Pros­per­ity ex­acts qual­ity-of-life price

The Republican Herald - - OPINION - Froma Har­rop (Har­rop is a writer for Cre­ators Syn­di­cate)

It’s the cra­zi­est thing. Fac­tory towns that bled both jobs and peo­ple still have a fine hous­ing stock, cheap for lack of de­mand. Boom­ing tech cen­ters, mean­while, at­tract bat­tal­ions of new­com­ers de­spite soar­ing hous­ing costs and grow­ing con­ges­tion. Can’t some­thing be worked out here?

Ama­zon.com helped set off the red-hot growth in its home­town of Seat­tle. With the pros­per­ity came a cri­sis of home­less­ness and crush­ing hous­ing prices for those with moder­ate in­comes.

Seat­tle’s laid-back cul­ture is part of what at­tracted tech in­no­va­tors. Higher-den­sity hous­ing in some ar­eas may be called for, but at some point, peo­ple must choose how much change they want. The city’s pas­sage of a con­tro­ver­sial head tax on big em­ploy­ers to fund pro­grams for the home­less of­fers a hint of what Seat­tle wants.

Ama­zon an­nounced plans to build a sec­ond head­quar­ters in an­other metro area. There are now 20 fi­nal­ists for Ama­zon HQ2.

As their boost­ers woo Ama­zon’s de­ciders with gen­er­ous in­cen­tive, other lo­cals are hav­ing sec­ond thoughts about “win­ning.” How would adding more than 100,000 peo­ple — Ama­zon work­ers, their rel­a­tives and work­ers who serve them — af­fect their qual­ity of life?

Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, is one such con­flicted fi­nal­ist. Home­own­ers in older down­town neigh­bor­hoods say traf­fic is al­ready so bad they have trou­ble back­ing out of drive­ways. Metro com­muter trains are packed.

In Hamil­ton, Ohio, there’s a re­viv­ing down­town along the Great Miami River with cool loft apart­ments and artists. How about a three-bed­room apart­ment in a lux­ury water­front build­ing for un­der $1,500 a month? To think, Hamil­ton — once in the dumps af­ter mills and fac­to­ries closed — now has jobs that go un­filled for lack of work­ers. It is of­fer­ing to pay $5,000 to­ward peo­ple’s stu­dent loans if they will lo­cate there and join the econ­omy.

Other smaller cities are at­tract­ing star­tups. Durham, North Carolina, turned a va­cant Amer­i­can tobacco ware­house into a lively mixed-use project. Fort Wayne, In­di­ana, trans­formed an aban­doned Gen­eral Elec­tric fac­tory into lofts and in­cu­ba­tor space.

Back in Seat­tle, some mil­len­nial techies are bash­ing boomers un­will­ing to sur­ren­der crafts­man bun­ga­lows to de­vel­op­ers.

“My gen­er­a­tion is never go­ing to have that,” one of the build­ing ac­tivists, Zach Lubarsky, com­plained to Politico. Lubarsky, 27, a pro­gram­mer, is push­ing to “up­zone” such neigh­bor­hoods, re­plac­ing old houses with high­er­den­sity apart­ment build­ings.

The older res­i­dents are prob­a­bly mak­ing less money than the tech-em­ployed newer ar­rivals. They may like the idea that the house they bought for five fig­ures would now sell for seven, but with the higher home val­ues come spik­ing prop­erty taxes.

In­fluxes of techies are not uni­ver­sally wel­come where af­ford­able hous­ing is hard to come by. The Rev. H. Lionel Ed­monds, a prominent Wash­ing­ton, D.C., cler­gy­man, said that he fears cre­at­ing “a mil­len­ni­als oa­sis” in the area, “a lit­tle Ama­zon is­land of these folks mak­ing $100,000 a year” sur­rounded by peo­ple mak­ing a frac­tion of that.

In Seat­tle, es­tab­lished res­i­dents have what they have be­cause they bought homes be­fore the econ­omy surged. Out­side the elite metro ar­eas, glo­ri­ous Vic­to­ri­ans and midcen­tury mod­ern houses go beg­ging for own­ers to love them. Their down­towns need cus­tomers for their new cafes. Tech work­ers and the com­pa­nies that em­ploy them should think harder about spread­ing the wealth.

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