“I’m trying to find a place to live.”
That’s a line from Arrested Development. Buster, the youngest of the Bluth children, desperately says it to his Mexican housekeeper when, thinking he’s escaped into Mexico from his home in Southern California to avoid having to go to war in Iraq (he is in fact still very much in Southern California), he takes up residence under the trampoline in her yard.
Under a trampoline is about what I can afford for monthly rent.
I’ve discovered that fact—or at very least reinforced it as something I suspected all along—over the last two months or so as I’ve been looking for an apartment or, more preferred, a house to rent with my wife. For the last six years-plus, most of our lives as a married couple, we’ve lived with her mother in a home that has plenty of room, but still, it’s long past time for us to get our own place.
My wife is an academic. She’s finishing a Ph.D. dissertation at Rutgers New Brunswick—still a mystery what someone so brilliant is doing with my useless, incompetent ass—and as you might expect, she doesn’t make much money. These days I’m basically working two full-time jobs, this and another, and neither of which makes much money either. Coupled together, it’s still not much money. We get by, but in terms of what we can pay for rent, it’s probably less than you would think.
That math works adversely, because unless you’re currently paying it and know first-hand, rent is probably more than you would think. These tiny little places cost $1400 a month, and that’s so out of my league it might as well be Playmate Of The Year. I know New Jersey is more expensive than just about everywhere else, but it just also happens to be where I work, where my family is, etc. If I can get out of moving without increasing my commute from its currently ultra-manageable 25 minutes to two and a half hours, I’d vastly prefer it.
It’s funny though to hear people talk about the “housing bubble.” Drive around your neighborhood and look at all the shit for sale. I guarantee there’s a lot of it. The market is flooded. Absolutely saturated. And yet when you see the prices on these things, sure, they’ve come down some from what they were in, say, 2006, but the numbers are still ridiculous. I’m sorry, but a 1700-square-foot condo in Wayne with two bedrooms is not worth $350,000. It just isn’t. So if the economy collapsed and the government bailed out the banks and everything’s okay now and we’re on our way back, why isn’t the market naturally correcting itself to the flood of available properties by lowering prices?
An economist I ain’t, but it seems to me that in a capitalist system, if you’ve got a large supply of something—i.e. real estate—and there’s not much demand for it at the price you have set, the way to sell it is to lower the price. I seem to recall that’s how it works. You have all these people clamoring for less government involvement in business, as though if only congress would step out of their way, these massive megabanks would fix the entire world, well fine. Here’s a case where the government gave the banks a huge wad of free money with next to no strings attached and the banks can’t even be bothered to set an honest market value.
It’s a fascinating, infuriating process to witness—one almost hopes at some point for a genuine collapse, although I harbor no delusions that the brunt of the impact of such a collapse wouldn’t be immediately pushed onto the American public, who may or may not deserve it but don’t deserve it nearly as much as those who created the false economy in the first place—but it doesn’t do much for getting me out of my mother-in-law’s house and into a one-year or two-year lease on a place that has both affordable rent and a shower I can actually stand in.
I’m the first generation of my family to have less opportunity for advancement than the one before me. But you know what? I don’t even care about that. I just want a kitchen where I can open the fridge door all the way without bumping it into the stove.
I wonder if the trampoline would be tall enough for that.