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Smaller Wallets, Larger Households?
April 12, 2013 9:54 AM   Subscribe

A dozen ultraleft voluntarists arguing about shower schedules is a noise complaint; 120,000 downwardly mobile yuppies doing it out of necessity is a substratum. The material realities of declining wages, ballooning debt, and skyrocketing rents at the core of the neoliberal city have conspired to herd young people into unprecedentedly dense, poor, and precarious kinds of living arrangements. - Andrew Fogle on how the economic crisis is changing how people live together.
posted by The Whelk (55 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a whole lot of words to say that people have roommates sometimes.
posted by Ghost Mode at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2013 [32 favorites]


Shorter every Jacobin article ever: "It turns out that actually, the most socialist thing of all is austerity and elite rule! I know, right? Crazy!"

I'm really hoping they grow out of this at some point.
posted by enn at 10:08 AM on April 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's not just young people, although that kind of depends on your definition of young. Anecdotally I know of a bunch of late 30- to early 40-somethings doing the same thing.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:10 AM on April 12, 2013


...young folks living a cooperative lifestyle....

Don't youse guys ever talk to your parents? Okay, grandparents, but jeez, it was about more than Hendrix and the Dead.
posted by mule98J at 10:10 AM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a whole lot of words to say that people have roommates sometimes...

...and that although we disdain them as bourgeois class enemies, the inconvenience of their chore wheels and bathroom schedules will break the back of their patriarchic social structure, and foment the inevitable revolution any day now!

Any...any day now.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, when I was getting ready to move in with my partner a couple years ago, one of my mom's objections was that I had never lived alone, and so was 'not ready to settle down.' From her perspective, that's an important stage of young adulthood, something qualitatively different from living with roommates (which for her, meant college or just after) or 'settling down' with a partner. She was in nursing school in a not-so-expensive city in the 1980s when she lived in a small, 1-bedroom apartment in a fairly inconvenient part of town. I was in the middle of grad school in a pretty expensive city, so not that far off from her perspective...but I don't think it really sunk in for her what a financial sacrifice that 'life stage' would have been for me.

Like everyone, I've had my range of landlords, from the very reasonable and responsive, to the ones during college who subtly implied that since we had an 'illegal lease' (any more than 3 unrelated adults in the same unit, in our city) that we should not attempt to do things like request repairs or get our security deposits back. The article mentions that 6 unrelated adults are hard to evict, but 6 unrelated adults (especially young ones on their first or second lease) have a harder time coordinating themselves to get to small claims court, too.

It strikes me that the 23-year-olds who don't move into 'their own' apartments are the 35 year olds who don't buy cars or houses. My generation certainly didn't invent the falling-down house full of roommates, but those bigger changes in what people think are the important milestones of adulthood don't come from nowhere.
posted by heyforfour at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


p.s., Prenzlauer Berg, Du Bois, substratum, Edwardian and Victorian aristocracy.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:16 AM on April 12, 2013


I think the economics of this goes two ways. One, yes, young people are doing pretty lousy right now. But, two, what evidence do we have that the suburban 1000sqft-per-person kind of lifestyle was ever economically sustainable? It was a relatively new development, and now it's declining to some degree. That might not be such a terrible thing. Not like there isn't low-income housing still available for people who don't want to share, but there are times that I tend to think even my cheap little one-bedroom is wasteful to maintain for just me and two cats. It's easier not to live alone, in a host of ways.
posted by Sequence at 10:19 AM on April 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


I grew up in Mt. Lebanon, the affluent Pittsburgh suburb where these ladies split the house.

Three unrelated elderly folks bought the stately stone house on the corner across the street from us. They were there for about a year before they decided to reduce maintenance costs by cutting down a 30 foot flowering Dogwood tree, as well as one of the last towering Elms to survive the blight.

Neighborhood outrage was intense, and they were forced to sell, due to the belated enforcement of single-family zoning regulations. These ladies might want to keep their heads down a bit.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:20 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have my own bathroom, which sadly means that I'm doing pretty well for myself.

Over the past three years, my rent has increased at approximately four to six time the rate of my salary. Apparently, white people aren't completely terrified of my neighborhood any more.

Fuck all the noise about housing prices declining. Pop the bubble, and turn it into a crater. I don't want housing to be an investment. I just want a fucking place to live.
posted by schmod at 10:24 AM on April 12, 2013 [30 favorites]


Three unrelated elderly folks bought the stately stone house . . . they were forced to sell, due to the belated enforcement of single-family zoning regulations.

Wow, that seems like the most discriminatory possible kind of law. Maybe it is just me, but if 3 unrelated adults want to live together, in what way is that any business of the state?

I mean, if it were 12 or 30 unrelated people living together, or some amount like six that was beyond the design capacity of the home or yard, that would be one thing. But how in the world can we discriminate against 3 unrelated adults living together when 3 related adults would be just hunky-dory?

Un-American, I say . . .
posted by flug at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Maybe it is just me, but if 3 unrelated adults want to live together, in what way is that any business of the state?

It's a big issue where I live, but mainly as a preventative measure for massive student housing. You can't have more than two or three students in an apartment; you can't rent a house to a large group of students; and depending where you are, you can't rent multiple apartments to students.

It's...it's a very divisive issue.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:40 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm eagerly awaiting Mr. Roper and Mr. Furley's response.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:41 AM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Unrelated adults" clauses have historically also been used to discriminate against regular poor people, immigrants (people who arrive without their families and who share housing) and GLBTQ people who have been unable to achieve state-sanctioned familyhood.

I had to have a lovely but elderly and dying tree chopped down; I am currently trying to figure out how on earth we'll pay to have the other elderly and dying tree, which is larger, chopped down and taken away. It cost hundreds of dollars to have the first one done; I expect it will cost a thousand to do the second. In every high wind and storm, I worry.

I don't like the idea of chopping down trees, but if folks are so anxious to preserve other people's large, historic trees that add value to the neighborhood, perhaps it is time that they chip in for tree maintenance, insurance, etc.

Running a group of retirees out of the neighborhood over two of their own trees - that doesn't speak very well of the neighborhood, honestly. Snitches ought to get some stitches in that situation, IYAM.
posted by Frowner at 10:52 AM on April 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


enn: Shorter every Jacobin article ever: "It turns out that actually, the most socialist thing of all is austerity and elite rule! I know, right? Crazy!"

This seems like a massive misreading of this and other pieces. Their point is summed:
But it is worth noting how the cozy spaces where we brush our teeth and cook our meals are themselves conditioned by the macroeconomic forces from which we seek refuge. We do even better to imagine ways in which the new forms of living and relating into which we find ourselves thrown might, in turn, undermine those very forces.
That the re-establishment of social support networks is a response to the recent Crash, that people are actively seeking way around "austerity and elite rule" to subvert and avoid it, because it is so damaging.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:53 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The best part will be when they boomers try to downsize to apartments in the city or retirement homes and sell their houses to the next generation all at the same time and that generation has no money at all. That will be fun!
posted by srboisvert at 10:57 AM on April 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


@srboisvert: I see green card for home purchase.
posted by No Robots at 11:05 AM on April 12, 2013


"Secondary suites" (basement apartments) are a big issue in my city right now. They're already all over the place, but not technically legal in much of the city. People who bought their homes 30 years ago are fighting to keep them illegal, citing traffic/parking concerns and the kind of neighbourhood they thought they were buying in to. But as i said, the suites are already there. They're everywhere. With high house prices, and apartment vacancy rates of around 1.3%, people are only going to build more of them.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:08 AM on April 12, 2013


Wow, that seems like the most discriminatory possible kind of law. Maybe it is just me, but if 3 unrelated adults want to live together, in what way is that any business of the state?

Mt. Lebanon, PA is pretty famous for doing whatever it takes to preserve their status of being the Pleasantville of Western Pennsylvania. The fact that it's geographically connected to the City of Pittsburgh but manages to still be 96% white is probably not accidental.
posted by octothorpe at 11:09 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live in exactly the sort of place they're describing, except slightly bigger scale. A run-down, oceanfront Victorian mansion is surprisingly affordable when you split the rent 14 ways.

I'm 26, with a decent job, a degree, and not all that much debt. Still, I don't ever really expect to own a house. Fuck, I barely expect for there to be a habitable planet by the time I'm old.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a bottle of housemate-homebrew with my name on it.
posted by sarastro at 11:18 AM on April 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Non-family group living compels people to work out rational arrangements for cleaning, cooking, and paying bills that can’t piggyback on old gendered or filiated divisions of labor.

hahahaha yeah you wish
posted by clavicle at 11:19 AM on April 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


In Montreal, much of the renting of people who are poor is under the table sublets---but to get offical help, you need to have a lease. The tension between the official and the unoffical is really pronounced. I think that mostly queer, poor, or recent immigrant communities have share housing, but if you are forced to do this, seeking help is incredibly difficult. i find it a tension not often written about.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:24 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It sounds very well in principle but in practice there's always that one housemate. You know the one I mean.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:30 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am not able to realte to, feel anything for, care much about a guy who uses terms like this--
" bourgeois matrimony " --to refer to what many of us have, or have parents who had this sort of marriage...Would the writer be more sympathetic if I noted I had a previous marriage or I lived with a woman for years but never married her?

And then of course there are those even in worse shape without this "bourgeois housing arrangement": the homeless
posted by Postroad at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vancouver went through this a while back, they were/are called 'hidden duplexes'.

Its five of us in a basement suite with rent and bills falling below $400 a month. As long as everyone or all but one person has somewhere to be for eight hours of the day, no one goes insane.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:44 AM on April 12, 2013


Yeah, it seems to me as though living with roommates has ALWAYS been a thing; I mean, we used to have rooming-houses, where you got literally one room and your landlady did your laundry and cooked your breakfast and dinner. We went through a brief period where it wasn't necessary, and maybe now that's over.

Sometimes I wish I (married, two kids) had a larger house than my 1650-square-foot rambler; there are some giant-ass McMansions in my area with upstairs playrooms and basement dens and main floor bonus rooms and all kinds of space. Then I remember that my grandmother raised four children in a house two-thirds the size of mine, and got a PhD in the process, and I feel goofy.
posted by KathrynT at 11:50 AM on April 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


jetlagaddict: "It's a big issue where I live, but mainly as a preventative measure for massive student housing. You can't have more than two or three students in an apartment; you can't rent a house to a large group of students; and depending where you are, you can't rent multiple apartments to students.

It's...it's a very divisive issue.
"

Keeping students living in student housing is also a convenient way to keep students off of the voter rolls, keep poor students out of residential neighborhoods, and in the case of public universities, to keep some of them paying out-of-state tuition.

Fuck the small towns that do this, and fuck the states that abide by it.
posted by schmod at 11:50 AM on April 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


heyforfour: "It strikes me that the 23-year-olds who don't move into 'their own' apartments "

There are 23-year-olds with their own apartments?

What are they doing? How can I be a part of this? Is it too late to catch up?
posted by schmod at 11:51 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, after her divorce, my MIL lived with her children in what she describes as a "commune," a farmhouse outside the college town where she was getting her degree, shared with 2 other women with children. She loved it, and only left when she got remarried. My husband remembers it as the most idyllic time of his life, and has remained close to the other commune kids to this day.
posted by KathrynT at 11:55 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had my own apartment at 23. It was in an area called "The Pharmacy." Guess why! It was tiny, dark, and strangely prone to pillbugs. It took over half my salary so I ate a lot of noodles.

It was still bigger than the place my husband and I stayed for our first 3 months in New York though.
posted by emjaybee at 11:56 AM on April 12, 2013


My reading of this is that the author sees it as something new and (almost capital-R) revolutionary as well as a horror visited upon the downtrodden of these tragic times. What of the American Dream, etc. etc.

It's been A Thing in Boston for quite some time (long enough to have a name for at least one specific arrangement) and goes on to this day. The bulk of my friends and larger social circles live in group housing, despite the fact that most of them could likely afford an apartment on their own. When I and my SO lived with several other people in one half of a rambling duplex out on the bus lines in Arlington, it was because we all liked each other and wanted to live in a group.

Is it really so strange that people would want to form communities or chosen families? If so, I guess I'll be marching in the army of the proletariat come the Revolution, but I'll still just be there because I like having a community around me.
posted by fader at 11:57 AM on April 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Keeping students living in student housing is also a convenient way to keep students off of the voter rolls

You can actually be on the voter rolls if you're in student housing, at least in this area, if you register this as your primary address. Many of the students this affects are either international or already state residents, so that's less of a problem, but this is speaking to a very small area not the broader issue. It is also a problem that large student houses have created other issues, but the neighborhood is adversely opposed to larger developments of on-campus housing as well...so it's definitely not going to improve. It also has driven out a lot of lower-cost affordable housing for non-students, thus leading to more of the issues in this article!
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:07 PM on April 12, 2013


There are 23-year-olds with their own apartments?

I had my own Chicago apartment at 21. It was tiny, noisy, no air conditioning, in a bad neighborhood, with just enough roaches to make me reluctant to enter the kitchen at night. I had a full time job and not enough money to fix the window in my car for months (luckily the car itself was purchased from my parents, who were kind enough to let me defer my payments until I got back in with a roommate.) I ate lots of rice.

It was the only time in my life that I ever lived alone, and it was for less than a year. It was within walking distance of the Red Line. Sometimes I still miss it.
posted by davejay at 12:22 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Its five of us in a basement suite with rent and bills falling below $400 a month.

Does that mean $2000/month for a basement suite or are some of you sharing beds?

Because wow, $2000/month for a basement suite. Is it an exceptionally nice walkout basement or something?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:25 PM on April 12, 2013


Oh, I know that it's illegal to prevent students from registering to vote while living in dorms. However, many municipalities make it extremely difficult for students to do so (and a few of them skirt the law entirely), and voter intimidation tactics are very common.

State courts generally frown upon this, but the issue is almost never a priority for them.
posted by schmod at 12:25 PM on April 12, 2013


Pruitt-Igoe: "Because wow, $2000/month for a basement suite. Is it an exceptionally nice walkout basement or something?"

In DC, $2000 would be a steal for a basement apartment that could comfortably house more than one person.
posted by schmod at 12:26 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because wow, $2000/month for a basement suite. Is it an exceptionally nice walkout basement or something?

Nah, it's just in real-estate-bubble ground zero. (Which is anywhere in Canada that's heavily populated right now.)
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2013


To me, "basement suite" in Vancouver, and most of Canada really, conjures the image of a dank low-ceiling basement under a 50s bungalow.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2013


To me, "basement apartment" in Vancouver, and most of Canada really, conjures the image of a dank low-ceiling basement under a 50s bungalow.

Apartment-hunting in Halifax a few years ago, I found a listing for a place convenient to where I worked, to a grocery store, and to some parklands. The price was good, but the listing mentioned it was a basement. That is not a deal killer, as when I was 23 (heh) I lived in a very nice basement place but I had certainly seen several grim basements since then (and lived in one for a month once). Still, it was good enough for me to call:
Me: "Hi, I'm calling about the listing for the apartment."

He: "Yeah, it is still available."

Me: "Great, can I come and have a look at it?"

He: "Okay. You know it is a basement, right?"

Me: "Yeah, that is fine."

He: "Quick question -- how tall are you?"

Me: "Six foot two."

He: "Okay, let me just say right now this is not the place for you, then."

Me: "Okay. Thanks for saving me a trip."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:44 PM on April 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


My housemate (flatmate, really, as we share an apartment -- we haven't come up with an Americanized term for that arrangement yet, have we? Apartmentmate is just ungainly) has a persistent lament about the fact that he's in his late 30s and still needs housemates. I lived alone for the better part of 8 years before moving to DC, and felt weird and apprehensive about sharing a home, but looking around, it's hardly a marker of lack of success to have housemates in our cohort -- it just means that rents are crazy, you have a low-to-middle income job, and lack outside financial support. On the one hand, I understand where he's coming from in thinking that this isn't how its "supposed" to be, but on the other, I can't help but think that he's willfully missing the normalization of having housemates at 30+.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2013


I think the article could use less connecting to gay equality rights. This phrase from the final paragraph, "the acid bath of homosexual libido" comes off as tasteless, which isn't at all about the equality rights with which the author starts the article. The whole thing seems to me to have included "gay rights" merely since it's a trending topic.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:28 PM on April 12, 2013


So, when I was getting ready to move in with my partner a couple years ago, one of my mom's objections was that I had never lived alone, and so was 'not ready to settle down.'

This is fascinating to me. My mom has never lived alone (went straight from living with her parents to getting married and buying a house with my dad) and my whole family thinks I'm a little nuts for living by myself.

I'm just now (at 27) rounding out my first full year of living in my own apartment. After years of living with roommates who were either completely fucking crazy or hoarders or both (or, rarely, pretty ok), I can safely say that I am a person who NEEDS to have her own place.

I live in a "dangerous" neighborhood so I can afford it. 2nd best decision I've made in my adult life. (1st best was getting a dog.)
posted by phunniemee at 2:45 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, yeah. I'd guess that half the people I know here in Seattle live in shared houses like the article describes. It's an economic thing, sure, but it's also just more fun. Not only do you have built in social interaction with the people who share the house, but you have more entertaining space, so you can have more friends over at a time. Enough big shared houses in the same neighborhood, and other people end up running into each other at each others' friends' houses all the time, and hey presto the social fabric keeps on knitting itself together.

It's also great when you want to have kids - I can think of half a dozen shared houses which were set up with that idea. Some people group up to share childcare, other couples just raise their kid in a shared house; either way the adults get some adult company and often the kids get a live-in playmate, and it's less work for the parents than it would be if they were stuck in a house all alone.

My wife and I are in the middle of buying a house and we specifically looked for one we can share. It'll help with the mortgage, but it's also just more fun - who wants to rattle around a big empty house by yourself? No, we'll get some friends to come join us, we'll share meals sometimes, we'll hang out with each other's other friends, and we'll all have a better life as a result.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:06 PM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, Mars Saxman, that's such a foreign perspective for me. Not the way my mind functions at all. For me, the whole point of having a house is to put more distance between me and the neighbors.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:26 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having done it, the key is that everyone gets their own bedroom and that that private space is sacrosanct. (A second kitchen is nearly as important.)
posted by fader at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2013


Sarah Harmer was singing about this years ago, I feel like every Canadian under 40 has probably spent time in shitty shared housing situations.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:01 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm in my late forties and have never lived alone. But then I never had the single young adult experience, went straight from college to marriage to single parenthood to second marriage.
posted by octothorpe at 4:43 PM on April 12, 2013


Hah, I don't want to name drop aka out them, but at least 2 out of San Francisco's current Board of Supervisors live in rental apartments with flatmates. I suspect in tight real estate markets like SF, a surprising number of local elected officials are renters with roommates. You can be a "grown up" with an ambitious career but the housing calculus still makes it more reasonable to share living quarters.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:45 PM on April 12, 2013


You can actually be on the voter rolls if you're in student housing, at least in this area, if you register this as your primary address.

How do you register something as your 'primary address', though? It's much easier to keep someone off the voter rolls if they, say, don't have a street address because you receive mail at "Smith Hall, Room 170" and the zip code covers the entire university. You also have no lease, no utility bills, none of the things you can use to prove your address to register to vote. (Never mind the potential problems of voter ID laws when your ID lists an address somewhere totally different, even if that doesn't matter under the law.) Where I am now, this isn't such a hurdle because the university furnishes a list of who lives in the dorm to the election judges in the precincts where the dorms vote, and we have same-day voter registration. My undergraduate institution did not do this and I have no idea what the norm is. (I think it was debatable whether I was entitled to public library card when I lived in the dorm as an undergrad. I got one because it happened that I lived in the only dorm on campus that had a street address, so I could pass F7-50C or whatever referenced my room off as a really unusual apartment number, when people who lived in dorms without street addresses had failed in getting a library card.)
posted by hoyland at 6:07 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the big advantages fo roommates is the ability to be away for extended periods and still have someone around to watch the place and bring in the mail. It's what I miss most about having a roommate now that I've got a nuclear family style household.
posted by Mitheral at 6:08 PM on April 12, 2013


unprecedentedly dense, poor, and precarious kinds of living arrangements.

Uhh, self-professed socialist, ever seen any photograph Jacob Riis ever took, or ever thought about tenements at all?
posted by liketitanic at 6:09 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Second thing I've read from that publication.

They're now 0-for-2.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:45 PM on April 12, 2013


To me, "basement suite" in Vancouver, and most of Canada really, conjures the image of a dank low-ceiling basement under a 50s bungalow.

shudder.

I remember looking at one basement suite in Victoria, to get to the bathroom you had to walk (bent over due to low ceiling) on plywood laid on a dirt floor. $550/month in 1994.

I'm sure they rented it, though.
posted by chapps at 10:02 PM on April 12, 2013


I was renting in Victoria about that time and ya, it was pretty horrible. Places I'd use to store vegetables were renting for $500 a month and you had to share a kitchen and or bathroom.
posted by Mitheral at 10:57 PM on April 12, 2013


This is a whole lot of words to say that people have roommates sometimes.

Actually it's a whole lot of words to say bourgeois people have roommates sometimes. (It's an 1100 word article. The word bourgeois is used three times.)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:30 PM on April 12, 2013


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