Morning Ed: Housing {2017.08.02.W}

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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75 Responses

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    So if I’m following this correctly, the person ignorantly denouncing economic consensus as the “alt-right, fake-news theory of demolition as the cure for affordability” is the one who wants to keep Portland white via prohibitively high housing prices?Report

  2. LeeEsq says:

    Ho2: The Olympics should perpetually be in Athens. The Winter Olympics in Switzerland.

    Ho5: NIMBYs are ingenious in their politics, I’d give them that much.

    Ho7: Lego housing.Report

    • Pinky in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I agree about Athens, but the Winter Olympics should be permanently in either South Korea or Japan. It’s supposed to be an international event, so the summer and winter games shouldn’t be within a couple hundred miles of each other.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Pinky says:

        Or some country that gets a generous Winter. The point is to create a permanent base for the Olympic Games so we can have them without the citizenry of host cities getting constantly screwed by the elaborate building costs for a one time event. Olympics generally only benefit a city if the city already has the facilities to host the games before they were given the right to host them.Report

  3. Damon says:

    [Ho4] I feel for some wealth black athlete feeling “micro aggressed”. Let me get right on that!

    [Ho5] You know who lives in historical districts? Rich people. It’s a nice designation to have “once you’ve got yours” and you want to make it difficult to change the neighborhood. Change, see that’s gonna cost you, what with all that historical requirements in the building code. The main guy mentioned in the article is sitting on 700K appreciation of his house, but he’s all for higher density-just not where he lives. I get accused of FYIGM, but baby, that’s what historical districts are and that guy, that’s what he’s saying.

    [Ho6] A tax on foreign buying isn’t “bringing control to the market”, people are buying elsewhere. It’s just raised the costs, making it less about buying into a foreign market vs buying into THAT particular market. And you know what? You’d get more money with an occupancy tax than a vacancy tax, and it’s harder to escape. You can always have someone live in your property.

    [Ho7] Ok, so how do you stack them and how do you get up to the upper pods? And, more importantly, where are you going to put them? Are you hooking them up to the city water and sewer? Doesn’t this violate the city codes for residential housing?Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:

      The purpose of the vacancy tax isn’t raising revenue, it’s opening up housing stock. We have this problem here, with foreign investors buying up homes and either sitting on them, or offering them for rent at rates that exceed the local market.Report

      • Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        If the rents being offered for renting foreign owned property is “exceeding the local market”, and the properties are being rented, then the prices are fair not really exceeding the local market, but exceeding what the locals want to pay-big difference.Report

        • North in reply to Damon says:

          Damon, in the Vancover scenario the rates were over the local market AND the units were not being rented- they were sitting vacant.Report

          • Damon in reply to North says:

            So, let’s assume that a foreign owner is pricing his property to rent so high above the local market that he effectively will not rent the unit. This would be done because he really doesn’t want to rent it but has some other nefarious tax schemes or such.

            So how long can a place be listed for rental but not rented before the unit is classed for vacancy tax? How long must the term of a rental be? See what games we’re going to play here to avoid this vacancy tax?Report

            • North in reply to Damon says:

              I’m dubious that it’d be difficult to tell the difference between perpetually vacant residential units and units that are between tenants, even ones that are being aggressively priced.Report

        • Troublesome Frog in reply to Damon says:

          If the properties were being rented, they wouldn’t be subject to a vacancy tax.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        What does a vacancy tax accomplish that a property tax does not? There was a utopian single-tax system that assessed a single tax on land, regardless of its use. The idea was to give the owner the incentive to invest in the land with the assurance that the government would not take any of the profits. The single-tax system didn’t work where employed for a variety of reasons, but you I assume that the vacant properties you mention are paying a disproportionate amount of their income in property taxes and have an incentive to change that. Or is there something else going on with property taxation that I’m missing?Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to PD Shaw says:

          Occupied properties provide housing, so that’s one less household the government has to help achieve housing, via subsidies somewhere else.

          Vacant properties impose additional costs on the government, which can be recouped by a vacancy tax.Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to dragonfrog says:

            I understand that vacant property imposes costs on government, but its subject to property tax already. Are you suggesting that vacant property imposes more costs than occupied?Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

              Indirectly, yes, if it forces the community to build additional housing that it would rather not build.

              I mean, I get your point. Hell, the increase in property values such vacant housing encourages has a 1st order benefit for the city in that it increases property tax revenue in the affected areas, but the 2nd order effects of driving lower income residents from the city because they can’t find a place to live.

              I agree with @brandon-berg in that a lot of these cities have kinda shot themselves in the foot with regard to housing because they have rules that make affordable housing unaffordable to build (not sure about Vancouver specifically, but we’ve talk before about how Seattle has done a fantastic job killing anything even remotely resembling micro-housing, and Portland has some similar rules, as does SF & LA and probably every other major city). But the fact remains that vacant housing makes the problem worse and offers no real countervailing benefit to the city.Report

              • dragonfrog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Encouraging higher density development is basically the single focus of a lot of cities’ planning departments, because sprawl is so insanely unaffordable – the infrastructure it’s forcing them to build is bankrupting cities.

                So, vacant properties that someone bought to hide the millions of dollars they’ve smuggled out of their home country, and now own through matryoshka of shell companies, and they’re not bothering to try to rent out because there’s enough extra slush fund money to pay the property taxes – that must be absolutely maddening to city planners trying to figure out how to accomodate the next 50 years of the city’s growth.Report

        • Troublesome Frog in reply to PD Shaw says:

          I’m not sure about the wisdom of a vacancy tax specifically, but I’m very suspicious that our tax law is creating incentives to leave commercial properties vacant in my area. A set off office buildings that used to be completely full during the tech boom (full of real companies that still exist today, not type companies) have been largely vacant for *years* in an otherwise normal area.

          It seems to me that owning these properties and paying taxes and maintenance on them with no resulting income would be a losing proposition that the market would iron out relatively quickly. That’s a lot of capital tied up and doing nothing. But there they stay. The only two possible explanations I can think of are:

          1) Super ballsy investors who think that the property values will skyrocket and capital gains will make up for the lost income.
          2) Some sort of clever accounting trick that’s allowing them to write off some phantom lost rent or something like that and end up ahead of where they’d be if they actually leased the property.

          And even with (1), it seems like you could be expecting capital gains and still want to earn the marginal income from leasing the property. And yet, here we are.Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            Troublesome Frog:
            I’m not sure about the wisdom of a vacancy tax specifically, but I’m very suspicious that our tax law is creating incentives to leave commercial properties vacant in my area.

            I’m not an expert, but real estate tax law, and particularly commericial real estate, is full of perverse incentives. One need look no further than the current President of the United States, with his one time near 1 billion dollar tax offset.Report

            • Troublesome Frog in reply to Kolohe says:

              I’ve been asking around trying to figure out what the most likely culprit is, but I’m almost 100% certain that we’re paying these guys to keep vacant buildings around in one form or another.

              I’m especially suspicious given that it’s commercial real estate in an area where residential prices are over the moon. It seems unlikely that an area packed with tech workers climbing over each other to buy houses is a totally undesirable place to rent office space. There has to be something really weird going on, like the owners spending five years dead for tax purposes.

              Before I support something like a vacancy tax, I’d like to see whatever this thing is cleared up to see what happens when markets are allowed to do their jobs.Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            Commercial real estate may be different than residential, but I think the primary theory on all of the vacancy in commercial space (besides a glut) has something to do with competing notions of a reasonable lease term. The new business wants a short-term lease; fearful of long-term commitments, while the building owner wants a long-term lease to cover the build-out and break-downs. I think McMegan, FelixS and Matt Y blogged on this several years ago.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

          If the property value is climbing significantly faster than property tax rates, then the incentive the property tax provides is diminished. Local governments could raise tax rates, but that has to happen across the board, which will have adverse impacts.

          Additionally, as per @dragonfrog, not having people in those properties, prevents utilities/services from gaining revenue from those residents while still being required to pay to maintain the infrastructure. There is also the issue that often such homes attract vandals and squatters that local governments have to deal with. And finally there is the added effect of reducing the housing supply, thus raising prices through artificially diminished supply.

          So a vacancy tax is part pigouvian, part attempting to address a set of externalities.Report

          • Lyle in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            With a vacant house you probably have to leave the electric and gas on (at least in most of the US to keep things from freezing). If an apartment much of this is done by the land lord for the shared spaces. One might well turn the water off, but unless the meter is removed there would be a minimum charge per month (essentially to cover the cost of meter reading and billing) Telecom is a different issue but not really in the same class as gas/water/electricity. One could discourage some of this with a higher base charge for the utilities and a lower quantity charge.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        It seems to me that there’s a very simple solution to the problem of vacant housing: Authorize more building. There are few if any places where the real bottleneck is lack of room for building, as opposed to strain on infrastructure from actual people living in the city. Vacant homes don’t use water, gas, or electricity. They don’t drive on roads. They don’t need parking. They don’t ride mass transit. They don’t produce sewage. They don’t send their kids to the local schools. And they don’t commit crimes. If people want to pay property taxes and not use any of the stuff property taxes pay for, what’s the problem?

        Edit: According to their budget, property taxes are 57% of Vancouver’s revenues. Owners of vacant housing are paying way more than they’re costing the city.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Authorizing more building has a lead time usually measured in years (even a house can take more than a year to get approvals and complete construction, multi unit buildings are much longer, and that is assuming that you have sufficient land and infrastructure available), incentivizing existing stock to be open to occupation can have a lead time measured in days. I don’t know what the expected population growth of Vancouver is, but last I heard, Seattle is expecting 100K new residents every year for the next few years. The outflow is considerably less than that, so large net gain Building new residences that fast is a trick*, so it’s critical that every available unit is open for occupancy. Complicating this is foreign investors buying up new housing stock and sitting on it.

          I mean, I have no problem with foreign investors buying housing as an investment vehicle, but it can’t be allowed to sit fallow in a growing area. Even if the property taxes are a net gain for the city, there are larger issues at hand.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Would have been a good idea to get started on that some time back, then.

            Anyway, I wonder if rent stabilization laws are a factor here. In a city with particularly strong anti-landlord laws, renting to a tenant can lock you into renting to that tenant for years or decades, with only modest rent increases. When market rents are rising, this can cost you a lot, and tank the resale value.Report

            • Brent F in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              Vancouver doesn’t have rent control like you are thinking of and the rental market is almost as insanely out of line with local incomes as the property costs. Likewise the area is building up rapidly.

              One of the main problems really is mainland Chinese millionaires buying houses and condos as places to park their money where their government can’t seize it and to have a safe landing spot if they get in problems at home. An entire local industry of real estate brokers, developers and law firms grew up around the practice.

              Deal with that problem and Vancouver still has the problem of being geographically constrained city with a rapidly growing population, so housing isn’t ever going to be cheap. The problem with the foriegn buyers is that they made things expensive, its that they inflated the market with outside money to use housing as investment vehicles without intending to have anyone live in the property.

              The government action resulting in the market failures aren’t particularly local, they also relate to the behaviour of the Chinese Government and Canadian Federal government policy to favour giving residency rights to foriegn “entrepeneurs” who park a significant amount of money in Canada.

              The cost to the city isn’t in taxes, its in making housing so expensive a generation of young people are leaving because the local cost of living is simply too high.Report

              • North in reply to Brent F says:

                Agreed, Vancouver doesn’t have any particularly strong rent control/stabilization laws I’m aware of. They do have some granola/hippy land development constraints aimed at limiting sprawl and preserving agricultural land that I suspect does a lot more harm than good but I think they probably took a good tack by aiming at the absentee buyers issue which, clearly, is a significant factor.

                I think it goes without saying that for pretty much any locale in North America more development and making dense development easier is a wise urban policy.Report

              • Brent F in reply to North says:

                The agricultural land preservation thing doesn’t particularly matter. There is plenty ability to build up more in the existing suburbs like Delta or Langley if that’s where you wanted to do it.

                Building up in those suburbs doesn’t solve the problem though that all the work is in the inner core and the commute from the suburbs to the inner core is a nightmare and its hard to make it easier because the Fraser river requires everything to go over a bridge to get from one side to another.

                Not that there isn’t a reasonable contribution of the problem coming from anti-gentrifying activists and detatched homeowners NIMBYism against building apartmentsReport

              • James K in reply to Brent F says:


                One of the main problems really is mainland Chinese millionaires buying houses and condos as places to park their money where their government can’t seize it and to have a safe landing spot if they get in problems at home.

                Is there actual data on that, because I’m sceptical. The same rhetoric sprang up about Auckland’s house prices and then the government changed tax laws to make it possible to track how many Auckland houses were being bought by foreign residents, and it turned out it was about 3%.

                Add to the fact that the behaviour of these supposed Chinese investors makes little sense and I have difficulty believing that its a major factor on prices.Report

              • j r in reply to James K says:

                This may be the housing equivalent of the lump of labor fallacy. It is not clear that there is a mechanism by which what is happening at the top price points of a particular housing market is mechanically cascading down to all the other parts of the market.

                In other words, if increased demand from Chinese millionaires millionaires for high end condos contributes to a particular unit being bid up from $2 million to $2.5 million, that a modest house in a working class neighborhood 30 minutes outside the city center gets bid up from $200k to $250k? I guess there is going to be some displacement as the person who would have gotten the condo for $2 million takes that money and buys something somewhere else. But that displacement would have been happening anyway. It’s not like these housing markets were perfectly meeting demand before the increased interest from Chinese or Russian multi-millionaires looking for safe dollar assets.

                My guess is that the main driver of housing prices in cities is the increasing number of upper middle class professionals who are deciding to stay close to the city center instead of moving to the suburbs as soon as they outgrow a one or two-bedroom apartment.

                This is all based on my intuition; so I would love to see some data, as well.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Damon says:

      Housing discrimination isn’t a “microaggression”. It’s… housing discrimination.

      And someone being wealthy doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, didn’t cause harm, and is any less wrong.Report

      • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

        “The veteran also claimed he and his wife were “subject to similar microaggression, as a security guard not-so-subtly followed them for the entirety of their time,” at a Louis Vutton store,”Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

          Also not microaggression. That’s just plain aggression. “You aren’t welcome in this store” sort of policy.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Damon says:

          His language or the writer’s?

          Also… that’s about as piss poor a counter as I could have imagined.Report

          • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

            You assumed I was talking about housing discrimination in my initial comment. I demonstrated I wasn’t responding to that part of the article, but about being followed around in a store. It was a quote, so it appears to be his language not the author of the article.

            I don’t know why you think documenting what spurred my comment was a piss poor counter. It wasn’t a counter. I clarified what my comment was on.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Kazzy says:

        I would call housing discrimination an actual aggression.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    Ho4: Orange County was the original hotbed of the kind of right-wing politics that led from Goldwater to Reagan to Talk Radio madness and now to Trump. The district is ever so slightly turning blue in modern day California. During the 1950s and 60s, their Congresscritter warned of “bare-footed Africans” training in Georgia to take over the United States. I’m not surprised that their remains of this attitude.

    Ho5: Sigh……..

    Ho6: I’m not even sure this would be legal in the United States or California. California’s fair employment and housing law is very extensive.Report

  5. Oscar Gordon says:

    Ho8: One house built by slaves is not a dark history of the style. I was expecting some kind of occult reference.Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Another reason we can’t have nice things in the U.S., everything is a few degrees from slavery. Honestly though, the only octagon house I recall being in was this one in Natchez, Mississippi:

    • fillyjonk in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      but that’s kinda how the internet works, isn’t it: “ONE CREEPY SECRET YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE” and it turns out it’s one example of the thing, not all of them.

      How ’bout round barns? I vaguely remember that there was a fad for those in Illinois (at least) because they were alleged to be tornado-proof. (I don’t think they were)Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to fillyjonk says:

        (I don’t think they were)

        Oh yeah? Every round barn standing has failed to be demolished by a tornado. QED.

        In related news, every one of my ancestors survived to sexual maturity. Given the historical juvenile mortality rate, this establishes that I have superior genes.Report

  6. Kolohe says:

    [Ho7]*clappy emoji* it’s *ce* not *ce* construction *ce* costs *ce* that *ce* makes *ce* housing *ce* expensive *ce* in *ce* high *ce* priced *ce* areas *ce*.Report

  7. aaron david says:

    HO5. Boy, there is some deeply uninformed people about economics in this world. But, that said, there will be no more Arts and Crafts Bungalows built in this world. That period has moved on. People do have a right to form political committees and take advantage of the political process. The have a right to want what they want. At the same time, there is surely ample room for developers to work on increasing density in the area that maintains the character of the neighborhood. So, if a house comes up for sale, the city could buy it I guess, and do what it wants. Or, a developer could buy it, and do what it wants. Or, and I know this sounds strange, but a person could buy it and restore it, live in it and love it.

    Nimbyism or Yimbyism, this looks more like a class fight than anything else. I am willing to bet that Portland has various zones in the city, some designated for housing, some for retail. Why not open up the retail areas for housing? I was in a gigantic Fred Meyers on the south side of Portland yesterday, they could develop that into housing, probably stack the beds in 4 deep! Oh wait, that is in Milwaukie, not the nice, tree lined, bicyclable, hip, funky Portland but the working class part…

    The city has grown drastically in the last few years, and everyone has wanted to lock the gates behind them. “People are squawking about the implications of their policy choice,” he says. “[Gov. John] Kitzhaber said there’s two things Oregonians hate: density and sprawl.” What they want is the city they fell in love with, unchanging.

    (For what its worth, I live an hour and a half south of Portland.)Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to aaron david says:

      But, that said, there will be no more Arts and Crafts Bungalows built in this world. That period has moved on.

      There’s a solution for this, though: If people really care about preserving Arts and Crafts Bungalows, they can buy and maintain them. They don’t even have to do it individually; they can pool their money together to form a non-profit organization (or even for-profit corporation), buy them, and rent them out. But they don’t actually care enough to do that. They only care enough to lobby the government to force the current owners of those properties to keep them intact, so that they can dictate how the properties are to be used without actually paying market price for the privilege. That’s not how things are done in a civilized society.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg says:


        I’ve lived in old houses most of my life. I swear before we bought our current place, the youngest house I’d lived in was 58 years old when we moved out. The oldest was 118 and had been moved once, back in the late 40’s. Old houses suck. Sure, they got good bones (rough cut old growth timber is some solid framing), but lathe and plaster is hell to work with, the windows and insulation in most places are crap, the plumbing and electrical are crap, and upgrading any of it costs an arm & a leg thanks to sizes and methods that are no longer standard (e.g. replacement windows are all custom built). And that is before we even talk about asbestos, and lead paint, etc.

        Screw that. I love an Arts & Crafts bungalow as much as the next aficionado, but it’s not like we’ve lost the ancient art of building Arts & Crafts style houses. This isn’t the formula for Roman Marine concrete we are talking about. If you like that style, build in that style. Hell, go ahead and write up an HOA that enforces that style (mine enforces style guidelines, and it’s perfectly legal).

        But forcing people to keep and maintain an old house just because it’s a neat style is just mean, and really fecking elitist.Report

        • fillyjonk in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I lived in fear for a few weeks a couple years ago because there was a move afoot to get the neighborhood I was in declared an Historic District. It fell through, thank God, but for a while I was getting fliers about it in the mail. (And at the same time I was arguing with the city about my alleyway – they said it was my “responsibility” to clear the bushes out of it, even though I didn’t own that land. I finally did capitulate and it cost me about $400 to have the clearing done, but the whole specter of a Historical District just made it that much more nightmarish)

          (My house was built in 1946. It is well built but small and very plain.)

          I grew up in a town with lots of “historical districts” and it seemed to me they were mostly aimed at allowing the would-be little dictators who get on the Historic District Council make life hard for the people living in those districts – in the town where I grew up, there were places where there were like three approved styles of mailbox you could use, or a small palette of colors you could paint your house (and forget having siding put on! Nope, you had to leave the original wood or stucco, and you BETTER have it repainted on schedule!) They were like HOAs, just with more of a stated purpose.

          I mean, yes: I don’t like seeing nice old houses get trashed or torn down. But I also think it’s cruel to pressure someone who’s already working full-time or struggling financially to keep up with the extremely exacting regulations governing “period accuracy.”

          (My house already has vinyl siding on it, anyway, so those Historical mavens could go pound sand)Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Upgrading windows is for chumps (or for people with cracked windows).
          Upgrading a bubble house is easy, in comparison to one that’s actually been insulated with asbestos. (It was around… $10k to get mine done with blown cellulose)Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Between our current place, and our first apartment, I’ve lived a total of three years in places with drywall. I don’t like the stuff – it’s so flimsy, you bump a chair into it and it gets a big gouge. You move into a brand new house and it’s damaged by the time you’ve gotten the bedframes up the stairs.

          With lathe and plaster, you could just about throw a hammer at the wall without denting it.

          This current place is the only one I’ve lived with the modern particle board baseboards, that explode into dust if they get damp, and the modern hollow core interior doors so flimsy those rubber-tipped spring doorstops will actually punch a hole in the door, so now there’s a hole in the door from the doorstop and a dent in the wall from the doorknob…

          I’m with you on old plumbing being a pain though.Report

          • North in reply to dragonfrog says:

            Lathe and plaster is Satan! Have you ever had to tear the stuff out before? SATAN I tells you!!Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to dragonfrog says:

            I’ve learned, over the years, how to work with plaster, but I’ll take drywall any day just for ease of maintenance and repair. One trick I have learned with drywall is, if you have an area where you are picking up a lot of damage, consider painting it with a quality oil based paint. The oil paints tend to form a tougher shell than latex does and it can resist the light impacts that nick drywall.

            MDF moulding is the mark of a cheap-ass builder. I hate that stuff and I replace it whenever I find it. Solid wood, even the finger-jointed stuff, is way better than MDF for base trim.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              I also think the thickness of hte drywall really matters. Thin stuff is really hard to work with, especially for hanging things.

              I just moved into a house (renting 2nd floor apartment) that is over 100 years old. Brand new kitchen and bathroom and a very well maintained home. Original wood floors in the bedrooms and living room, in stark contrast to the newer stuff in the hall. BEAUTIFUL moulding everywhere… to the point that I can’t mount the boys’ doorway swing because the door way is so thick. There are quirks… the boys’ balls and cars all roll to specific spots in the uneven flooring… but aside from one shelf I had to shift slightly to keep it from being wobbly, this isn’t an issue. Some settling means not everything is as parallel as I would like, but that is offset by the absolutely gorgeous, solid wood paneled doors.

              I’m not sure what my walls are. They seem thick and solidly built though.Report

        • Troublesome Frog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I love my house, but most of my pain comes from the fact that it was built during that window in the era when we thought aluminum wiring and asbestos were good solutions to all of our problems.

          Also, 1970’s HVAC ducts are a joke. Barely held together with spot welds and sizing seems like it was done based on a guy eyeballing it and saying “we can fit a duct of this size here” not based on any thought about air flow. Better than pre-central HVAC houses, but still a real bummer.

          At least it’s not old enough for lathe and plaster or knob and tube wiring. And, unlike my parents’ house, I do have ground wires.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            Oh, my god. Yeah, those were BAD years for houses.
            Not so bad as the “this drywall rots and then destroys all your houses’ wiring” of the 2000’s, but … Aluminium wiring (I’ve seen that stuff go up in movies, really bad shit…).

            We have good wiring here, metalclad so you can pull a ground out easy.Report

          • Some friends who bought a house built in 1905 were showing me around. One of them was an electrical engineer and pointed out the knob-and-no-tube wiring running along one of the joists in the basement. He was about to touch it when I asked if he knew for sure that it was dead. He went upstairs and got a multimeter and… 120 VAC. I suggested asking for a refund from whoever did the engineering inspection.

            We had our late-1980s ducts sealed after we’d been our current house for a couple of years. The people doing it said the blower test showed leaks the equivalent of a 140 square inch hole. Amazing difference in air flow after the sealant was applied.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Michael Cain says:

              I’ll do you one better: we had an actual hole, about as big as my head.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Kimmi says:

                You gotta wonder about the people who build houses. Part of our basement is a full basement, part of it is a crawlspace (on the back side of a concrete wall with a two-foot by three-foot opening you have to climb through to get into the crawlspace). The air return from the second floor goes through the crawlspace and is a sheet metal box hung below the joists with additional sheet metal pieces between the joists to seal things up. I was in the crawlspace for some other reason and noticed that the between-joist sheet metal was missing on the back side.

                I will say that my sheet metal work is quite a bit tidier than the builders’.Report

            • Troublesome Frog in reply to Michael Cain says:

              I just finished sealing my attic ducts. Next stage is the crawlspace under the house. It’s not fun work, but I could *eyeball* gaps that add up to about that in the attic, so it makes a huge difference. At one point, instead of using a proper reducer, they cut wedge out of a straight piece and jammed it in there with a few spot welds. The entire length of the segment had a 1/2″ slit open in it, not to mention the ill-fitting junction.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            Aluminium wiring is scary stuff. I’d gut that and pull copper.Report

            • Troublesome Frog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              It’s definitely on my “I’d like to do this at some point” list, but it’s a pretty significant production with a 2 story house. My neighbor has an electrician who was able to do hers a room or two at a time as fill-in work between his big jobs, so that may be an option.

              The good news is that I’m fairly handy on the electrical side, so I’ve taken a good look at what’s inside just about every box in the house and replaced connections that look like they’re anything less than perfect.

              The fact that modern appliances draw less and less current makes a big difference too. The first thing I did when I bought the place was sink a bunch of money into replacing all of the incandescent and halogen lights with LED equivalents, which was super expensive at the time. I don’t think the electricity savings will ever pay back, but not drawing a ton of current constantly through hard-to-inspect circuits makes me a lot happier.

              But you do ultimately end up spending a fortune on these hideous things.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

                My uncle is an HVAC contractor in the northern Chicago suburbs. He’s run across a lot of Aluminium wiring houses, usually after someone overloaded a circuit and burned out a large chunk of the place, and he was coming in to do repair work.

                Good for you for recognizing the danger and being careful of circuit load.Report

            • Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              My house had aluminum for the high voltage wiring, combined with the original box. The first big project when I had some money was getting an electrician in to put in copper and a new box. We still have aluminum running to the heat pump out back. It runs the entire length of the house and would be very expensive to replace. The electrician opined also that it was plenty heavy for the load. I figure that when someone is telling me why I don’t have to give him money, he is probably telling me the truth. That or it would be a huge pain in the ass job and he didn’t want to do it, but I don’t see any obvious reason why this would be the case.Report

      • Damon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        “That’s not how things are done in a civilized society.”

        No sir, that is exactly how things are done. You get the other guy to subsidize what you thing is right/moral/correctReport

      • aaron david in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        So, if a house comes up for sale, the city could buy it I guess, and do what it wants. Or, a developer could buy it, and do what it wants. Or, and I know this sounds strange, but a person could buy it and restore it, live in it and love it.

        There is a reason I stated that. Whomever wants to buy it, buy it, at market value. That, whoever, does not take away the owners freedom of association, nor the right to petition the gov’t. The city, as I mention above, has already performed these actions so why should the neighborhood abstain? Conflicting interests are a b****. I am not an anarchist, therefore I do believe in gov’t having some purpose, settling this being one.

        There is a reason people want to live in that neighborhood. The houses are nice, good trees and schools. Those who have property there do not want to see the value drop, as they have much invested, time or money or whatever. That drives up the cost, drives up the desirability. Portland has many other, less desirable neighborhoods, though not as close to downtown. When I moved to midtown Sacramento, a similar area was a pit, no one wanted to live there. Then the hipsters came (late ’90’s) and gradually the prices increased, infill housing arrived, the values shot up, gentrification. That is life, but the people living there can, and should, take every advantage the the gov’t we have provides.

        As long as they can sleep with it.Report

    • North in reply to aaron david says:

      Blaming ignorance for HO5 is very generous in my view. They struck me as people who are extremely hard to persuade because their money and interests are on the line. The historical preservation nonsense is just the façade. Douse em with truth serum and I bet that the words “More traffic, lower prices, more people” would tumble out far far more than anything like “preservation of historical buildings”.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:

        You don’t need truth serum. You don’t even need to read between the lines very carefully. They don’t want the character of their neighborhood to change.

        Nothing turns a crusading progressive into a staunch conservative faster than threatening the character of where they live with change they aren’t comfortable with, no matter how much that change fits progressive values.Report

  8. Doctor Jay says:

    [Ho5] The phrase “alt-right” appears in this story, which is about housing policy and neighborhood associations and just how wrenching this whole deal is, exactly once. The person who is quoted as saying it, appears exactly once, and the neighborhood association she represents appears, you guessed it, exactly once.

    This is how this stuff works. She says it because it gets attention. The reporter puts it in because it’s juicy, even if only marginally relevant to the rest of the piece. And we notice it because it’s both so highly charged and also so not relevant to anything else.

    I don’t think her framing is helpful, I don’t think repeating what she said was helpful. It gets attention and sharpens divisions. This worked for Nixon, and we keep trying to emulate him.

    We are in a twilight struggle for clicks.Report