Safe Places Report #9:
A hot topic in the news today is the flight of Americans to the countryside, away from the riots and coronavirus lockdowns in the big cities. That is a theme of these Safe Places reports, of course, so these articles always catch my attention.
What amazes me is how overly simplified these articles usually are, making it so easy to decide where to move—“just follow this list.” But one size does not fit all. Your desires and needs are unique, not the same as every other American who reads the article. Plus the way the lists are compiled is usually pretty sophomoric, even when they have some good choices on them. It quickly becomes evident that these lists are written with an enticing headline to build clicks on the Internet, and are not that informative or helpful at all.
I came across an extreme example this week, with a thesis that is so oversimplified as to be funny. The headline reads: “America’s Most and Least Affordable Places to Buy a Home.” I won’t mention the name of the site where it appeared because it is a site I actually like a lot, for other, unrelated reasons.
The formula in this article is to define every city’s affordability by its median household income as a percentage of home prices in the city. But selecting a new home location is much more complicated than comparing those two statistics. They may give you a general idea of the city’s “affordability,” but if you are looking to move, and to another city, you will be more interested in finding a suitable neighborhood. Since every city has a wide variety of neighborhoods, from desirable to must-avoid, that will probably narrow the “affordability” gap somewhat. And then there are all the other factors that are involved in choosing a new home, among them climate, safety in terms of crime, and the type of community life you desire.
To see the absurd simplicity in compiling this list, we need only look at “the most affordable place to buy a home in America”—Youngstown, Ohio. Now, I have nothing against Youngstown and I’m sure it has many fine residents who are doing their best to make it a good place in which to live. But before choosing to move there you would want to do some research and consider a number of other factors. For me that would include the long and bitter winters—it’s too close to that Great Lakes arctic zone.
Then there’s the matter of crime. Youngstown has an unfortunate history in that regard, from its days of Ku Klux Klan ascendency to mob violence and control (the term “Youngstown tune-up” referred to car-bomb assassinations) to today’s relatively more calm but still high crime rates.
And then there are the reasons why housing is so affordable in Youngstown. The city has been in steady population decline ever since the closing of U.S. Steel in the 1970s, and its vacant home rate is 20 times the U.S. average, so I’m sure you can find some gems at distress-sale prices. But you may not be the fixer-upper type. And what will the neighborhood be like? Most people do choose where to live by the neighborhood rather than an overall city.
Youngstown is a too-easy target, and again my apologies to the good people living there. But the pattern is the same when we look at the complete most-affordable and least-affordable lists. The most affordable list is dominated by Rust Belt and rural-depopulation locations, while the least affordable list is dominated by California locations. But you already knew that Mississippi is poor and California is sky-high expensive.
There’s no harm in looking at these Internet relocation lists for amusement, as I do. But choosing a new home for you and your family requires more work and is more complicated than just consulting a computer-generated list. That’s where I will help you in these Safe Places reports.
See here for my previous Safe Places reports.