National Links: 45,000 Half Empty Buildings

Every day at The Overhead Wire we collect news about cities and send the links to our email list. At the end of the week we take some of the most popular stories and post them to Greater Greater Washington, a group blog similar to streets.mn that focuses on urban issues in the D.C. region. They are national links, sometimes entertaining and sometimes absurd, but hopefully useful.

The plan to run freeways through Santa Cruz CA: Most agree that turning this lively city that runs primarily on tourism into a freeway would be terrible for the economy. The history of Santa Cruz has been a long and turbulent one as the city has gone through a Christmas flood that allowed San Jose to dig its claws into the city, a failed annexation that was essentially gentrification, and a freeway rebellion; yet, through it all they have kept their character. (Ross Eric Gibson | Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Miseducation of an urban planner: James Rojas spent the better part of his career as an urban planner re-learning what he had forgotten from his childhood and lived experiences. Due to this, he proposes that while the education of urban planners is extremely organized and rationalized, what is needed is a better understanding of personal experiences the culture of communities. This will allow us to confront all inequities and design better spaces for all race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, ethnicity and more. (James Rojas | Common Edge)

The stories of people fleeing the city are false: While the narrative persists that city-dwellers are preferring to move to suburbs rather than stay in dense cities in this time of a pandemic and contagion risk, there is minimal evidence to support this theory. While there are people who have left, there isn’t a large scale movement to the suburbs like the narrative suggests. (Jeff Andrews | Curbed)

What do do with 45,000 half-empty buildings: The US government owns an estimated 45,000 underutilized buildings and research suggests it is highly possible they could use these vacant spaces for affordable housing. There is a national affordable housing crisis that the public sector could bridge by following several steps with a multidisciplinary team to analyze requirements, identify properties and their values, and develop a transition strategy. (Sheila Botting | Harvard Business Review)

Asheville forms reparations commission to support the creation of Black wealth: The Asheville City Council apologized for its role in slavery and in an unanimous decision approved reparations to Black residents. While this will not bring direct payments, it will instead pave the way for investments in Black neighborhoods which are underfunded and devalued due to past racism. The wide disparities between neighborhoods have held back the city and this decision will help it move forward. (Joel Burgess | Ashevill Citzen Times)

Vanya Srivastava contributed to these summaries.

Quote of the Week

“Even though the president has said that he wants to make this process more efficient and effective, it’s going to make it even worse, because it’s going to create more litigation and uncertainty. The controversy and the confusion around these projects is going to increase, rather than decrease.”

Sharon Buccino of NRDC in Bloomberg discussing the Administration’s rollback of environmental regulations for the construction of infrastructure.

This week on the podcast, Miami Dade County Chief Resilience Officer Jim Murley joins the show.

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8 Responses to National Links: 45,000 Half Empty Buildings

  1. Elizabeth Larey July 21, 2020 at 12:23 pm #

    The story from Jeff Andrews, stating the story about people fleeing the city are false, is itself false. Here’s the real story Jeff. My sister lives in Greenwich CT. A very expensive place to live. She had listed their large house every year for the last 10 years, only to be told the millennials have no interest in the Connecticut mansion and training into the city. This year they listed it again 3 weeks ago and had 40 showings in 2 days. They had multiple offers with a bidding war, and sold it for 56K above the asking price. Her realtor ( and the ones who brought clients ) ALL said the same thing, people want out of the city. For a a lot of different reasons, the top being density, taxes, transportation issues. 38 of the showings were residents of NY.
    Here’s my experience in the Twin Cities. After all the riots ( nothing to do with Covid) I decided I’ve had it living here. I live in a northern suburb of St Paul. Since May 25th, I’ve had my new Mercedes keyed, then a hit and run ( or smashed with a something large ) 2 weeks later. I called a realtor friend who told me the good news is my house is worth 30K more than before the burning and looting and nonstop protests started.
    She confirmed it’s the best sellers market she has ever seen. The buyers are people wanting to get out of St Paul and Minneapolis, top reason is the looting and burning, and continued shootings all over both cities. In the 3 surrounding suburbs there are only 40 listings, average house has multiple offers within days. So feel free to quote zillow reports all you want to. Or, pick up the phone and call 10 realtors in the Twin Cities suburbs, as well as Greenwich, Stamford, and Hartford. They will present a completely different narrative than what you are “reporting”.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 21, 2020 at 3:16 pm #

      I have talked to lots of realtors, and I hear differently. Here’s an article about how what you’re saying is factually wrong. http://cityobservatory.org/the-exodus-that-never-happened/

      Good quote sums it up:

      “As revealed by apartment search activity, interest in cities actually increased in the second quarter compared to the first, relative to other locations, including suburbs, other less dense cities, and rural areas.”

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller July 21, 2020 at 4:32 pm #

        Anecdotes that aren’t data: right now, I’m watching workers remove a neighbors front steps to replace them. Just one of many home improvement projects that have been going on all around the neighborhood.

        Haven’t noticed a rash homes for sale, but definitely have noticed a rash of people investing in theirs.

        Maybe they’re all fixing things up to sell, but I doubt it.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke July 22, 2020 at 11:20 am #

          A realtor friend working in Saint Paul and Minneapolis just told me this:

          “Inventory is LOW. I have been in multiples 5 times in the past 2 weeks. Highest was 21 offers, lowest was 8.”

          • Pete Barrett July 22, 2020 at 7:46 pm #

            When I’m on sites such as Nextdoor, there are the occasional posts about he city going to hell in a hand basket, crime, etc. There are universally posts about how everyone is selling & leaving. I will reply along the lines of, “Well you’ll get a good price, St. Paul is at it’s all time high population.”

            • NotonFacbookAnymore July 23, 2020 at 9:49 am #

              Yep Nextdoor is like any other social media platform. Sensationalized and largely populated by people who have nothing better to do than spread their negative bias. If they can’t be happy no one should be.

              I’m the age that I got to experience the brief time when facebook was fun. It was back when I was in college and only college students could get accounts. We were just kids having fun… Now its the home of false news, radicalization, casual racism, sensationalized political adds, and the occasional picture of someones new puppy….

            • Monte Castleman July 23, 2020 at 10:41 am #

              It’s almost like there could be simultaneously people trying to escape the crime and crowding of the city with people bored of the suburbs and small towns and wanting to live in a more lively, happening place.

              And this isn’t anything new. In the late 1960s My parents got bored with living in small towns and had a small apartment off Johnson Street near where the Quarry is now. Then they decided they wanted to start a family and have a yard and private bedrooms for the kids and what actually prompted them to move was having their motorcycle stolen.

              We’re just at the moment seeing more people that want to move in than move out, this shifts back and forth over time.

              • Eric Sutterlin July 29, 2020 at 9:27 pm #

                Offhand, I’d imagine these two phenomena are not mutually exclusive and are probably happening at the same time. People having recently decided to move out of the city to the suburbs or country, and people having recently decided to move from the suburbs or country to the city. I’m too ignorant to know which of these two trends involves a greater number of people. If we know that, then we’ll know whether the combined effect will have a positive or negative effect on the city and then the suburbs.

                The big thing that disappoints me is in our ever-increasing housing crisis, no one is building legitimately low-cost (but sustainable-quality) housing in any location. The rents I recall hearing called “affordable” definitely did not sound affordable. There’s a lot of talk but my impression is there’s far too much bureaucratic red tape blocking the way of building a large number of what we need – small, basic but functional housing units – that it probably won’t happen for at least a few more years.

                When it does happen, expect equity in oversize houses to go down drastically. We definitely have an oversupply of higher-end houses. In today’s economy, I suspect significantly more people living in the metro want to downsize to reduce cost of living than want to upsize for a bigger place.

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