Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No One Could Have Anticipated . . . .

Today's WaPo reports on something that I think we all saw coming.

[M]ansionization comes with a twist: Some of the new homes, neighbors and town leaders say, are being used as boardinghouses for several families or unrelated people. Some are college students from the University of Maryland. Others appear to be immigrants.

"Our concern with these McMansions is they are not single-family homes," LaVerne Williams of Lewisdale told a group of county planners and elected officials in Riverdale. "You are turning our communities into rooming communities."

Williams, 81, is leading a campaign to protect her neighborhood and beyond. She walked into the recent meeting with a cane in one hand and a fistful of pictures of oversize houses in the other.

"I'm a law-abiding citizen," she said. "You have to do something about this."

In my Northern Virginia neighborhood, there are a number of these ecological and aesthetic monstrosities -- crowding out light for the surrounding modest bungalows and leaving no room for trees or grass -- sitting empty. It's a matter of time before they, too, turn into rooming houses. Great job, zoning boards!


Anonymous said...

That is one ugly ass house in that picture.
Who'd ever want to buy that?


dan mcenroe said...

I live in Astoria, Queens. Around the turn of the century it was a wealthy area, and many of the older houses in the neighborhood are, indeed, mansions. Nearly all of them are now rooming houses or subdivided into multi-family residences. (In some cases this is a shame because you can tell that the houses in their original state were quite beautiful).

So, if history is any indication, the same thing is going to happen to all those McMansion developments.

watertiger said...

and yet, there's something environmentally friendly about McMansions being used as boarding houses. You have all that square footage that would otherwise go unused...

Stupid, stupid developers.

ronan said...

Look on the bright side: once those McMansions are turned into multi-family dwellings, they might turn from a terrible waste of resources, into an eco-friendly way to live (okay, more eco-friendly than our national average, but still not sustainable).

I suspect that 60 people living in 3 McMansions have a smaller carbon footprint than 60 people living in 15 bungaloes. One structure to cool, one common kitchen, one lawn to maintain (talk about a toxic resource-sink), and with enough people, it will probably heat itself most of the year, in most latitudes.

Anonymous said...

No, ronan, they will not, for all the reasons that we all already know. Multi-family housing is not the same thing as this bastardisation - and plunking down what amounts to a rooming house - not an apartment, but a rooming house - in a single family or even dual family neighborhood is a receipt for neighborhood fragmentation and dissolution. Further of course, these kinds of situation are always secret - which means the tenants have no rights, no protection and no means of obtaining them.

On the other hand, the Sovietisation of residential DC is kind of cute....

dr. wu said...

This is nothing new. For decades, non-starving college students and twentysomethings have been living in nice houses (old and new) originally intended for rich folks. Frankly, McMansions are ideal--most have room to conveniently park four or more cars, plenty of square footage, and are affordable when you compare them to four or more one- or two-bedroom apartments or condos; plus, communal living can be a lot less expensive in terms of utilities, services, etc.--you need fewer refrigerators and fewer trash pickups and fewer clothes dryers.

Cities can generally enforce restrictions on the number of unrelated individuals that can live in a house in a particular zoning district, but trying to get the number much below four starts to run into legal problems. And, of course, it's almost impossible to enforce--a lot of these situations are informal where one or two of the residents buy or rent the house, and the rest just live there. So McMansionville might as well get used to it.

random said...

ronan, the problem is that McMansion developments are car-dependent, need a car to get to work, to get groceries, to rent a movie... so the problem is you now have 10 cars parked on the front lawn.

Anne Johnson said...

My sister is moving to a brand new McMansion development. I toured the model house. It was an absolute monstrosity, something you might expect to find Marie Antoinette or the Czar of Russia lounging in. If two people shared the master bedroom and one person used each other bedroom, and two people lived downstairs, and one lived in the "library," let's see ... how many is that? Nine people. Probably at least four cars. Fuck that, let's fix up these urban neighborhoods where you can take a Speedline to work.

Anonymous said...

Folks, these houses won't live that long to assume some secondary usage type. They're made to last as long as the initial mortgage- 30 years- and not a whole lot longer. It may pass through two or three hands, but 20 years down the road, they'll be ready to recycle. Or burn. Fortunately (maybe) most American buildings are so lightly built it doesn't take much to remove them. But the underground and overhead utilities remain, awaiting a better use.

joe said...

plunking down what amounts to a rooming house - not an apartment, but a rooming house - in a single family or even dual family neighborhood is a receipt for neighborhood fragmentation and dissolution. Further of course, these kinds of situation are always secret - which means the tenants have no rights, no protection and no means of obtaining them.

These problems are both the result of regulation, not the use of the home.

The reason the re-use of this type of structure is as rooming houses rather than condos/apartments - and I agree, rooming houses can be very incompatable with single family homes - is because the single-family zoning forbids them to be reused as a multifamily structure, and just allowing a big group of people to rent it can be done secretly, as you say, much more easily than the physical subdivision of the home.

Single-use zoning is almost always counterproduction like that.

Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law is going through a divorce and her husband tricked her into an interest-only mortgage due in 18 months. She wants to stay in the house for her 11-year-old son, so has started running ads to rent out the bedrooms. Since she will need lots of renters, we just planned out a scenario for her to wall off the living room as well as the dining room and rent out both! How timely is this post!

Anonymous said...

Hey, now, Versailles housed many folks (royal and not so). Yes, many rooms were 'single purpose' as far as the royal reception rooms, but Marie didn't design them (heck, she didn't even like all the pomp and circumstance). The long-gone by Marie's time King Louis XIV had the humble hunting lodge made over into the palace that she lived in at her marriage to the Dauphin. Lots of folks even camped out (however unregulated) in the halls. That place saw a LOT more use than the current uber-goober-American-mcChateau. Plus, it has lasted a damn sight longer...these gated communities will be ripe for tear-down/rebuild/flipping like the Georgian Burger Joints they are before the first owner gets divorced for the 5th time. Same with the Tsar's palaces and townhomes, they were occupied by upper and lower class alike pre-revolution (staff stayed there, granted, cramped, but not just 4 members of a hoity family) and saw much reuse and multiple residents after the Revolution. Many of those townhomes are still being used by multiple tenants today - two hundred years after being built. Palaces by and large are 'empty' now, because they are now museums and not 'homes'.
Years ago, I wanted a large home...but I was a kid still. Now, I just want a cozy bungalow - easier upkeep and cheaper, too! Long as there is room for my future bassetts and a rose garden, I am home! :)
Peace, Elspeth R.

mdhatter said...

Up here in the Mass. suburbs we have a ming boggoggling number of these, I've not heard of them being used by so many people (though I have seen it in VA with my own eyes).. what gets me around here is that people basically can't afford to heat these monsters, so are having to basically wall off whole parts of the house for the winter.

hah hah.

paul said...

In particular, cheap sheetrock and 2x3 studs make for walls that crumble unless treated carefully, and cheap construction means no sound isolation. Add to this electrical systems that aren't really fit for full-time use of every room (much less hot plates and individual air conditioners) and you have a series of small disasters in the making. If anything, suburban and exurban slums are more pernicious than the urban kind.

Nemoudeis said...

Jeezus, who didn't see this coming?

I live in a city full of mansions, all built sometime early in the last century, and not one in ten of them right now is a "single-family home" ... and neither HAVE they been since the days of my grandparents. In fact, things are better now than Ye Olde Days, because now they're all condos, whereas a generation or so they were all carved up into teeny little crudhole studios. Easily more suitable for a drunkard's flop than a debutante's coming-of-age soiree.

So my point being that since there ain't anything new under the sun, we should've known that these McMansions were too big to support themselves. The only surprise is in how fast the realization proved itself to be true.

Junk Thief said...

Well, we all the Freudian implications of a man with the need to have a big car. That house makes me wonder what a big door and entry way tells you about the owner. Unless he plans to have a party with giants or Trojan horses, I think it's a bit overdone.

Sharon said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with rooming houses, per se. That's the way a lot of people lived in cities until just after WWII when the post-war boom directed us all to buy single family homes, and that's the direction our economy is taking us again. Rooming houses are certainly a better use of resources than McMansions are. I understand the consternation on the part of the neighbors, but they should have spoken out before the McMansions were built in the first place. Now they're going to have to suck it up. The alternative is that the McMansions will be torn down and replaced with condos and apartments--either of which is also a better use of the land and resources.

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