The next housing challenge

May 19, 2008
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As the housing debacle continues to unwind, another big â?? really big â?? issue in housing is going largely unnoticed.

Houses built in the 1950s are at risk of falling into the same decay experienced by many older neighborhoods, some of which have been revitalized into showplaces like Lockerbie or the Old Northside.

The newer houses arenâ??t particularly attractive by todayâ??s standards. Many have fewer than 1,000 square feet. They typically have three tiny bedrooms, a single bath and maybe a single-car garage. All of it rests on a concrete slab.

Marion County alone has 58,000 houses built in the â??50s, according to the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at IUPUI. Thatâ??s about 15 percent of the housing stock in the county, a great deal of which is entry-level quality.

Today, these houses sell for $40,000 to more than $100,000â??depending on the neighborhood and school district. Some areas are holding their values and others are not.

The future of â??50s-era suburbs worries IUPUI researcher Drew Klacik.

Unless action is taken to shore up declining neighborhoods at both social and infrastructure levels, the areas soon could tip into decay that would be extremely difficult to reverse.

â??Thatâ??s a new challenge,â?? Klacik says. â??Thatâ??s not an urban core problem. Thatâ??s an early suburban problem.â??

What do you think? Can these neighborhoods be saved?
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  • Let's be brutally honest here. Whether or not these areas fall into decay has less to do with the style of the homes or the quality of their construction then it does the quality of the people who reside in them.
  • The residents have nothing to do with it.

    Poor quality construction simply isn't worth saving, as repair often requires something approaching rebuild:

    pipes under the slab? re-plumb.
    aluminum or non-grounded wire? re-wire.
    plywood paneling de-laminating? strip to studs and re-side the house
    leaky casement windows? replace.

    Sadly, many of those postwar homes just aren't worth that level of re-investment for anyone.
  • I live in a 1926 800 sf bungalow. When I was house hunting I looked for houses built between 1900-1949. Those 50's era homes are not attractive to me in the least. My home is no larger, but it does have some nicer features that you can't find in the plain jane boxes of the 50's. My neighborhood is a mix of the older homes with the later 40's - 50's style. I worry about my neighborhood as we're already borderline with too many renters and not enough owners. I don't know what you do with those type houses. I think people would still look at them, some people anyway, because they are affordable for singles or couples who can't afford all these high end condos that builders seem so fond of these days. I think the key is maintaining a safe neighborhood in a decent location. I live in SoBro which is an excellent location within the city, but many or our streets lack sidewalks and curbs making the streets look shabbier than they are.
  • I love these old neighborhoods! Lets save them!

    Only if it were that easy. If you look at two ways to revitalize these areas;

    One being one or two houses at a time. This takes a lot of time and money plus the first couple houses lets say you get for $40k, spend $20k+ to renovate it only to find that it is still in a $50k to $70k neighborhood. With commissions and marketing to sell it, you don't stand to make much. I know lets not make it about money, but the first comment hits in on the head with the quality of residents. I am not negative toward the people only being honest about the income they bring in. If you buy a $40k house chances are you can't afford to put $20k into it.

    The second option is to buy up entire blocks for redevelopment. That can be summed up by comparing large vacant farm fields for new development versus the headache of assembling many individual lots only to have one or two hold out because it was were they grew up. Plus the issues with lead paint and asbestos or the occasional filling station with an underground tank still in place.

    Lets face it, today time and money rule everything and sprawl is quicker and cheaper. Right now I don't have the time or the money, but I would be the first to work on a plan to revive these old areas if both were available to me.
  • Time and money rule everything?! Since when?
  • Since anything older than 30 years seems to be considered historic, I'm sure all these homes will have to be preserved and renovated (inside only of course).
  • Some folks don't seem to be clear on the concepts in play here. Pre-WWII houses, those built before 1942, are generally well-constructed buildings using real materials and features such as steep-pitched roof, overhangs, basements, double-hung wood windows, block, brick, stone, solid lumber, and plaster. Those materials last 100 years or more and houses built from them can be rehabilitated by replacement of small bad sections, and they can be easily updated with new plumbing and wiring because they have basements or crawlspaces and attics.

    The postwar inner-ring suburbs are typically slab-built, roofed and sided in early plywood that is now deteriorating, with aluminum casement windows and aluminum wiring. In many cases the pipes, wiring and heat ducts are not accessible. A $20K DIY facelift (new roof, paint, carpet, and appliances) is not what we're talking about here.
  • People find more value in pre-WWII houses like thundermutt stated.
    1950's homes just don't have the charm or natural material construction like pre-WWII homes and I think that is why people would rather renovate or restore a pre-WWII home(especially a victorian or bungalow) than a 1950's house.
    These 1950's houses arent as densely built either. They tend to be more spread out and they don't have the general neighborhood charms that pre-WWII neighborhoods hold such as detailed cast-iron fences, narrow streets, brick allies, old street lamps, ornate architecture, and general density.
    These neighborhoods were built to break away from the designs of the pre-WWII neighborhoods in every way.
    Unfortunately for such neighborhoods the trend these days is to renovate what one would call 'historic' homes and not 1940's and 50's ranch houses.
    These neighborhoods are going to have a rough time selling themselves. People looking to live in the suburbs will usually move away from these old 1950's suburbs and people looking to live in urban areas will be looking for denser, flashier, and 'historic' neighborhoods.
    They just don't have as bright a future as other neighborhoods.

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