Wednesday, September 21, 2016


We took the kids to Old World Wisconsin from time to time. It turns out that it is possible to fit a family in a room not much bigger than one of the kid's bedrooms.

I remember a little about some of the places we lived in before moving to Africa, and I remember visiting some relative's houses now and then. As a general rule, they weren't very big. But now: "Likewise, the median-size home has increased in size by almost 1,000 square feet, from 1,525 square feet in 1973 to 2,506 last year." (Our duplex seems to be less than 800 square feet--military housing from the 60's. We succeeded in making the basement legally habitable, though, so maybe our house is growing too.)

It makes housing a little pricey.

This story is strongly black-and-white--probably the regulators have something to say on their behalf--but it makes fascinating reading. Plausible-sounding rules have far-reaching consequences, and some groups seem hostile to the entire idea of small housing.

Revised micro-housing legislation proposes more expansive changes, including prohibiting congregate housing development in places zoned for neighborhood commercial centers and for low-rise multi-family buildings, such as small apartment buildings and duplexes. Such zones are exactly the parts of the city where most micro-housing was previously built and where it makes economic sense.

The linked article is about micro-housing--apartments, basically. When we moved to Illinois, we couldn't afford a 3-bedroom apartment, and were lucky that the third child wasn't yet born, because rules prohibited renting a 2-bedroom to 5 people.

Zoning rules push for more space between a new house and the street (old houses were grandfathered in), wider sidewalks, wider driveways--more land and more expensive. (The lots our duplexes were built on are now almost too small to lawfully build a house on!) Which presumably helps make apartments more expensive too, though there are some fixed expenses to recoup. In the middle, and especially the lower middle, housing eats up a huge chunk of the income, and leaves a lot of us "one paycheck away from disaster." (Ill health has driven several people out of homes in this neighborhood.) Or a fire, or a tree landing on the roof, or something else that has you paying for both the original house and for a place to live...

At the low income end once you drop below trailer court prices there doesn't seem to be anything left except public assistance.

True, some people don't do themselves any favors (the feckless, the slovenly, and the jerks), but there should be some sink-or-swim ways for them to fend for themselves. There's no place to build-your-own in the city (maybe in Detroit). There are tiny houses. (I'm not sure wood is a good choice for building rental tiny-houses--too easily damaged.) Policing is an issue in collections of small housing--the predatory have to be driven out, and if they're homeless as a result that's sad, but not unendurably so. (Those with serious mental illness are another matter--if it is severe enough there's not much we can do short of locking them in, and for others we can think of halfway homes.)

There's a lady who lives on a corner of the Capitol Square. Over the years she has accumulated a fair pile of blankets and whatnot. She's peaceful and clean and seems to get out of the way without hassle when there's an event on the Square, so I guess people just let her stay. On campus, groundsmen accidentally found a tunnel where someone had been living for at least a couple of years. They never showed up again, so nobody knows if this was a squatter or a student trying to save on housing costs.

This year's "Go Big Read" at UW Madison is Evicted. I gather it focuses on the landlords, if the NYT review is any guide. There may be other players involved.

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