An impressive pile of potato-sized rocks squats in a corner of my yard. This is what we gardeners deal with on the north side of the Alameda Ridge, a tiny smudge on the NE Portland map. Dig anywhere around here and this is what you’ll find. The cobble came to us courtesy the great Missoula Floods, 15,000 years ago. They were large enough to have relocated major components of Montana and Washington to the Willamette Valley here in Oregon. Those aren’t Montana nuggets here on our plateau, though. We’re living on top of a flood-driven gravel bar of debris scraped off a nearby volcano, and the whole thing petered out around 15th Avenue.
So just as soon as you pop down the hill twelve blocks south of us, your garden soil has the tilth of navel lint from a panda bear. Flung seeds root on the spot and plants bound into the sky out of sheer glee. This is why the real estate in the Irvington neighborhood is so much more valuable than ours.
Not really. If you live in Irvington, you’ve probably got a landscape crew taking care of things. You don’t know from cobble.
The real reason our property has always been considered less desirable is there was some historical possibility that you might—shhh—have a colored neighbor. It wasn’t likely, but in Irvington you could totally rule it out. So prices here were low. That’s how I was able to buy a house in 1978, after less than one year as a mail carrier. That, and the interest rate was 10%. If you had your eye on a house for sale, you could mull it over for months. Nothing was moving.
Our house had been continuously occupied by white people of the same family since 1906 and we had no Black neighbors at all, so I’m not sure we contributed to gentrification. Still, there began a general migration of Blacks to the outer burbs beginning around 1990 as our once-maligned area began to get up a little buzz and eventually some actual cachet. Iron window-guards fell away, empty blocks filled in, and now we’ve got a vibrant neighborhood full of earnest liberals, plus a salting of people complaining about police response and disheveled pedestrians on NextDoor.
And our $35,000 house, after losing half even that value in the ‘Eighties, is now soberly proclaimed to be worth a million or so. “Worth,” in this sense, meaning that a random buyer who isn’t any more nuts than anyone else might offer us that for it. Which doesn’t make it not nuts.
We didn’t do it, I swear. It’s just in the nature of rivers.
A mighty big river shaped our plateau and its composition. But another equally mighty river is shaping our world now. It meanders, it probes the soft spots first, and eventually it overwhelms its banks. It’s a river of money and it starts in the high peaks and pushes into the flatlands, leaving some perched up top with a good view and others piled up like trash at the shore.
Americans have been conditioned to believe great wealth is both desirable and a sign of virtue. There’s no real evidence for either, but it does help rationalize a tax structure designed for the obscenely wealthy. It would be quite possible to create a system that flattens the income gap, that encourages a large thriving middle class, that supports the poor, and that still allows people to become rich. We had such a system for decades, last century. But why should we care if people are allowed to accumulate more wealth than entire countries, more than they can spend in a hundred lifetimes?
Because now we have people so well-off they don’t have to think twice about offering someone hundreds of thousands over the asking price for a house, leaving hard-working people who have saved for a now-laughable antique 20% deposit high and dry. And then the river pushes into the slightly less desirable neighborhoods and then into ones like ours, and anyone who has worked hard for a wage that hasn’t kept up is pushed out to the outlying areas, with their food deserts and lack of public transportation; and those who can’t afford even that wash up as so much detritus stranded on the banks in tents and RVs. All of this in a decade or so.
And now the discarded human trash that should shame us serves as a poster for those who insist people just don’t want to work anymore, and who continue to imagine that it is our modern pirate class that needs our praise and our protection. That’s a lot of cobble to push through.
Our neighborhood is a good example. A Del Webb over 55+ community, houses started out 10-12 years ago at a reasonable rate for what you get. In the past two years, we have seen house asking prices rise higher and higher, and almost all of them sell for thousands over the asking price. We are told that part of the reason is large IT corporations moving their offices nearby, and many employees are transferring from CA (where they are selling their homes for what we consider sky-high prices) and they think nothing of paying way above what we think is a fair price. When will it end? The rising loan rates seem not to have curbed it any.
Those people riding that equity wave from California have been jacking up prices here for about thirty years. It’s not their fault as individuals and I won’t hold it against them. But you used to be able to get some major real estate here by selling your 600 square-foot condo in San Francisco. Now, we could sell and move to Maine and do likewise.
This hit a nerve. My then-husband and I bought a two-story home in South Tacoma for $30,000 in 1979, and when the interest rate went up from 10 to 10.5 percent we almost didn’t qualify. We remodeled it and sold it for $45,000 in 1989, and Zillow lists the value at around $325,000 now. I wanted to move to the Seattle-Tacoma area to be close to my son’s family but could find nothing–NOTHING!–even in the $200,000 price range, which was out of my league anyway. I did get excited when I saw some 55-plus doublewides for $125,000, but the $700-$900 monthly lot rental put an end to that fantasy. I loved SW Oklahoma, close to a wildlife refuge, and barely got to buy the house I’m in now due to the insane bidding wars, even in little ole Oklahoma towns! I know an out-of-state realty company that bought lots of modestly priced homes here to use as rentals, and one apartment building for vacation rentals! When I worked at Big Cypress National Preserve last winter, rental prices in Naples (the community closest to the park) doubled in some places. Our permanent park rangers (making paltry wages) couldn’t afford the rentals. Rent in government housing is based on the local prices, and I paid $720 a month for a studio apartment. That’s what I pay for mortgage, taxes and interest on my Oklahoma home. And we wonder why there are more homeless people than ever. You are right – we need the system we had before, where super-wealthy people paid their fair share and the middle class thrived. I hope Reagan and his acolytes are paying for their sins in whatever afterlife they have gone to.
You bring up another good point–that short-term rentals (like AirB&B) have scooped up a lot of formerly available housing. Happened on our block too–a house that had been in one family for at least fifty years is now renting rooms by the night, and they took down the trees and slammed in two electrified trailers to rent out also.
I’m amazed at what homes around me are asking for. Basically row homes with small yards for $200,000. When I sold my uncle’s home just down the street back in 2004, I got $100,000 for a larger yard, a big home, and a rental studio in the back. Granted, I sold “as is” because I was tired of cleaning up after my hoarder uncle. But it would have been even less just a bit later because of the housing market going tits-up.
Not sure what my home would go for, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not leaving. They will have to either kill me or be killed. NOT EVER going into a “nursing facility.” I love my independence too much. Can’t abide people telling me what I should do “for my own good.”
I’ve always said I’d go out of my house feet first, but I am way less likely now to say I would never go into a nursing home. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me all the time that we cannot always get what we want. At this point I’d be surprised if I am still in this house in my late dotage. And I’d probably have to sell it to pay for my own care.
I’d kill myself first. From what I’ve read about nursing homes…. Then there’s the fact that I cannot stand having someone else tell me what I can and cannot do… Seriously. I would. Longevity is for suckers.
It’s hard to die though.
I moved back to Portland a couple years ago, from Montana. When we live her, circa ’69-72, our landlord in Boring (Star Rt. 1, close to Sandy) offered to sell us the house, on a large lot, rural, a abandoned Fuji Farms raspberry 40 acres next to us, 10K. We declined. Now, I read that in Bend, where I grew up, business’s are unable to find workers, because nobody can find housing that fits the wage. Not sure what the solution is, perhaps fewer people?
My generation (and yours) are responsible, but who’s counting.
I know my kids and grands are going to have a far less easy life than I or you had.
On that cheery note…
Oh, on about a thousand levels. I shudder for them.
Yeah, it’s nuts. Our deteriorating flat in a “hot” neighborhood is now worth about three times what we paid for it in 1999. We thought the price was outrageous at the time and, yes, we were near the beginning of a wave of gentrification that swept away what was primarily a working class Black neighborhood. Now, even at its present value, if we sold it there’s hardly anywhere we could afford to go. SF is much changed but, fortunately, still not a bad place to be stuck in.
True! Although, ahem, you could go *somewhere else.* And do pretty well.
We’re one of those California couples whose home’s value has gone up 423% in 32 years. That would put us in the catbird seat, except for the fact that anywhere ELSE we might want to live (like Vancouver, BC) is also absurdly expensive, so we’d be lucky to come out even.
Marsha’s experience with her dad’s old age taught her that we should buy only a single-story thing, so we did. We’ll probably stay.
BTW Thank you for adding “tilth” to my vocabulary! It might have come in handy when I was jack-hammering holes in our adobe “soil” to plant roses.
You’re like the fourth person to bring up my use of the word “tilth.” I’ve been using that word forever but apparently no one knows it.
Similar happenings here in Australia, except those buying up homes for obscene amounts are cashed up overseas investors (Crazy Rich Asians?), so houses going up for sale have a bigger asking price than seems normal because they know someone will pay that much. Which leaves the ordinary hard-working folk trying to get a starter home completely out of the loop. Even rentals are suffering the same high price ranges that nobody can afford. Landlords would rather see their properties sitting empty (waiting for those investors) than lower their prices.
I think it’s time to raise the pitchforks to the plutocrats.
Spouse wanted to buy some persimmon trees, after seeing a beautiful one in full fruit this past month. Just gorgeous. The orange fruits look like small plum tomatoes, but there they are, glowing like lanterns all over a 30 foot tree by the side of the road. Quite a sight.
It takes 7 years for a persimmon to fruit. We’ll be nearing 80 by then.
Spouse said he’s not leaving this house until these trees fruit. They are presently about 2 feet tall.
I like Spouse’s attitude. A lot.
Yeah. We need a tax structure that would make it a lot easier to earn your first million and a lot harder to earn your second billion. Why not make people work hard for their second billion? I really don’t understand greasing the skids for them.
The explanation is simple — they’re the ones who bribe the legislature and tell them how to write the laws.
We need a maximum wage.
What we need here is for the rich to actually PAY taxes. You know why John Lennon moved to America? Because in England, if you are rich, you may have to pay up to 90% of your earnings. Maybe we need a tax structure like that here. There’s a lot of infrastructure that could be seen to if the rich just paid taxes here. But it will never happen because, as Jeremy said, they bribe the legislature.
Another reason is the electorate: Tenet #7 of The Creed states “Refusing to give the rich everything they ask for and more would ruin my chances of becoming one of them.”
Coming down hard on us Californians… , but still welcome to visit. Guest room has its own attached bath so no awkward encounters in the hall.
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