Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Housing As A Market Commodity Is Stupid

Yesterday, we took possession of our new apartment. We won't be living in there full-time for a bit yet, because our sublet hasn't finished and we have to take care of the cats. Still, it was exciting to see the place.

Our housing needs have not changed appreciably since our apartment in Hamilton: We need two (2) bedrooms, one to serve as my office and the other as a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, some living area, and one (1) roof over our heads.

In Hamilton, we got into our place just before the rents in that city really started to rise. Even with the gutting of rent control by the Harris Tories, and an avaricious landlord who raised it every nickel he could every year (and also left us without heat for 6 weeks last autumn), our rent was still reasonable for Hamilton. For the sake of argument, let's call that rent X.

Our new apartment is smaller than the one in Hamilton, but it is newer, nicer, has better amenities (pool, playground for kids, basic cable included), a definite community amongst the cluster of buildings in the complex, and a second bathroom (not that we need it). If you take the exchange rate into account, it costs about 85% more than our unit in Hamilton, or about 1.85X.

The complex happens to be owned by UCLA, and its units are for the use of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows with families. According to the woman who gave us our orientation to the place, the building across the road is pretty much the same as these buildings -- they look the same from the outside, and she said the interior layout is the same. There may be some differences in amenities, I don't know. The big difference, though, is that the ones across the road are privately owned, and therefore the rent is determined by market forces. The rent in those units is about two and a half times the rent in the UCLA-owned buildings, or almost five times the rent in our Hamilton apartment -- 4.75X to be precise.

I suppose most people would just shrug and say, "Thems the breaks," but it strikes me as ridiculous that something that is universally needed, essential for life, and functionally identical, more or less, in the three data points I've cited should vary so drastically in terms of people's ability to access it. More than ridiculous, it's gross.

An interesting sidelight: Obviously UCLA provides this cheap housing as part of its efforts to provide high quality of life to attract the best possible students and researchers. However, the functional social meaning of this location and rent and so on could be seen as, "You have obviously come from or are at least destined for privilege because you are pursuing higher education. We know you can't afford to live in this kind of place paying market rent, but you deserve to, so we'll take care of you until you can translate your educational privilege into financial privilege."

Well, that's one version. Here's another possible meaning: "The expense of living and studying puts barriers in the way of access to education and post-doctoral opportunities. We will provide affordable housing to help level the playing field a bit, to make it easier for students to live near the university, in high quality housing that is supportive to their goals of learning, and that does not require them to take time away from their studies to work."

I like the second version, but I suspect there are elements of both present. But high quality, affordable housing that is near to the university and requires only a single bus to get there is not exactly easy to find. We certainly would never have been able to live in the building across the road, but we would likely have paid an extra $200 or so for a place farther away and much lower in quality, so not taking this place was never a serious consideration. In addition, I am excited by the possibilities for community -- more than 1100 units in the complex, an active resients' association, community activities for parents with young children, and a great deal of diversity among the residents.

1 comment:

rabfish said...

Congratulations on the 1.85x apartment and on the potential for more community!