The American communities paying people to move there

At least a few American communities are offering financial incentives to try to entice new residents:

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Some cities and regions in America’s heartland are offering this sum — and more. They’re seeking to bring energy and vitality to their towns by attracting dynamic workers. With legions of people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, these programs are getting a lot of attention as people in congested cities seek more space and affordable housing.

Northwest Arkansas launched its program this year, in the middle of the pandemic. Other cities in the nation’s heartland have similar incentives: Topeka, Kan.; North Platte, Neb.; Hamilton, Ohio; and Newton, Iowa

The city had its sights set on the growing number of “laptop workers” who can do their jobs from home — or at the local co-working space or coffee shop — when it launched the program two years ago. Since 2018, it has welcomed nearly 500 new residents, according to Stewart…

The urbanist Richard Florida has worked with both Tulsa and northwest Arkansas on their efforts to attract remote workers. And he thinks these types of campaigns will benefit small cities in the heartland. But only if they’re attractive places to live. Cash incentives won’t do the trick on their own.

This story profiles communities largely in the center of the country that want to attract residents but likely have limited population growth (perhaps due to low birth rates, low numbers of immigrants, and some younger residents moving away) and are not in the public eye. Without long-term population growth, many communities may feel they are stuck. Growth is good – and population stagnation or less is unspeakable.

But, as the story hints, these incentives have not exactly led to a flood of people moving to these locations. For how many people would a payment like this make all the difference? On one hand, people often do desire good jobs – higher pay, that provide opportunities for advancement, in exciting fields, etc. – and some may be able to go where those jobs are. On the other hand, people live where they do for more than just new opportunities or a financial incentive: they may have social and personal ties to a community, be coming from an area that has lots of options, and moving can be costly. Sometimes, people talk as if all people need is a good job or money to move somewhere new. It does not exactly work this way.

I also wonder how these incentives line up with different pressures the people being targeted by communities face. The article said communities are interested in remote workers. I also imagine these communities – and many others – are interested in young professionals. What do these workers want? A financial incentive, a cheaper cost of living, and a slower pace of life in a smaller community might be attractive. But, so might urban neighborhoods in exciting cities with lots of cultural opportunities and plenty of tech jobs and corporate entities nearby. Or, perhaps a walkable suburb is attractive with jobs and culture available via a reasonable commute. In other words, these remote workers could go anywhere they can afford. We are not at the level yet of communities acting like they do to attract major companies with tax breaks but I would not put it outside the realm of possibility in the future.

New TV shows with young adults feature unrealistically large city apartments

The dwellings of many young adults on television are quite large:

Plenty of things are unrealistic about television: No iconic moment in my life has ever been accompanied by Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen,” despite how much I wish it were. But the perpetual tiny-but-annoying quirk that most shows are guilty of is the unemployed twentysomething with a fabulous apartment. I’m onto you, Girls: No matter how much junk you throw around in Marnie and Hannah’s onetime-shared living space, it doesn’t hide the fact that they’ve got a ton of room. I live in New York City; I know you’re lying to me.

This isn’t anything new, of course. The go-to example is usually Carrie Bradshaw and her ridiculous Manhattan apartment with its gorgeous walk-in closet full on Manolos when her only source of explained income was a weekly newspaper column. But while everyone loves some good 1998 nostalgia (the Friends’ West Village apartments are another egregious example), the trend of the unbelievably large home isn’t fading away.

I’m not simply talking about gorgeous, jealousy-inspiring apartments; I totally get and buy into the fact that say, Dr. Lahiri from The Mindy Project would have an awe-worthy living space to bring all of her meet-cute boyfriends. What I can’t get behind is recent shows like dearly-departed Happy Endings (perpetually unemployed Max’s “gross loft” in Chicago is gorgeous) or 2 Broke Girls‘ Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment (They’re supposed to actually be broke, not heiresses!) where the characters ostensibly “have no money,” yet are somehow chilling around complaining about said fact in an abode that would retail for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sure, this is a minor issue. None of this is getting in the way of my enjoyment of all of these shows. But there is some point during each of these programs’ respective runs — often more than once — where I’ll laugh out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it. It’s all I can do; I can’t change the channel: basically all shows with twenty-something characters are guilty of this. Weirdly enough, the most realistic living set-up on television right now might be the Big Brother house, with all 16 of its residents fighting in a Hunger Games of sorts for limited bed space.

Several quick thoughts:

1. If Big Brother is perceived to be more realistic, these other shows may have some problems.

2. Of the examples cited above, most of the urban apartments are in New York City with one in Chicago (Happy Endings). Manhattan and some of the surroundings areas are some of the most expensive areas in the country so the housing situation as portrayed on TV is really unrealistic. At the same time, TV shows with young adults in places like Atlanta or Houston or Dallas or some other cheaper markets could feature bigger apartments without losing all realism.

3. This is not a new phenomenon on TV. In The Overspent American, sociologist Juliet Schor talks about the expanding middle-class lifestyle on television in the later decades of the 20th century. As the years went by, middle-class people on TV had more and more material goods, larger houses, and had fewer concerns about work and money. Schor then argues that TV contributed to changing perceptions among Americans in what they needed to own to have “the good life.”

4. Shows on channels like HGTV don’t help. It seems like every show features a person looking for the most-updated features. Granted, their price range varies quite a bit but the homes tend to be on the larger side. This is simply unrealistic for many emerging adults.

5. There is potential here for some TV shows to work with more size-appropriate dwellings. How about a show about young people revolving around micro-apartments? How about bringing back the starter home on TV?

USA Today says McMansions are “out of vogue”

Citing recent housing figures, USA Today argues that McMansions are “out of vogue”:

Fran DiBello of Cleveland didn’t need a lot of room. For her, a three-story townhome has everything she could need.

“I really like the style of this home,” she says. “It’s very efficient. The appliances, the heat.”

It also has a view of Lake Erie and an 8-minute commute to work. Ten years ago, this neighborhood wasn’t here; 10 years ago, these homes would have been over shadowed by the McMansion.

“A McMansion was a trophy — often times a house with five or six bedrooms when you only needed two,” says Scott Phillips, real-estate agent with Keller Williams in Clevekand.

The median size of homes purchased in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, is 1,825 square feet. For first-time buyers it is 1,580 square feet, according to the National Association of Realtors.

A majority of the homes Phillips sells are less than 1,700 square feet.

Some consider it an outgrowth of being green; others see it as people living within their means.

Another shift in housing trends also means a move closer to the city’s core, Phillips says.

Numbers show that 90% of home sales nationwide are to young professionals looking for urban housing.

“People like to live where they’re closer to the amenities, the parks, nightlife, grocery stores,” he says.

The article seems to invoke several meanings of McMansions:

1. A more suburban home. This is contrasted with a desire for more urban homes in these tougher economic times.

2. A large home, a “trophy” where people bought a bunch of space that they really didn’t need. It is also suggested that this is wasteful of both money and resources (not being “green”).

But overall, the real story of the article seems not be about McMansions but about the most recent patterns: a shrinking median size of homes purchased and a rise in demand for urban housing among young professionals. This is contrasted with the “McMansion,” that exemplar of all suburban housing and of American housing excess.

About these newer trends:

1. This article cites the median size of homes purchased in 2008. The typical figures cited for home size is the size of the average new home purchased. This figure is still over 2,400 square feet though this is down a bit from the peak of several years ago. The median size is rarely cited and this article doesn’t provide any comparison so that we would know how this size in 2008 compares with previous years.

2. I also had not heard of this figure that “90% of home sales nationwide are to young professionals looking for urban housing.” This is remarkable if it is true. It suggests that this group is the primary one driving the market and that they clearly prefer more urban living. This corroborates what the National Association of Home Builders has discussed.

3. Is this a long-term trend or will Americans seek larger homes once the economy picks up? See my thoughts here.