Thursday, March 4, 2010
Starting Over: From Me To America -
Wondering How To Make It In An Era Of Overpriced Housing & College Tuition
Been apartment searching with Cassie this week. I swear, I must look like Santa Claus to her. She seems to think that pretty soon I'll be working (true), and then I'll be able to afford anything.
Got news for her -- I finally learned to really save in times of plenty, for the inevitable times of scarcity. Thought I knew this and I took a lot for granted. Several months of really bad underemployment taught me otherwise.
The first building we checked out looked really nice and is a block away from a Metro, which is a DC-MD-VA subway if you don't know. One of her friends and his mother moved there last weekend. I knew it would be out of my price range and she did too, but it's free and fun to look.
A sista gave us a tour. This was interesting because a white guy initially greeted us, but she entered the room and without a word, she was turned over to us while he waited on another white guy who walked in seconds after us, and also wanted to see the place. It was done so smoothly, this race and gender match up, that I doubt Cassie even noticed. I didn't mind, but it made me think of how far we have to go as a society.
The first apartment was designed more like a townhouse and has two levels, with a bedroom on each one. Ideal for roommates, but not what I had in mind for a mother and teen daughter; it was like two separate units almost. Cassie felt the same way.
The next one was better. It also had a second floor, but it was a loft that overlooks the living room.
Have a seat now. The rent for these two units: $1725 plus.
And they don't include utilities.
"Tell me again how your friend's mama makes her money," I asked Cassie. "I thought she was a security guard."
"Nope. She's a cop."
Must've been on the force a long time, I thought. She's divorced and gets child support. If I had that, I doubt I'd spend it on a luxury apartment - unless my ex was so well off and generous that money wasn't a problem.
While the White House and the media focus exclusively on home owners, renters are being charged up the wazoo. The cost of a monthly mortgage payment for a $300,000, three or four bedroom house in this area, at 5% interest, is around $2K per month.
That's not a whole lot more than the rent at the place we looked at. On the other hand, buying a house now is dicey. I don't think the market has hit bottom yet and is a long way from it.
When Cassie and I move, chances are it will be to a two bedroom apartment that charges around $1300 a month, including utilities. That's still more than any of these places are worth.
Where I live, the salaries are higher than the national average, but so is the cost of housing, so you end up not coming ahead much better than if you lived and worked on Main Street, USA. I also have a fairly good idea what the owners paid for these buildings 10 to 30 years ago, and they're making out like bandits - and they are.
Apartments used to be for people who could not afford a house or the monthly house note. They paid less as a result. Now it's almost equal, but renters have no equity and can get kicked out legally in sixty days without the owner giving a reason - which happened to me and several other shocked tenants last year, I think that so the landlord could gentrify the building and increase the rent.
Rent is a little cheaper in the next county and in quite a few areas in my hometown, DC. I tried to talk her into us living there for the short term. The commute would be horrible for Cassie and I, and she'd have to be extremely secretive about where we lived so she wouldn't get kicked out of her beloved school, but the ability to quickly save might be worth it.
"I won't want to be home on weekends," she announced, when I proposed that plan.
"Ya think?", I said. "You might make a lot of neat DC friends."
"Not interested," she replied. "I like my friends now."
"Then you better kick butt on the basketball team next season," I said, "and keeping your the GPA high goes without saying. The way things are, I'm not sure that will be enough to get all the grants and scholarships you'll need. You sure you want to be a lawyer?"
"Yes, Mom," she said in that tone of voice.
"You better be sure, or you'll be in debt for decades, paying back those student loans."
That's so unfair, and I know it.
Just telling her that made me feel guilty. Not many people really know what they want to be at such a young age, and hardly know what's out there, what they'll be good at, or what makes them feel passionate, until they study and try different things. That's one of the main values of a well-rounded, four year college education.
On the other hand, Cassie said at the age of five that she wanted to go to Harvard, which blew me away because none of us ever mentioned it, and at ten said she wanted to work in entertainment law.
Thus, once we move, it looks like a small two bedroom in the neighborhood will be the way to go.
I think of all the families and young adults scrambling to get or keep a piece of the American pie. The average costs runs $30K a year for a private university. In-state is cheaper if you live at home, but it's still expensive; the U. of Maryland (tuition only) is currently $8,053 for undergrad residents, and $23,990 (tuition only) for non-residents. The current cost for undergrad tuition, fees, room and board at Harvard runs $52K a year.
Don't think I didn't buy a lottery ticket this week, and that one was for my boo.
It's no longer cost-effective for anyone to get a four year degree unless they plan on working in a field where a degree is absolutely necessary. Some of these aren't a passport into high paying careers either, especially teaching, nursing, and social work.
I'm thinking along the lines of a tale of two students, where two people get degrees, but one becomes an engineer or accountant, and the other a teacher or nurse. The first one is earning so much money they can repay their student loans in a year or three, while the other one is stuck in debt fifteen years later and struggling to keep up with a mortgage or rent.
Notice too, that the traditional 'feminine' occupations pay so much less.
Even this game is changing, and I wonder how safe accounting, finance, and law will be. The USA is broke and the dollar is anemic. What happens when the Great Depression II hits with full force, and if afterwards, when the dust clears, we have a whole new way of doing business, with possibly a new monetary system and currency? How much will be obsolete of what students in those fields are learning now?
And what happens to a society when young adult citizens haven't had the benefits of taking courses like philosophy, sociology, psychology, literature, and economics, because all they could afford was a tech school - which is about job training - and not provided with a well-rounded education? Or those who went anyway, majored in liberal arts or English or language or sociology, and end up as debt slaves working as a cashier at the local big box store? All that precious knowledge, under-utilized and benefiting so few.
Many questions, and a lot of ideas floating around on how people can get two basic things that weren't that hard to get fifteen to forty years ago: college for every kid who wants to go, and affordable housing for all.
Hope springs eternal that America's social pendulum will swing back in our favor... or is it not a pendulum, but rather, a spin toy that's lost it's rotational stability?
I couldn't have more surprised to learn today that on over 100 college campuses, students protested high tuition and budget cuts in California, and a few other states, which you can read about here and here and elsewhere.
Posted by Kit (Keep It Trill) at 3:18 AM