It is easy to remember this iconic You Tube video of the young Obama supporter who believed that Barry’s election to POTUS would mean that she would not have to worry about paying her mortgage:
Little did she know that Obama’s historic election and the economic downturn which continued to ensue afterwards would lead to a revision of what Americans saw as “home”. Personally, I have never been a homeowner. There were certainly times when I wanted to be one but living in expensive cities like New York City, Chicago and graduate school in Boston kept me financially out of the real estate market. At times, I was obsessive about owning. I felt like a failure for not paying a monthly mortgage- at least a mortgage that belonged to me and not the landlord I was paying $2650 a month to for my Upper Westside apartment in Manhattan. Being a home owner is the “American Dream” and I am not with it.
This unified narrative that “home ownership is the American way” played out in the form of envious tension within my friendships. I admit to a jealous wince here and there whenever a friend announced “We just bought a new home”. Granted they often lived in Hinky Dink, USA aka the “burbs” . Still, It was something to call their own while I was writing monthly checks to Ackbar Goldstein for my 500 square foot haven just blocks from Fairway and Urban Outfitters. I pay dearly for my city living. I shamelessly stored my Christmas items in boxes in plain sight with only a nice sari cloth thrown over them. Those boxes doubled as seating for my guests when I dared to have a party with 14 people in my UWS box apartment. New Yorkers understood me. Hell at 500 square feet, my place was a mansion to several of my friends who lived in apartments that equated to a walk in closet by suburban standards. Afrocity was a lucky girl in NYC and now that I have moved up to a $1850 a month 920 square footer!!!
I am a lifetime renter. I accept it and I embrace my failure at achieving the American Dream.
Now that I have admitted to my loserdom, it might seem almost twisted that I smiled when I saw this bit of news in today’s Wall Street Journal:
U.S. Now a Renters’ Market
With Apartment-Vacancy Rate at 30-Year High, Landlords Cut Prices 3% in 2009
January 7, 2010
By NICK TIMIRAOS
Apartment vacancies hit a 30-year high in the fourth quarter, and rents fell as landlords scrambled to retain existing tenants and attract new ones.
The vacancy rate ended the year at 8%, the highest level since Reis Inc., a New York research firm that tracks vacancies and rents in the top 79 U.S. markets, began its tally in 1980.
Rents fell 3% last year, according to Reis, led by declines in San Jose, Calif., Seattle, San Francisco and other cities that had brisk growth until the recession.
In New York City, the vacancy rate improved by 0.1 percentage point for the second straight quarter, but around 60% of rental buildings dropped their rents in the fourth quarter from the previous quarter. Effective rents — which include concessions such as one month of free rent — fell 5.6% in New York last year, the worst since Reis began tracking the data in 1990.
Landlords now must entice tenants to renew leases. “We’ll shampoo their carpets. We’ll paint accent walls. We’ll add Starbucks cards,” said Richard Campo, chief executive of Camden Property Trust, a Houston-based real-estate investment trust that owns 63,000 units. He said the first half of 2010 should be “pretty ugly,” but was optimistic the sector would pick up later in the year.
Few markets have been spared. During the fourth quarter, vacancies increased in 52 markets, while they improved in 17 and stayed flat in 10. Vacancies increased most sharply for the year in Tucson, Ariz.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Lexington, Ky.
Vacancies are tied to unemployment, because many would-be renters move in with family members or double up during a downturn. Apartments have been squeezed because younger workers, who are more likely to rent, have experienced the brunt of job losses during the downturn.
Afrocity does not want to come to the abrubt conclusion that she is actually living the American Dream now that she is a renter. I should feel sad about this. Renting is a gamble at long odds. Often renters are at the mercy of landlords who take advantage of tenants. In NYC my rent increased one year from $2100 a month to $2400. Then there are times when renters come out on top. But when we do, it usually means that the American Dream is a nightmare for someone else.
My revenge seemed less kind as I watched an infomercial last week on a local Chicago TV station for auctions of foreclosed and “short sale” homes. It looks like we are all losers in the real estate game.
Autographed Letter Signed,