Big cities from coast to coast are facing the same dynamic, to varying degrees: affluent Americans are leaving the suburbs and moving back to urban areas. There is not enough housing in urban areas to meet demand. Therefore real estate prices rapidly skyrocket out of affordable range. Therefore even upper middle class people, who traditionally would have bought homes or apartments, are forced to rent. This profusion of wealthier people renting drives up rents for everyone. And you get the situation that we have today: buying is too expensive for anyone but rich people, renting is too expensive for middle class people, and since regulation and financial obstacles prevent the construction of enough housing to meet demand, developers choose to build only for the top of the market, which makes “affordable housing” a distant dream.
Until we somehow construct an absolutely staggering number of affordable housing units in popular cities, this situation will persist. What to do? Do you just give up on ever owning shit, condemned by macroeconomic forces to continue paying ever higher rents for the same shitty apartments? Well, yes, many people will do just that. But there’s something else you can do in the meantime: communes!
Can’t buy a house for yourself? Why not buy a house together with your friends? You get upstairs, I get downstairs. You get the back yard, I get the house. Whatever happens to work. Communes tend to connote a more rural experience—a few dozen spiritualists on drugs living off the land, poorly. What we need now are more urban communes. Sure, New York City is already rife with co-op apartment buildings, which could be considered a weak shadow of communes. But co-ops are even less affordable than the rest of the apartments you can’t afford! That defeats the point. I’m talking about you and a small group of your financially solvent friends of moderate means banding together to purchase an urban property—a brownstone, a row house, a rambling Victorian that’s been falling apart for years. And you all live in it! Even if it’s not in good shape, it’s a lot easier to buy a partial share of a decrepit old house and fix it up with a group of co-owning helpers than it is to buy a whole house and fix it up by yourself. Hell, you can even do this with apartments, provided they’re big enough. Instead of renting a room in a three bedroom apartment, buy a room in a three bedroom apartment. At least you can get some equity along with a deep, abiding hatred of your roommates.
Zoning issues? Change the zoning. Trouble getting a mortgage? Get those hippie financiers from Occupy to stop trying to buy student debt and start Occupying banking. The biggest barrier to widespread urban communal ownership is really just the will to do it. You don’t like the idea of living in a communal house owned equally by several different people? Stop being so selfish! The more upper middle class people we can drive into the ownership class, the less competition there will be on rents for lower middle class people. Plus, if you start your urban commune in an appropriately “up and coming” neighborhood while it’s still cheap, you might be able to sell the place in a decade for enough money to allow all of you to go out and buy your own apartments.
Communes: they’re not just a housing solution. They’re a state of mind.
(I personally would hate living in a commune with any of you but I encourage you to try it.)