Monday, August 16, 2010

16 August 1956 “Housing then and now: The American Dream Home and a Typical Day in a 1950’s Town.”

50sfamilyhome Every so often my 1956 life gets thrust into 2010. There is no help for it, it just must be done. Recently, the past three days to be exact, I have had to have such a thing happen. Having to suddenly put our rental property back on the market and scramble to get a tenant by September first required it. Certainly, you might think, how has it really changed your 56 perspective and I can honestly say: Housing. My heart was breaking and I was also appalled by those multitudes who I showed through our shambles of a house.
The house was not left in a very good condition, though the tenants are still there through the end of the month. There was much unsolicited painting and random damages as well as a yard that, in one year, somehow looks as if it has been abandoned for 20!
Now, what has struck me the most by the people I have had to show my home to is that I was amazed by the number of multi-child families who are in desperate need of housing. These are families with children from teenager down to infant. Some even had children with special needs and they ALL had pets which were hard to find housing that accepted them. I am a softy, perhaps some would call me foolish, as I always take pets. I have dogs and appreciated my own landlords leniency in that regard when we lived in Boston, so I always figure, “Pass it on”. Pass the good luck forward for others. It, of course, usually gets me in the end. This last time in that their latest tenants dogs swam in my ornamental koi pond, shredded the liner and it is now devoid of water and all my many koi, frogs, tadpoles, frogs. It had evolved into its own ecosystem over the past few years and the Koi happily breed and ate from hands. But, I digress…
This left me wanting to look again at housing costs to median income in the 1950’s to today. For those of you not living in the US who may read my blog, our economy recently went through what we have ‘cutely’ referred to as the ‘Real Estate bubble’ which, though named after the circular shape it creates when mapped on a bar graph, makes it sound like a darling Japanese cartoon character. It is not darling and does not excite like bubbles on The Lawrence Welk Show.lawrencewelkalbum
Here are some basic numbers:
in the late 1950’s ( where I currently reside)
Median household income:        $5,620
Median home price:                       $11,900
Home price / income = 211 percent
(if this were adjusted for inflation to today’s money it would be $39,340 and $83,300)
In 2008 (the numbers are lower today but this is the most recent data for this article I found)
Median Household income:       $52,029
Median U.S. home price:             $172,600
Now anyone can see just by looking at the numbers the difference. And, in my area, the median price today is much higher than 172,00. You will be hard pressed to find a home, even in foreclosure, on Cape Cod under 200,000. And I know the median income here is lower than 52,000 as much of the income base here is retail or entry level healthcare which pays our minimum wage of 8.25 so for our area today it would look more like this
Median Household Income: $25,840
Median Cape Cod Home Price $ 210,000
I am sure it is different per state, but the average situation, even with prices falling sine the real estate bubble burst, is still much higher than in the 1950’s and that makes many of us ‘house poor’.
Now, add to this the other aspect I encountered in families that looked at my house.One of the families to whom I was showing the house had this scenario( of which I saw various versions over the last three days):  She works full time as a nurse. Her husband, who seemed fine and was walking about pulling on doorframes and telling me how he can build and lift etc, is on social security disability for sleep apnea. Their 30 year old son is also on social security, for what I don’t know, but she told me she has to make sure he gets 10 hours sleep a night! This son recently got his girlfriend with child. To which she said to me, “Now that we know it is his child she is moving in with us” and she, too, will receive government money. They drove to my house in a brand new shiny SUV. So, this family gets money both from the woman’s full time job, her son and husbands and now live in girlfriend and new baby government assistance as well as receiving 100% rental coverage through section 8 ( a government assistance program that pays your rent for you.) This is a hard pill for me to swallow when I am scrambling to get a tenant to pay only the cost of my mortgage ( I make not one cent from my rental) so I don’t have to take money out of our savings to keep paying the mortgage for the house and therefore depleting our recent ‘new roof savings’ for the home we currently live in. We have kept this home going with no income from it as we considered it part of our retirement. Because we, as many did, fell into the lie a few years back that homes are always investments and not just a place to live. The idea being it would have greater value as the years went on. However, since we bought it, the house went up in value almost 100,000 (which we should have sold then) and now is back to almost what we paid for it.
We work very had and pay our taxes and scrimp and save and yet we get no actual outcome from our taxes, except the roads and garbage pick up. We have no children and would not send them to public funded school if we did have them. This might just sound as if I am simply bitter or jealous of their set up. In fact, I am sad for their set up. This systems in place seem to be there to take government collected money (mainly from the middle class) and allow the recipients enough ease to then go and put that money into the private sector such as Wal-Mart and the Mall.
So, what I get from all this is our country believes in ‘socialism’ when it is rewarding socially negative behavior or to keep the ‘very old’ in privately run nursing homes through Medicare, but for the hardworking middle class citizen, we are left to not only fend for ourselves with healthcare and education, but to also foot the bill for those who have children without thought, manage to drive expensive SUV’s while ‘we’ pay for their section 8 housing. It seems increasingly, as the middle class grew from the 1950’s, that we are the new work force for the country as corporation.
 detroitmural When I think of the 1930’s paintings often done representing the working class as being tread upon by the factories, I have to envision a new image (as we have almost no production in this country any more) with the middle class being tread upon by the corporate run government and the government subsidized social security classes. Yet, where is this pictured today? The plight of the poor seems to leave out the hard working law abiding tax paying middle class. Even our artists care little about the plight of the common man and more about their own identity as art moves towards more and more installation work often obscure and not easily understood by the general public.
Even banks now are not lending with their own money and if they did the housing cost would reduce pertinent to that. Here is a quote from an article I read:
“Home prices have gotten more expensive because the crony banking system is hungry for more and more profits.  If banks had to lend their own money, home prices would automatically adjust lower.  Is that necessarily bad?  This would provide more mobility and less of a focus on homes as commodities and more as a place of shelter.  Take for example the current bust.  Say someone in struggling Detroit finds a job in New York but can’t sell his home.  Say that new job utilizes their skills more effectively.  How is their inability to move helping the overall prosperity of our economy?  It isn’t.  Yet this is the position millions now find themselves in.”
Again and again I find that to live a truly Vintage life, that is to say to look to the past for the good as well as the fun and beauty of it, we must be aware of the social and financial changes that have taken place. To be aware of what we once had and what we could now enjoy for the benefit of all, is so much more important and much MORE vintage to think about others as well as if we can ‘go buy more stuff’.
What is the solution, then? I haven’t a clue. This one really stumps me. I feel increasingly in charge of my life as I begin to take on the role and skills of a 1950’s homemaker and I grow my own food, sew my own clothes, manage money better and buy what is needed and enjoy what I have rather than need more. Yet, here I am in a situation and a country that seems to gladly trade our old dreams and values of even 50 years ago for a fast buck. And what worries me most of that is that most of the people this negatively affects are too easily swayed by media talking points of one being a Republican or Democrat or Socialist or a Capitalist. We need to stand up and be the smart party. The party that sees things for what they are, call a duck a duck. Policy and spending should be viewed on an idividual basis not to cater to a party platform. If things are not working, they need to be fixed. Ah, if only there were  a Vintage Party, I’d join up. Yet, I find no affinity with either of our two political parties as it has just become a sort of scary machine.
I do hate to get too political, but in some aspects this post is about getting LESS political. About forgetting those terms Socialism, Capitalism etc, we need to worry about the future our children will inherit. I feel a sadness and remorse for a country I would have been proud of in 1956 and hate to see where we have come. I am not anti-American but perhaps, “Early American” in that I believe in our people and our personal rights for the good of our people and not the pursuit of the mighty dollar. The American Dream of small business ownership is gone, it seems. The dream of a happy simple life of choice has been replaced by the bloated final days of Rome where we have become so placated and easily led, we simply wait, like lambs for the slaughter. Perhaps I am being overly dramatic, but I do honestly fell sadness and frustration. This only cements my need to withdraw to 1950’s more and more. I only wish I could take some of you with me and we could claim some small bit of some state for our own independent world. The Vintage World, where common sense and the betterment of people and life comes before the dollar. A gal can dream, can’t she?
So, back to my initial point. It seems it is very hard for many families to own homes as their income to housing cost ratio far exceeds what is good for home ownership. Even those who struggle to hold onto their homes are still very ‘house poor’. It is a sad state indeed. And all this from three days of showing my sad little rental property. Lessons, it seems, are always lurking around every corner.
And many banks would have us believe that today if we had such a low income to house price ratio it would be bad for the economy. This, of course, is also nonsense, as all you have to do is look back to the 1950’s! In the 1950’s when this was the case the BEST GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth! This article HERE is very good at explaining it more than I could.
Now, I don’t want to end a post on a negative or sad note. So, here is a video I once showed in 1955. It is a typical day in a 1950’s town. A town I would like to see return to our country. One in which things are made and sold and done locally. No Wal-mart or mall. Milk at the door, safe streets full of happy healthy children, affordable housing but clothing and food expensive enough to make sure we don’t overbuy nor lose our own abilities to make these ourselves. Could this ever be again?
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