housing

Jump Back, Baby, Jump Back

The populace has been consistently told that owning a home is an investment, which would be an acceptable premise except that the same populace is expected to live in a dwelling of some sort. In theory, people live in a certain part of the country and if they stay there long enough, they become part of the fabric of the the community and invest resources to keep the area thriving. Gathered people therefore form a community, and the homes — of whatever make, including single-family and multifamily — were the bones of a community. However, what happens when homes are seen as investments rather than the bones of a community?
Three things happen. First, the cost of homes goes up because of the artificially increased demand for a location. Some areas are inherently desirable based on the proximity to natural resources, but many areas became desirable over many decades. Those cultivated locations attract the attention of buyers who seek to be involved with such a neighborhood and imprint themselves on the area for the duration. When people just want a house as an investment to diversify their finances, they keep lifelong residents out due to cost, and fill a neighborhood with a transient population.
Secondly, the coherence of a neighborhood begins to dissipate when people are only there because of marketing tactics. Communities like Harlem in New York and the Mission District in San Francisco have rich histories which attract a variety of demographics, and have no need to advertise. When people who are only interested in the branding arrive, historic buildings are demolished to make room for potential investors and the characteristics which attracted people without marketing begin to fade. If all the clothing factories disappeared from the Mission District and the Apollo Theatre disappeared from Harlem, what might define those areas as unique? Nothing, which is why residents are forced to fight harder when “investors” take interest in their neighborhood.
Finally, the political power of the residents decreases because of lack of community strength in an area. When constituents love and respect their areas and neighbors, they fight to sustain the community and encourage investment in the community as is, improving the infrastructure and adding resources in the form of small businesses. If a house is owned by an absentee landlord, that is another homeowner who fails to appear at city council when there is a vote on a bond, one less person to engage when representatives debate for the chance at office. As a house becomes more valuable due to inflated costs, there is no real challenge to the appraisals because all the local government sees is an increase in homeownership in the area.
When people are part of a neighborhood’s tapestry, they determine the durability of that woven fabric, whether it will last for decades or whether one catastrophic event will destroy it. Areas are formed for many reasons and stay alive for many reasons, and it is people who keep an area alive. Investment purely for the sake of investment dilutes the value of community building, and destroys the characteristics which keep municipalities distinct from one another.
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