August 22, 2006

High rents: Thank Christ for illegal immigration and yuppie transplants

Wondering what the ten most expensive cities are in the US for renters? No surprise that 6 of the 10 are in California, nor that Boston and New York are there, but I was surprised that DC made the list while Chicago didn't, and that Fort Lauderdale made the list while Miami didn't. This is one reason I still live at home -- DC (and the metro area around it) is ridiculously overpriced, plus it's a stinkhole. What city do you think of when someone says "hip, cool place to live" or "it's worth the exorbitant prices"? Not DC. For those who've never been to the area, here is a rough geography of the District of Columbia:

So, unlike New York or San Francisco with their panoply of edgy, expensive neighborhoods populated by the nation's cultural movers & shakers, DC is mostly a wasteland with a small pocket of safe but boring urban nabes. This is in contrast to the typical gentrification pattern where some run-down or dangerous area in an overall rich & powerful metro area is first colonized by gay men and made safer & hipper, only to be taken over by obscenely expensive apartment buildings and boutiques. When I was 14-16 (so, 1994-96), I remember going to Dupont Circle occasionally, and it still had that edgy gay village vibe. Ditto for M Street in Georgetown -- it amazes many, but in the '80s the richest, most elite neighborhood was punk & hardcore central, mostly due to the interest of Georgetown University students in the scene, much like Ivy League hippies of days of yore. Almost all the staple record & punk fashion stores there have been gone for at least 5 years or so, except for Smash!, where I used to buy my purple hair dye in 8th grade.

Now, however, the more gentrified look to these areas is not what the pattern in the East Village (or what have you) would lead you to expect: in reality, it looks like they grafted a hunk of some affluent Long Island mall onto the place -- Aldo shoe stores, Club Monaco boutiques, that kind of thing. The one exception, where there really has been a transition to beyond-the-mall high-end stores is Cady's Alley just off of M St in Georgetown, which features pricey interior design stores. This reversal of expectation is easily explained, again, by who settles DC: lawyers, wannabe politicians, and businessmen with Federal Gummint contracts. The rich in New York or San Francisco, by contrast, do more innovative work than here, so they'd likely score higher on the personality trait Openness to Experience, and so desire a more cultured atmosphere.

But high rents aren't just the result of yuppies who move in fresh from graduating college, cushioned by the more than $1000 per month their parents dole out for rent. And it's also not entirely due to geographical barriers to new construction, like the Pacific & Atlantic Oceans that impede development in the West & East Coasts. Massive illegal immigration drives up rents wherever it's tolerated (solution: don't tolerate it!). See here for Steve Sailer's discussion of "affordable family formation." Partly that's due to many more people living in a house or apartment than it's designed to accomodate (recently, my ho-hum Maryland suburb has seen an increase in the 20-person house phenomenon). But partly it's due to everyone else willing to spend more money to get away from the inchoate illegal immigrant ghettos. Right-thinking people who celebrate diversity are not flocking to Southeast DC or the outerlying suburbs where illegals pour in. This also drives up housing prices, as parents move to neighborhoods with "good schools" and -- surprise -- no illegal immigration problem. They'd be in for a rude awakening if they condescended to slum it in an illegal immigrant 'burb or nabe: the greasy leers from the young males, the auditory Chinese water torture of young males' car alarms, the visual assault of garishly souped up Toyota Camrys belonging to the young males, and the incessant weekend boom of awful Reggaeton blasting from the home stereo systems or tricked out car stereos belonging to -- yup -- the young males. As with all ethnic groups, the old-timers and younger females don't really cause much trouble, but even if it's just "a few bad apples" representing adolescent males, that's enough to cause public nuisance, and not all groups have equal proportions of "bad apples."

In short, living at home is the best financially, even if not in terms of quality of life, and I'll probably only be here another year until grad school. I don't care if it means girls won't be interested in me, as I'm fairly unsocialized and resistent to social pressures. And it's not that I'm against paying rent until I have a safe, comfy job: when I lived in Barcelona, I made hardly any money teaching English, but I paid my rent since getting a room in the equivalent of Greenwich Village (or whatever) only cost 350-400 euros a month maximum (though if you wanted luxury, that might go up to 600 -- still chump change compared to here). The metro system there was also excellent, obviating a car & gas / maintenance costs: in 2005, a 10-trip metro card cost about 5 or 6 euros, and each 50 or 60-cent trip could take you as far as you wanted one-way. Groceries were cheaper & much, much higher in quality than here. And within a block's radius from any point, there's an affordable butcher / specialty grocer, hair salon, interior design store, and cafe / bar. And then there's the human environment as well -- I was sure that when I heard my ESL students were to include businessmen, I'd be in for yuppie hell, but they were actually pretty cool by US standards. And that's not even to mention the girls -- good lord! You can't buy that kind of environment here. If only I felt my lifetime research prospects would be as fruitful working in a Spanish university as in an American university, there wouldn't be any contest in my mind. It'd be a fucking slaughter.

In the meantime, though, I see two ways to improve things: 1) the most obvious, enforce laws against illegal immigration, and restrict legal immigration to only "brain drain" folks from whichever countries and legitimate refugees (e.g., fleeing for their lives). And 2) enact legislation to curb "daddy's boy / girl" yuppies living in high-priced housing. If they've got smart, rich parents, maybe someday too they'll be rich -- but until that happens, I don't want them inflating rents during their 20s and early-mid 30s with unearned money. If I can manage with life outside the Beltway, so can they. Or they can live at home with their rich parents. I'm no free market disciple: if some policy violates the sanctity of the free market but enhances median quality of life without grossly violating individual rights, than full steam ahead.


  1. One New York neighborhood which has followed a more traditional form of gentrification is Williamsburgh, in northern Brooklyn. Until about 15 years ago it was basically a ghetto, except for one part which has long had a substantial population of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Then young, trendy, artsy types who were priced out of Manhattan figured out that Williamsburgh is just one subway stop away (albeit on the breaking-no-speed-records L train). In short order Williamsburgh became a popular, trendy neighborhood and now is getting quite pricey. In fact it's now too expensive for the next generation of young, trendy, artsy types, some of whom have now migrated east into, of all places, Bedford-Stuyvesant.

    Iron Rails & Iron Weights

  2. Dave Barry says the everybody in Washington DC (he means everybody in the NW part) was in student government in high school.

  3. Ha, that's so true! Leave it to Dave Barry to phrase it just the right way...

  4. Yes, M Street is very yuppie, not edgy at all.

    Dupont Circle is nice.

    The gays are moving into the Logan Circle area.

    I was never a fan of Adams Morgan, no Metro and not safe on the east side.

    You're supposed to get your parents to pay your rent for you. That's what all the other young people do. But it seems that you've already figured that out.

  5. If only I felt my lifetime research prospects would be as fruitful working in a Spanish university as in an American university, there wouldn't be any contest in my mind. It'd be a fucking slaughter.

    I feel your pain (except with paris instead of barca). fucking lame-ass universities in such beautiful, beautiful cities.


  6. JP -- makes you almost wish we were humanities students, eh? You're hardly in a shitty city, though. In any event, if you're at a high-profile place, there will be plenty of hot foreign students, including French & Spanish, or whatever tickles your fancy.


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