Re: Decrepit Houses

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the city would demolish houses that had become eyesores and give the property to the neighbor, who then had to keep it up.


Was that Pittsburgh?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 5:39 AM
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Anyway, my strong suspicion is that 95% of the houses sold for $1 are overpriced.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 5:44 AM
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Excepting cases when sale price of $1 is used for transferring properties among family members.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 5:49 AM
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There was also a giant story (in the Times magazine?) about Cleveland and its struggle with abandoned houses.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 5:50 AM
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Man those problems seem so fascinatingly alien to me.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 5:50 AM
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"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto."


Posted by: Opinionated Publius Terentius Afer | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 5:57 AM
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Everything I read about real estate lately makes me want to run screaming into the sea.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 6:20 AM
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Oh, wow, I'm glad this didn't come out when Lee and I were looking into moving to Buffalo because I think rehabbing a dollar house would have us running screaming into the lake but it's also very appealing.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 6:56 AM
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I understand the impulse to save the old house, but most old, abandoned houses aren't Victorian structures with good bones or of charming Arts & Crafts design. If somebody is willing to give you a house for a dollar on the condition that you repair it, they should make you sign a piece of paper saying, "I, the undersigned, take on this house in full awareness that the real estate market and common sense dictate it should be torn down and replaced with something that doesn't suck."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:02 AM
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They should put them on trucks and take them to North Dakota instead.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:04 AM
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9: Yeah, that was one of the main points of this Cleveland article I am half remembering. The houses were just too damn small -- not charming bungalow small, but impossibly-narrow tenement small.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:10 AM
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Why do they force you to repair it? I can understand making you live there but why can't you replace it with a better structure (subject to zoning codes, etc)? Especially if older ones probably have lead paint or pipes or lead painted pipes. This impulse to preserve crap by refusing to admit what's cramp, I do not understand it.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:15 AM
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-m. Fucking autocorrect.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:16 AM
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Is it essentially a bait and switch to get the back taxes paid? You give them the dollar and the back taxes, then find out the rehab costs are way more than the thing can ever be worth (and way more than you can afford), but at least the city go their money.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:20 AM
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It doesn't say you have to restore them, just bring them up to code. In almost all cases if the city is selling it for $1 then tearing down and building new construction isn't economic either.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:24 AM
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Why do they force you to repair it?

As I understand it, they don't. If you acquire the house under the Urban Homestead programme you do, but "sale takes precedence over a homestead". So you can buy it and knock it down (with planning permission, presumably).


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:26 AM
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In most cases, if it is selling for $1, it should be torn down without new construction.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:27 AM
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15 to 9, 11, 12. In these cases the real choice is between the city trying to find someone who might possibly do something with the property and just bulldozing everything and creating huge tracts of vacant lots. If there were folks interested in tearing things down and putting in Tuscan style mini mansions you wouldn't have this program.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:28 AM
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16: My guess is that a sale requires you to pay back taxes.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:28 AM
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Unlike your homeland, Moby, I don't think Buffalo is going to pay you not to grow wheat on one of these lots.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:29 AM
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(20 to 17)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:30 AM
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18: In Pittsburgh, if you can get a great big tract of vacant land, you can find someone who wants to put in a development. The probably is that nobody wants to buy in a neighborhood that is 50% vacant land and 50% poor people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:31 AM
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20: Not to grown corn. There was basically zero wheat farming back home.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:32 AM
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17 -- maybe, but creating giant vacant lots also causes huge problems for a city. You pretty much then just have to do what Detroit did and just stop providing city services to whole areas. It's kind of a no-win situation but trying to lure in suckers to not abandon the city with a dollar home doesn't seem like a crazy idea for a city.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:32 AM
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22: - probably, + problem.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:32 AM
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Everything I read about real estate lately makes me want to run screaming into the sea

I've had this feeling since, what, 2002?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:36 AM
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24: Detroit is much more spread out than Pittsburgh. There are a few places that look really vacant because of empty lots, but most of the houses were built so close together than pulling down half of the houses looks like normal density.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:37 AM
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But but but isn't Buffalo a real city with a good University and stuff? Like people might actually want to live there?


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:48 AM
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Buffalo, like Pittsburgh, has about half of its peak population.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:50 AM
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In most cases, if it is selling for $1, it should be torn down without new construction.

Over here their selling perfectly sound late 19th century row houses for £1 to try to reverse depopulation in cities like Liverpool and Stoke. The only rule is that you have to live in them for a few years. Might not that be the case where they're doing it in America?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 7:58 AM
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It's certainly what they are doing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:04 AM
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Since selling a house for a pound is 50% higher than selling it for a dollar, I assume this is further evidence of the overheated British real estate market.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:11 AM
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Everything I read about real estate lately makes me want to run screaming into the sea.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:11 AM
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31. So what's your objection? I thought you were arguing that they were selling uninhabitable wrecks.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:15 AM
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I think it is likely to be a bad investment for the people who take the houses, sound or not.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:17 AM
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I understand the impulse to save the old house, but most old, abandoned houses aren't Victorian structures with good bones or of charming Arts & Crafts design.

suggested that you didn't think they were of sound construction.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:21 AM
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True. But I assume they are sound in the sense of not being about to fall over and being more or less capable of keeping out the weather.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:23 AM
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I think it is likely to be a bad investment for the people who take the houses, sound or not.

Depends on whether the purchaser thinks they're going to make a profit on it. Suppose you've been renting all your life and you've just retired, which means your income has taken a big hit. But for $1 you get freehold on a sound house which will last you out. In 20 years it may not even be worth that, but you'll be dead, so what do you care?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:26 AM
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That doesn't seem like a common local scenario. People retire and move somewhere warm and with houses that don't require so much effort to care for. I've always assumed the effort is to get the houses into the hands of young people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:34 AM
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If you look at the house on Masten Ave., you'll see a Flickr set of photos. From those, I don't see making the house liveable for less than $50,000 even if you are doing the work yourself. Looking at the address on Zillow, it doesn't look like many of nearby houses are worth $50, 000.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:51 AM
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People with the money to do it retire and move somewhere warm and with houses that don't require so much effort to care for.

FTFY


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:52 AM
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41: I dunno, sorta. America has a weird abundance of places that are warm and very cheap but don't have much in the way of jobs.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:58 AM
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Even if the cat food commission does its worst, the number of people from outside the area who retire to Buffalo is still going to be vanishingly small.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:58 AM
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Important to factor in the cost of rent that is not being paid. Breaking even on buying and selling a place means living for free. In practical terms, if there are decent roommates and nice places to live, renting works out. But that's often not true, even in places with a fair amount of housing stock.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 8:58 AM
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Breaking even on buying and selling a place means living for free.

Not so -- rent includes a whole bunch of maintenance that homeowners pay for, as well as property taxes. Breaking even means living for pretty cheap, depending, but not nearly free.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:05 AM
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I've known people to pull off amazing repair/renovation jobs with sweat instead of money or experience. I hope everyone who buys one of these has it checked for the structural problems no-one can fix, but we have an excess of labor and a seized-up capital and job market, and the city infrastructure and houses themselves are sunk costs, so.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:07 AM
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There's a whole lot of space between what Moby is calling sound, and what most people would consider livable. If the house is livable, there's a buyer for more than $1; for use as a rental property, if nothing else.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:10 AM
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It might be a good deal for the right person, but it is good to remember the whole idea of a "sunk cost fallacy."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:10 AM
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48 to various.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:11 AM
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Fine, pretty cheap rather than 0. My main point is that living space is more than a financial transaction-- paying nothing and doing nothing is not really possible. The alternative for someone with little money to owning a rundown place is usually paying out of pocket to rent one.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:12 AM
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Right thread: Do middle-class homeowners ever form group purchasing organizations to centralize and rationalize the use of contractors? I could imagine living in a house if I had an expert to hand all that off to. But maybe that's a boutique service only for the well-heeled.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:16 AM
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I don't think anywhere would be livable for more than a generation* if everyone got back their economic investment and also got to live somewhere nice. We have to put something in to get something out. (I am okay with regarding housing as an economic wash and aiming to have an aesthetic efficient friendly place to live, personally.)

*Maybe two or three, in California, but the place was starting from Paradise. Plus the investments of the Clark Kerr era.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:16 AM
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Minivet: I belong to something like that in Seattle, a company that handles vetting and escrow and some dispute mediation. It isn't really a bulk buying service, but it has a little of the effect.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:17 AM
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51. Condo associations basically work this way-- there are some repairs that the association decides about and pays for, others are the business of an individual, but there's a built-in recommendation pool.

In practice this usually does not work smoothly, as people want different outcomes and different levels of outlay, and will bicker endlessly about the details.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:19 AM
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I've just seen broke family members get burned by buying cheap houses -- there's a temptation to look at the mortgage up against the alternative rent, and count owning as cheaper if you forget about paying for heat, and suddenly needing to fix a hole in the roof, and the property taxes, and so on. But that's admittedly buying for cheap rather than for free.

(There's also an element where most places it's hard to buy as cheap a place as you could rent -- any house is going to be bigger than a minimal apartment. So, an apples to apples comparison of buying or renting the same level of domicile might make it cheaper to buy, but renting might allow a smaller, cheaper, but still sufficient place to live.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:20 AM
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I don't think anywhere would be livable for more than a generation* if everyone got back their economic investment and also got to live somewhere nice.

When I see a house listing for a dollar for sale by a city, what I assume happened is some landlord ran the numbers and decided the most profit was to be obtained by doing no repairs, renting the place until no tenant would live there, not paying taxes, and then dumping whatever is left on the city.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:22 AM
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53: But that's more about house purchase rather than maintenance, right?

54.1: That's why I'm more interested in condos. (That and not feeling the need for an earth moat.)


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:23 AM
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54.2: Like rural road associations.

The old housing stock in a lot of places was tiny -- the narrow rowhouses scorned above, the smallest Levittown model, two-room cabins out by my mother -- it worked once to bootstrap home ownership. The modern equivalent seems to be starting with an apartment over the two-car garage, which is not the same thing. (Though I have known people move into that and cancel plans to build the big house.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:24 AM
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52. ??? Basically worldwide the countryside is draining into the cities. Population density is changing a lot from generation to generation. This flow of people creates gradients. Lots of cities have been economically stable for many generations.

Japan, Ukraine, or Detroit are outliers to think about.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:25 AM
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56: Comity? I mean, what do you think the city in question should now do?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:26 AM
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This is reminding me of that book on slums. The author was arguing that the way to get poor people into houses was to let them build it slowly, paying cash for one solid wall at a time.

I'm not sure what the implications of that comparison should be.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:27 AM
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Lots of cities have been economically stable for many generations.

An economically stable city is a city where people keep repairing and replacing the housing stock. It takes a great deal of money to maintain a house.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:27 AM
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The house we bought last fall is a rowhouse and one of the houses that shares a wall with us has been abandoned for years. If we could buy it for $1 we would in a heartbeat. Yes, it's definitely worth it, even considering that you'd have to tear the place down and start over. It's walking distance from the metro, there are new condos being built a block away, and T. and I are just one of three or four yuppie couples who have moved to the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, even if DC used a program like Buffalo's, this place probably wouldn't be included in it. I gather that the main problem is a legal battle between the previous heir(s) of the previous owner(s) and the city.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:29 AM
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60: I think the city should try to find ambitious young people because if enough of them come, the plan will work. I just don't think that those of us who aren't employed by the city shouldn't feel free to issue some caution.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:29 AM
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lw: Well, with increasing populatios, owners make a profit but investment has to be made in infrastructure. Enormous investment, often. With decreasing population, the reverse. One or the other.

The stable cities in the US have their several civic cultures, in which some people do things they won't get direct profit or use out of. Is this not so elsewhere?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:30 AM
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I have a hundred-year-old wood house in a wet climate. I know they take investment. Clearly I want the local norm to be for people to do this, so we all get a nice city.

64: Comity! In fact, if I were the city, I'd hire a couple of inspectors so that the houses up for the program were the ones most likely to be rescuable by sweat equity. Everything to the studs, I think willing amateurs can do: plumbing and electric most of us should budget for: foundations, criminy no, if they're worse than piers that need replacing bring out the bulldozer.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:39 AM
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Everything to the studs

Laydeez.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:39 AM
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I think that maybe people from places where houses go for big money are looking at the $1 house from a different perspective than people looking at it from the perspective of someone in an area where the median house value is well under $100,000.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:41 AM
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It's true that a $1 house in Seattle would probably be encumbered with a meth lab, a disputed inheritance, lead paint, noncomforming access, encroaching eminent domain, and a collapsing sea cliff all at once. And someone would still buy it.

Where houses are cheap, jobs are generally scarce, yes? So sweat equity can be a sensible choice.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:45 AM
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It really is hard to adjust for that. My inlaws own a big chunk of land (a couple of hundred acres) in the middle of nowhere upstate NY, and the whole thing is worth much less than our two-bedroom apartment (which is a very cheap two-bedroom by NYC standards). And I find that boggling: that you can stand on your front porch, and look out over a rolling landscape where you own most of what you can see (admittedly, it's a valley, so the vistas are of limited extent, but still), and that doesn't mean wealth is really weird to me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:45 AM
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66 -- the point of the program isn't to bring back nice old houses, it's to provide some way of unloading city property in a way that might conceivably repopulate the city. As with almost all urban land use questions the issue of whether sales like this make sense vs outright demolition will vary enormously based not just on the individual city but also on the neighborhood. There's definitely a market for the nice old cheap house in Buffalo with great bones, but it's not this market.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:46 AM
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When I first moved out of the San Fernando Valley, I was baffled by poor neighborhoods with nice old housing stock. I'd never seen that before.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:48 AM
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This story about the fate of Providence, RI's Superman Building seems relevant:

A company called High Rock Development took ownership of the Providence landmark on May 1 and presented a controversial proposal to turn the office building into luxury apartments.

In its proposal to the Legislature, High Rock asked for $39 million of unspecified assistance from the state, and $10 million to $15 million in tax breaks from the city of Providence. So, for a grand total of up to $54 million, Providence will get a couple-hundred high-end apartments.

Everyone has an opinion about the future of the tallest, most prominent and instantly recognizable property in town.

"They should turn it into something that's going to help get more jobs out there for the people, that's about it," says Wendy Bolereo, a Providence resident.

Others like the idea of the apartments or condos but don't see how the city and state can provide the assistance considering their economic situation.

[...]

"But it has to be viewed from a unique perspective," Fischer says, "because the alternative is we flood the market with class-B office space, or we mothball it for a while, and that's not some political or retaliatory tactic -- it's a sound real estate tactic."


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:55 AM
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68 -- right. The idea that $1 could be overpriced for a house seems impossible if you live, say, here, but there's no reason why it couldn't be true. OTOH it's not like these cities have many other great options.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:02 AM
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Weird. In London, when people convert offices to luxury flats they have to pay the government an "affordable housing contribution", not the other way around. Though of course builders do get plenty of other subsidies.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:06 AM
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Of course there are tons of houses that would sell for negative amounts. There's no job anywhere nearby. There's taxes. There's repairs. You either have to deal with crime, or the perception of crime which makes your peers think you are insane. Think about it for a second.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:09 AM
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Even if there are jobs nearby, that might not be enough. People keep trying to revive Braddock and I keep wondering why nobody says, "Maybe nobody wants to live that close to a coke oven."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:14 AM
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Come to think of it (and this isn't really on topic) I wonder if anyone knows whether homesteading version 1.0 was a good net financial value for the homesteaders overall. My guess is that it's at least a very close question and that many folks would have been better served by staying at home and spending the covered wagon money on something else.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:19 AM
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You can't make the bison come back just by wishing away the pioneers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:21 AM
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increasing populatios
Inifinite populatios!


Posted by: Aanelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:23 AM
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"Give Buffalo back to the buffalo" shall be our watchword.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:23 AM
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Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

(Because you know it had to be said)


Posted by: Buffalo buffalo | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:31 AM
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The calculus has to be multi-generational. How would you score grandchildren forced off the land by drought in the 20s?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:35 AM
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64. There are examples of this working. In the 70s there was a dilapidated former mill town in Yorkshire which sold off houses for £50 (still less than $1000 at current prices); they were bought up by a bunch of hippies who turned the place into a regional craft centre. People who liked that sort of thing started moving in for the lifestyle - chunky veggie cafes and in person home deoration etc. - and house prices went through the ceiling. In time it caught the eye of commuters to Manchester and Leeds and now it's buzzing, but you couldn't afford it.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:37 AM
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The idea that $1 could be overpriced for a house seems impossible if you live, say, here

Here there was a deal, a couple years ago, where the city acquired a large ocean-front property for $1 and agreement to pay the environmental clean-up costs.

Everybody knew at the time that the clean-up costs were probably going to be more than the property was worth, but it still seemed like a good thing for the city to do, because the previous (industrial) owner was happy to sit on it and defer clean-up for as long as possible. This was, at least, it should eventually become useful.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:39 AM
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83 -- I think if you make the net financial benefit of homesteading multi-generational it's pretty clear that much of the settlement of the Great Plains was a net loss. But I think (but don't know) that it might be a very close question even if you run the numbers for individual homesteaders in the initial generation ("Kiplinger's Personal Finance of 1873: Is homesteading a good choice for you?")

I guess you'd need some way to limit it to people who were actually living on the homesteads and treating them as working farms. A few individuals or speculators who got really lucky or crafty with homesteads on places that had water rights or important railroad facilities nearby or whatever presumably got very rich from the homestead, so a net calculation filtering out those guys would be tricky.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 10:58 AM
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I don't see how you separate out the homesteaders from the people who got their land a different way. My family is certainly up by many tens of millions. It wasn't homesteading per se. They got it for Civil War service or brought from the railroad. It was probably better land than average, but similar land was homesteaded.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:01 AM
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78: Some of my ancestors tried it and were back in New England within 5 years, I believe. It takes a special kind of cussedness to deal with the weather out here.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:02 AM
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85: Well there it seems like the city was correctly figuring the cost of having extra blight around.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:04 AM
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Speaking of future cheap real estate."Imported crazy ant displaces imported fire ant, reduces and homogenizes grassland ant and arthropod assemblages."

N. fulva rapidly attains densities up to 2 orders of magnitude greater* than the combined abundance of all other ants. Overall ant biomass increases in invaded habitat, indicating that N. fulva exploits resources not fully utilized by the local ant assemblage.

Apparently also tends to eat your computer ... sort of. Anyone live where these have gotten too? First found in the US in Houston, does not look like they've quite gotten to Heebieland yet.

*How many more ants could you have? None. None more ants.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:09 AM
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87 -- And my ancestors who settled just east of Council Bluffs made a living, but no killing. Kids wandered off in search of better opportunities (including my grandfather's great uncle who left Iowa with several adult children to homestead in northern Saskatchewan.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:13 AM
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The idea that $1 could be overpriced for a house seems impossible if you live, say, here, but there's no reason why it couldn't be true.
It's not really buying something for $1, with maintaining it to code and paying back and ongoing property taxes (to say nothing of committing to live there) it's more like signing a lease with $1 and $XXX in perpetual (increasing at least with inflation) monthly payments. There are lots of cars that you can lease for $0 down yet somehow people resist the temptation to buy a fleet of them.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:20 AM
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Well, no, it's not really that, either, or any more than buying any house involves similar payments (even when your normally-purchased home is paid off you still need to pay taxes and pay for maintenance). What makes it unique is the residency requirement.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:27 AM
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85: Well there it seems like the city was correctly figuring the cost of having extra blight around.

Hopefully, we'll see . . .

including my grandfather's great uncle who left Iowa with several adult children to homestead in northern Saskatchewan.

Si Kahn has a lovely song his (grand?)-father who emigrated from Russia to Canada:

He got passage to Nova Scotia
Was married in Manitoba
He shoveled dirt for the Canada Pacific
Carried hod when the built the hotel
Land was a dollar an acre
But he was too careful to buy it
So when they found oil on it
He still had the story to tell


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:33 AM
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homesteading version 1.0 was a good net financial value

OK, I'll bite, but this is trollery, right? Even now, there are people in major US cities who settle there from faraway places WITH NO HOMEBUYING INCENTIVE!!! They can be identified by their foreign tongues, inexpensive footwear, and disinterest in both Pilates and Crossfit. Their movements are unforced, that is, there is no explicit government policy back home driving them here.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 11:57 AM
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I guess farming in SK wasn't any better than in Iowa: none of my kin are still doing either. The most successful cousin of that branch was drafted by the Bruins in the first round in the mid 60s. And lives on a golf course in AZ now.


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 12:01 PM
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No, it's not trollery, you moron. Why is it hard to conceive that homesteading (which wasn't free) may have been a net loss financial proposition for a lot of people involved.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 12:02 PM
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Because no-one forced them to do it, and current unforced immigrants know about the experiences of the people who came before.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 12:15 PM
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Yes, clearly, every decision that anyone makes who is not forced to do so is a net financial success. Also people who made the decision to homestead after the act was passed in 1862 had excellent, reliable information about the lifetime success of people who had benefited from the non-existent homestead act applicable to previous generations.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 12:18 PM
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Many were fleeing war, starvation, or what amounts to caste oppression, you ignorant slut. There had been over a century of immigration by the 1860s, with prior immigration happening under less favorable laws. Even very poor people who could hardly write sent letters and money back home. They still do.

My main point is that to evaluate a mediocre opportunity from the perspective of a comfortable life, of a viable status quo, is to impose a very strong bias. Many moves, certainly the one that brought me to the US, were much more running away from something than they were anything else.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 12:28 PM
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The baseline is not no immigration at all, of course. The baseline is using the relevant amount of capital to immigrate to the US (or to do something else) vs. using it specifically to homestead. Homesteading does not equal immigration generally. That you may or may not have found a better life in the US in very different circumstances doesn't really tell us very much about whether the Homestead Act in particular was, on the whole, a net benefit to the people who invested the non-zero amount of capital necessary to homestead a farm.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 12:32 PM
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I think it was pretty obviously a net benefit to the homesteaders though there were certain regions where it wasn't a very good idea. The fact that the settled population increased so rapidly in those areas would, I think, be sufficient evidence of the success. The homesteaders had children in huge numbers and raised them to adulthood in far greater numbers than would have been possible where they were from.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 1:10 PM
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Kind of sucked balls for the natives, of course, and probably didn't help the environment much.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 1:16 PM
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According to some thing I just found on the interwebs, by 1900 only about 52% of homestead claimants had followed through to take title of the land -- after you claimed your homestead, the Act required that you live on the land for five years in order to take full title, and that only happened in about 52% percent of the cases. You'd have to know more to really know about cost-benefit (who got the land after the original claimant left, and at what price?), but that certainly suggests that there was at a minimum a very large minority of homesteaders who didn't do very well on the deal.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 1:24 PM
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That's probably higher than the percentage of small businesses going after five years.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 1:31 PM
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Somebody writing for the National Park Service is even more dismal on the success of the homesteaders:

Of the nearly two million entries made on public land, approximately 783,000 men and women "proved up" and completed the homesteading process. On the other hand, roughly sixty percent of homesteaders never received title to the lands they had tried to farm. Even these figures probably exaggerate the number of successful homesteaders. Many homesteads were "dummy entries" made by employees of cattle ranchers and lumbermen, who claimed public land and then deeded it to their employers. Using such methods, huge tracts of timber and ranches of thousands of acres were removed from the public domain to become a source of private profit. During the late nineteenth century, homesteading was frequently promoted as a "safety valve" for discontented city workers, but it is not surprising, given the difficulty of acquiring a homestead, that for every urban laborer who became a farmer, twenty farmers moved to the city. Another popular misconception is that most homesteading was attempted in the late nineteenth century. In fact, more than seventy percent of all successful homesteading took place during the first three decades of the twentieth century

Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 1:37 PM
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Oh, and just for LW, the same guy says this:

Although homesteaders included former slaves, laborers from eastern cities, and newly-arrived immigrants from Europe, the most successful settlers were those who came from farming areas not too far removed from the frontier. Eastern laborers rarely had either the skills or the inclination to become farmers, and landless families from Europe or the American South often lacked the necessary capital, livestock, and farm implements to take advantage of free public land.

Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 1:40 PM
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Here's a collection of NPS charts that might be easier to read. I hadn't realized Iowa had so little homesteading.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 1:43 PM
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and landless families from Europe or the American South often lacked the necessary capital, livestock, and farm implements to take advantage of free public land.

The ones that worked best that I know of were groups of recent immigrants from the same general area who pooled resources after a few years of working back east.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 1:59 PM
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106 describes a titling scam that leaves land and people unaffected. I do not know nor much care whether that's an accurate description of this law. If it is accurate, there's no point in talking about it besides working out which companies grabbed the land. I care about demographics and living conditions more than about laws.

My main point is a high-level one, think of me as a hopefully less-offensive Sausegely on this one only. People who are comfortable evaluate some marginal course of action and judge that it's a bad idea while implicitly assuming existence of a viable alternative.

On the specifics of the 19th century US, I'm still reading the excellent locally recommended Railroaded, was really interested to learn about the extensive failed railroad strike the year before Haymarket Square.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:01 PM
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May I recomend Bad Land by Jonathan Raban, a hartbreaking non-fiction account of a community of homesteaders in an especially awful area of Eastern Montana. This was probably about the last area rural homesteaded in the lower 48 and it wasn't really farmable. just about everyone gave up. The area had a higher population in the first years of homesteading than it has had any time since. No typical, though.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:04 PM
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More people should make vacation plans to see Beatrice, NE. You've got the Homestead National Monument, the place that makes the hot dogs they served at football games when I was a kid, and probably a whole bunch of other stuff.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:05 PM
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110, OK, but the point I was trying to make is that homesteading wasn't free. It required an investment of capital that was substantial (and could have been invested in other areas). Regardless of how bad conditions were for you back home, homesteading specifically could well have been a poor investment of the resources that you were trying to use to get out of wherever home was (and, it seems like for a good many people homesteading was not a great choice). Just like, even if your current conditions suck, it doesn't automatically mean that buying a $1 home in Buffalo (and putting the minimum $50,000 into rehabbing the house and paying the taxes, etc) is necessarily a good idea.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:16 PM
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Buying a home in Buffalo is a bad idea.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:17 PM
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What about buying a buffalo?


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:18 PM
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If you were the sort of person willing to live in Buffalo, the free market would have already put you there.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:18 PM
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In fact, more than seventy percent of all successful homesteading took place during the first three decades of the twentieth century

Probably the whole business would be a lot easier with a Model A.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:36 PM
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114, 115: What about a home where the buffalo roam?


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:55 PM
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118 was me, I'm compelled to admit.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 2:57 PM
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106, 107: Ah, so now we're to trust NPS numbers?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 3:12 PM
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120: well remembered


Posted by: annelid gustator | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 3:19 PM
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I honestly can't remember what I was arguing in that thread or why, but I do remember that I was totally right.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 3:24 PM
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That was the thread where you tearfully admitted that Led Zeppelin sucks.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 3:28 PM
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And confessed your secret craving for polenta and how you keep secret stashes of it around the house.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 3:30 PM
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122 -> ...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 3:32 PM
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George W. Carver homesteaded without capital; he worked half-time for a neighbor to rent tools. Would have been successful had he not been just too far west of the reliable rain.

That doesn't mean it was possible generally; he did several unbelievably hard things.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-20-13 9:31 PM
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I haven't caught up with this thread and may not, but I believe the current conventional wisdom among people who've looked at it is that homesteads under the Homestead Act weren't all that they've been cracked up to be. Lot sizes weren't great for the environment and the railroads and other property owners got a lot of the best lands. Also, lots of western land wasn't under the Homestead Act at all, for various reasons that I think usually related to how the states were brought into the US - former Spanish/Mexico/Texas lands.

If you don't distinguish the Homestead Act homesteads from general western settlement, and call it all "homesteading" then the outcome looks better. But as far as I know the Homestead Act is due for some more intensive study and actually I think there's someone working on a book or dissertation or something about it right now.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 05-21-13 3:10 PM
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That sounds interesting. I have similar skepticism about the mortgage deduction.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 05-22-13 10:49 AM
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