Phoenix suburban development rises from the ashes of the housing crash

businessweek coverBloomberg Businessweek/Screen capture

For years, I have been writing that Phoenix is dead, that a city as dependent on distant water and expensive air conditioning and that was so much a part of the housing crisis could not possibly recover, and really, probably shouldn't. I have written that the great suburban experiment was a disaster, and agreed with Jim Kunstler that it was perhaps the greatest missallocation of resources in the history of the world.

Now Phoenix is back, and it's party like it's 2005 all over again, with flips, no-look bids and multiple offers and all the wretched excess that was seen before the crisis started. It's covered in an article by Susan Berfield in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, innocuously titled A Phoenix Housing Boom Forms, in Hint of U.S. Recovery.

I hesitated writing about this article because of the cover illustration, which I thought was incredibly inappropriate and borderline racist. I have a subscription and got this online on the 21st of February, but there was an eerie silence about it, making me doubt my opinion, until Matt Yglesias commented on the 28th. (BusinessWeek has since apologized for it). Whenever I write about the housing crisis, there are always commenters who insist it was caused by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who passed the Community Reinvestment Act that made it possible for too many black people to get mortgages. So what if the act was passed in 1977, when Barack Obama was 16, or that there are no statistics that show that people of color defaulted in higher proportions than white people, or that minorities were preyed upon by Countrywide and other mortgage brokers. It is just one of those right wing tropes that come up every time. It still tainted the article, which otherwise just paints a depressing picture of deja vu all over again. And sadly, it is.

The big builder Pulte says that things are different, that they are building greener and smarter this time, doing real research:

Many of Pulte’s new homes have an owner’s entry, a space where the family can drop off backpacks, sports gear, all the stuff of daily life. It’s a mudroom but bigger. Then there’s the planning center, where mothers can organize the family’s activities. (Pulte dads get a “Gladiator” garage.) There are rooms that can be built as dens or bedrooms for grown-up kids or in-laws. Formal living rooms and dining rooms have pretty much disappeared. Common rooms are bigger. “Families want to be together now, amazingly, or in sight lines. That took us a while to get,” says Meyer. “Everyone wants more space, but I don’t see us going back to McMansions. People are making better choices, they’re more realistic. The whole industry is more realistic.”

Really? Sounds like pretty much what was there before, single family houses on culs-de-sac in the middle of the desert. They have reshuffled the rooms so that mom can see what the kids are doing on their smart phones, but otherwise it is the same old. People forget; as one developer concludes, "It’s like any trauma, You forget when it gets good again."

Everyone is so happy that the housing industry is on the upswing, that the sunbelt is back, that more houses mean more shopping in big boxes to furnish them and more car sales to get to them. But we should be careful what we wish for.

Phoenix suburban development rises from the ashes of the housing crash
It probably should have stayed dead, but like a Phoenix, it's back.

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