because I think the perception that you can get cheap land in the country, even if its in a subdivision on the edge of an urbanizing area, and still be convenient to town. Also, the housing market seems to be less volatile in most cities- especially in the Upstate.

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This doesn't relate to the housing market and foreclosures, but I think it's clear that the "throw-away society" mentality has been in effect for years in SC. This is a consumerist society with the need to always have bigger and better things. People like their status (or their desired status) to be directly visible, whether it's a fancy car, home, or personal appearance. Historic areas are generally immune to home size concerns due to the charm and location aspects that are rarely reproduced in suburbia. However, it doesn't take long for a suburban hood to fall out of favor. The next wave of subdivisions will have features and amenities that the present homes don't. Homebuilders know this, and construction is intentionally short-term. When the sprawl spreads too far out, the older interior suburbs are once again fashionable for location/price/lot size. The rotten shells of homes can easily be gutted/rehabbed, or torn down and McMansionized...

Pretty huge generalization of course, but I think it's pretty apt for a lot middle class burbs.

I don't have to look past Aiken for multiple examples. Crosland Park (Northside), Kalmia Hills (Westside), and Aiken Estates and College Acres (Southside), are the original, large, post-war subdivisions, built for the huge population influx from SRS opening. Homes in these subdivisions are almost all 1000-1500 s.f. ranch homes. Today, these are of course the least fashionable neighborhoods in town. Despite the fact that average household size has decreased dramatically over the years (less children on average, as well an influx of retirees), the average home size has increased dramatically. New construction generally ranges from 2000-4000 s.f. It has nothing to do with safety or school systems (Aiken schools are pretty consistent except on the northside) or larger yards (the older subdivisions generally have larger lots). People are just compelled to buy the biggest, showiest homes they can afford, as soon as they can afford to throw the old ones away...

As for the aforementioned subdivisions, they're not all "slums" per se, but are all among the "lower class" hoods in town. Aiken Estates and College Acres are safe, middle class areas. They've maintained reasonable value due to their southside location, but are considered the least desirable areas on the southside (which is bizarre since they're by far the greenest with the most mature vegetation). Kalmia Hills is a mixed bag. Some streets are ok, and some are approaching "slum." Crosland Park, on the other hand, is the worst neighborhood in town now (worse even than the traditional "inner city" housing project areas). This is a neighborhood that has been completely thrown away. Sadly, I think that Kalmia Hills is heading in this direction as well. Anyway, the point is that of the suburbs built in the 50's/60's, none are desirable today. And the 70's/80's areas are already losing their luster. Meanwhile the late 19th century and early 20th century homes are more popular than ever...

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This doesn't relate to the housing market and foreclosures, but I think it's clear that the "throw-away society" mentality has been in effect for years in SC. This is a consumerist society with the need to always have bigger and better things. P

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^No, you just have more manufactured homes, which even despite their reputation are generally better made and higher quality than many stick-built homes. These incidentally all look the same, but they will probably last longer. In Europe, for better or for worse, they design buildings to be permanent.

You do have a point that most of our older housing stock that wasn't high end was destroyed. There also used to be more mixed income neighborhoods. Look at any historic neighborhood and you will see housing stock and styles of all types and prices. When you mix up housing and incomes you get a more cohesive neighborhood. You also get less concentrated poverty, and thus less crime- at least in theory. That is the concept behind new Hope VI housing projects across the nation.

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Most 19th century homes have long been torn down, because they were lived in by poorer people, who needed housing as cheaply as possible, so they built cheaply, as soon as possible for their families. The 19th century homes you see around today are the top of the line homes from that era, and you will see a similar thing for homes built in the 70, 80 and 90's. Most won't last more than three or four decades. Only a handful will be around a century from now.

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I read an article in the Spartanburg Journal that says Charleston, Spartanburg, and Lexington Counties (not necessarily in that order) have the highest foreclosure rates in the state... so the national housing situation is not escaping South Carolina. That said, I dont get the impression that the effects are that bad, even in Spartanburg. But stay tuned... that may change.

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I think you meant 20th century (the 1900s) homes, didn't you? Those from the 19th century (the 1800s) were not built cheaply, but to last.

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white hourseview - I would strongly disagree that 19th century homes were built to be disposable. The majority of those rural homes have largely dissapeared only because the owners started abandoning them in the early 1900's. Most of those homes were abandoned because it was cheaper to rebuild than to modernize & renovate. By the fact that so many - at least in my childhood were still standing across rural areas despite being abandoned decades earlier is a testament to how well they were built.

But a good case can be made that beginning with the Craftsman homes of the early 1900's houses have been made to be more disposable. Nonetheless, we may call these homes 'disposable', but they are very necessary in order to keep housing prices down & provide housing options. I would only suggest that stricter code enforcements be mandatory - which in reality practically for all city & county governments, code enforcement is a joke. There are far too few of them to properly enforce the government codes & even then - there is very little enforcement for developers & builders who routinely break & ignore codes.

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white hourseview - I would strongly disagree that 19th century homes were built to be disposable. The majority of those rural homes have largely dissapeared only because the owners started abandoning them in the early 1900's. Most of those homes were abandoned because it was cheaper to rebuild than to modernize & renovate. By the fact that so many - at least in my childhood were still standing across rural areas despite being abandoned decades earlier is a testament to how well they were built.

But a good case can be made that beginning with the Craftsman homes of the early 1900's houses have been made to be more disposable. Nonetheless, we may call these homes 'disposable', but they are very necessary in order to keep housing prices down & provide housing options. I would only suggest that stricter code enforcements be mandatory - which in reality practically for all city & county governments, code enforcement is a joke. There are far too few of them to properly enforce the government codes & even then - there is very little enforcement for developers & builders who routinely break & ignore codes.

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..... To some degree this is bad to have manufactured homes like this, to another it is not because they do give opportunities to people who otherwise would not have shots at reasonable home ownership a chance to have good homes at reasonable prices. There are tradeoffs. As to folks moving from the suburbs to urban environments, I'm sure it is part of the continuing fragmentation of micro interests going on culturally. In many ways, suburban tract housing is like a big-box retailer. They provide affordable goods that help lots of folks out, but come with other costs as well.

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Middle and lower class homes, wherever you go, across the world, and at anytime period, are not built to last for the ages.

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Charlotte is much further along in the trend to build these kind of places than almost any place in SC, and I can tell you there is nothing good that results from starter home development. People are lured into them with the false sense they are given a "good home" when the reality is they start falling apart in less than 10 years. Those who are economically able move out, often losing money in the process, and those that don't either stay or have their place repossessed. The end result are crumbling neighborhoods that are full of crime and have abandoned houses in them. Charlotte is now ringed by these places and it represents a serious problem for the city.

This is this myth that you can buy a starter house, and when you are ready to sell the next generation will come along and buy it from you. The reality in southern cities like Charlotte is that the developer is busy stripping the next cow field down the road and the next generation of buyers will purchase there instead of buying in a neighborhood that is already falling apart. A new home buyer can't take on the job of buying a house that needs a lot of work nor does he want to. Not when lax and non existing urban development restrictions have a brand new house dangling in front of them just down the road.

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We're misunderstanding each other, and I'm agreeing with you more than disagreeing. By disposable, I mean the typical urban or rural home of the 19th century was not built for the ages. Middle and lower class homes, wherever you go, across the world, and at anytime period, are not built to last for the ages. They may be built with some fine craftsmanship, but I agree with you that it is easier to knock down and rebuild than it ever would be to renovate.

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Forclosure rates in South Carolina are keeping up with the rest of the nation. Assuming that Charleston, Lexington, and Spartanburg are bearing the brunt of this, I think we will see impacts sooner that many people think. Charleston stands to see the greatest impact, IMO because its housing market appears to be more based on retirees relocating than anything else.

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I've never been so happy that my home is in a stable in-town, albeit modest, neighborhood. I've been told by more than one person who knows construction that they don't build them like this anymore.

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I've never been so happy that my home is in a stable in-town, albeit modest, neighborhood. I've been told by more than one person who knows construction that they don't build them like this anymore.

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I don't think I live too far from you digi, I'm in the Avenues, and I agree with your assessment of homes there. The electric and HVAC could use some improvement, and another bathroom would be nice, but I love the construction.

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I would have to admit though, considering the issues that are coming up from our renters with my house back in Atlanta, I will be hesitant to buy an old home. Besides the electricity, heat / AC, roof & foundation having to be repaired - now the sewer connection has to be replaced (though the magnolia tree's roots hasn't helped matters).

But I have one comment regarding suburbanism, obviously the article & most people here are referring to post WWII suburbanism. But considering most neighborhoods we consider to be 'intown' that are dominated by bungalows were typically built as suburbs in the late 1800's & early 1900's. The reason I note that, I see no reason why modern suburbs can not be built in a similar fashion (& there have been some signs that is occuring - disregarding the exurban 'mixed-use' development fallacy). The key is building homes that adjacent to developed urban areas, providing some mixed use & providing housing options. I just don't want to discount the concept of suburbanism, because as I'm getting older with a larger family, I truly see the validity of not buying an older home & needing an affordable home in a stable neighborhood.

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Unless you build your house yourself and you really know what you have in it then there is no telling how long it will last or how good it will hold up. Ive seen some horror stories with construction since Ive been in the building business. A lot of the older houses that were built in the early 19th century used better lumber then what is available today. After youve cut down so many trees you have to start piecing and glueing the lumber together to get the desired lengths. That is why lumber has grades on it. It will cost you a lot more the better the grade you use. I personally plan on building my own house because Im a very picky person and wouldnt trust many people with the process. Plus I want to know what I got in it. Electrical is a real biggie and you damn sure want to make sure that is right.

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Older houses also used better building techniques. If you can see the frame of an older house, you can see that the wood frame generally has a smaller spacing in addition to the better wood. So not only are the materials better, the house will hold up longer.

I think the electrical and other upgrades are just part of the deal. You do have more of those issues with an older house, but if the house is going to hold up longer, you will likely end up paying less in the long run.

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No doubt about that - though the design of a lot of old houses (particularly mill houses) mean they lack good insulation. Otherwise, besides the roof (which is going to deteriorate) & foundation - the house is completely solid. Especially the floors - heart of pine floor boards.

There is just so much baggage that comes with an older home, not to mention it being difficult to expand the home when the house is deemed historic. But I still don't regret buying our Atlanta home - even if it meant the housing market crashed & it will be years until we can try to sell it again.

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Yeah, expansion is a problem. People find ways to do it though. I just know far too many people who have moved to suburban neighborhoods and are frustrated at the shotty construction of the house as it falls apart around them. I have no doubt that there are good quality suburban homes out there though.

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I got to see Chris Leinberger speak today in Charlotte. He makes a very compelling argument. I won't regurgitate what is in his article (that is referenced in the first post of this thread), but lets just say this guy is sharp. He's an economist, and he "gets it." Its interesting to hear this from an economists perspective. He makes the case for urban development in real terms that the likes of Wall Street can understand. People, in very large numbers, do not want the standard suburban crap anymore. Real urban development is the wave of the future. In fact, for those of you who have not read that article I highly recommend it, as it does a great job of covering what was in his presentation.

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Here is the flip side - we live in a suburb but also in a 100 year old home in a historic neighborhood. I can imagine that is perfectly plausible for most South Carolinians - work in Charlotte & live in York, work in Greenville & live in Laurens, work in Columbia & live in Camden. But that still doesn't answer any of the larger issues regarding congestion or sprawl.

So my complaint isn't the house - though I still don't like the structure of the house (small rooms) but living in the suburb.

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