Monday, January 19, 2015

There is no luxury housing

I've noticed lately that it's become popular to scoff at "luxury housing." The people who scoff tend to do it as proof that they’re not one of those middle-class people. Or that they’re one of those poor people who’s mad as hell. "Luxury housing! That’s the last thing this neighborhood needs! Where are all the poor people going to live? They don’t need fucking granite countertops!"

I don’t think the people who scoff at luxury housing are particularly dense, but they must be willfully blind, because they’re not seeing something that’s pretty obvious to me: "luxury" is bullshit. A good deal of the housing that’s called "luxury" is not actually luxury housing, but the people selling it pretend that it is, because that’s what they do to sell stuff. They play to people’s class consciousness, tell them how pampered it will make them feel to live in Luxury Housing in the Classe Toweres with granite countertops and hardwood floors and a concierge.

Even the people who are selling these apartments know it’s bullshit. Yes, maybe they should try a different approach, the Salt of the Earth Solid Working-Class No-Frills Apartments. Maybe you’ve got a hit there, Mr. and Ms. Populist. But maybe not. Maybe there’s a reason they’re in real estate and you’re in journalism or real estate. They know how to bullshit. You know that. Why are you taking them at their word?

Some luxury is not quite bullshit. I lived in “luxury housing” once, with high ceilings, parquet floors, a sunken living room and an eat-in kitchen. It did feel a bit luxurious sometimes. But the intercom didn’t work, and there were rats in the hall and people smoking crack outside our kitchen window. Salsa music blared late into the night on Saturdays. And yet it had been built as luxury housing seventy years before.

Today, in 2015, you can get a one bedroom apartment in my old building for $1200. Meanwhile, a one bedroom apartment where I live now, in a plain brick building built for "workers," can run you over $1800.

There are a lot of factors that go into the rent or sales price of an apartment. The quality of the housing stock is only one of those factors – and the hype that goes into it is only one more. The rents and prices, in turn, are only one factor that determines whether people who currently live in the neighborhood will be able to continue to afford it.

So next time you see an ad for a new "luxury housing" development, and you’re getting ready to roll your eyes and sigh dramatically about What This Town is Turning Into, please do us all a favor. Spare us the fake piety and spend a little time thinking about what really causes displacement.


Jonathan said...

Your post came up a day or two before the latest big Edgewater, NJ fire, which burned down a whole swath of "luxury" wood-framed buildings. Talk about oxymoronic.

Ancestor said...

You're pretty smug, you know that? If builders need to call it "luxury" to sell it, and people actually believe it, they are stupid. I don't call anything within spitting distance of car, rail and subway traffic luxury, whether it has marble counter tops or not, but that is what every new building around here calls itself. Whatever they call it it was supposed to bring prices down, but things have tripled. So no matter what you call it, it is screwing working people and we are allowed to dislike it.

Cap'n Transit said...

Interesting take, Vikingirishwoman. So if your doctor tells you to take two aspirins and you only take one, and then your fever goes up instead of down, do you then say that the aspirin is causing your fever to go up?

Charlie Gardner said...

I always viewed "luxury" as a real estate euphemism (there are so many) for "expensive" that is apparently received by the public better than "new." It communicates a high quality generally associated with new construction without having to say so directly, since newness per se does not have the cachet in New York, with its impressive legacy of pre-war apartments, that it might in some other cities.