Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a noteworthy feature about the national decline in property values of exurban settlements since the property bubble burst. It focuses on a county 50 miles outside of Chicago, but rings true for almost every other region. The exurbs of Charlotte, NC had even started to encroach on my family’s ancestral Lancaster County, SC, far from the Queen City. The lure:
These outer-lying communities further popularized the “McMansion” and turned two-hour commutes into four. People didn’t necessarily prefer to move so far out, but they did so for the promise of a home, a yard and tax-deductible interest payments.
Too many of the low income families drawn to these communities were sold houses with no money down, though. So when property taxes inevitably ballooned with the developments, homeowners could no longer afford their monthly payments. Ditto for those laid off as a result of the slowing economy. Now the exurbs have become renters’ markets, lowering property values and slowing growth. The result, the article mentions, may be that the exurbs become new centers of low income housing. I believe this will be the case, especially as people increasingly return to city centers.
The article also brings up the need for more livable low income rental properties while putting less emphasis on an “ownership society.” Mortgages have tied down people who would otherwise simply break their leases, pick up, and move to a new job market in the event of being laid off. Like him or not, Massachusetts Democratic congressman Barney Frank is a champion of this issue. Such properties, if well planned, would provide enough area for recreation without the sprawl and risk.
-Michael E. van Landingham