When I was young, teachers in home economics advised me that one should budget no more than 30% of one's gross income (before taxes) on housing.

How do things stand today? Statistics just released by the Census Bureau show that in 2006, a significant portion of the US population spent more than 30% on housing.

California, not surprisingly, led the pack: Fully 52% of Californians spent more than the 30% benchmark. In fact, 22% of homeowners and 27% of renters spent more than 50% of their total income (before taxes) on housing.

The state with the lowest percentage of people spending above the 30% benchmark was, dontchaknow, North Dakota (23%), followed by West Virginia (25%).

The states with the highest percentage of people spending above the 30% benchmark were Florida (45%), New Jersey (45%), Connecticut (44%); for the western United States, Nevada came in at 46%, Washington at 40%, and Oregon and Colorado both at 39%. According to my high school home economics teachers, these states should receive failing grades.

Free market theory dictates that the high prices in these areas will affect peoples' decisions about where they live, and those of lower incomes will flock to the Midwest; this migration will lower prices on the coasts, and raise demand in the Midwest. . But the flaw in this theory is that it assumes living locations are fluid; few people are psychologically ready to shift their homes as easily as they would shift which gas station to choose. Are Californians thinking about moving back to Oklahoma, in a reverse Dustbowl migration? The idea is laughable.

What we need to realize is this: The "free market" does not follow theory in matters of housing, and we need to think about structuring our cities in different ways. Single family homes, with a detached house and large back yard, should be the rarity rather than the standard abode. At present, California is building legions of new suburban homes to meet the alleged "demand," but what is missed is that these styles of homes will remain unaffordable to the majority of people. We need a different architecture. We need to build up, not out.

I would write more, but I have to go work now to pay my rent. :)


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