The Wrath of Grapes: Californians Head to Oklahoma


From the NYT:

Affordable Housing Draws Middle Class to Inland Cities
By SHAILA DEWAN AUG. 3, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY — Americans have never hesitated to pack up the U-Haul in search of the big time, a better job or just warmer weather. But these days, domestic migrants are increasingly driven by the quest for cheaper housing.

The country’s fastest-growing cities are now those where housing is more affordable than average, a decisive reversal from the early years of the millennium, when easy credit allowed cities to grow without regard to housing cost and when the fastest-growing cities had housing that was less affordable than the national average. Among people who have moved long distances, the number of those who cite housing as their primary motivation for doing so has more than doubled since 2007.

Rising rents and the difficulty of securing a mortgage on the coasts have proved a boon to inland cities that offer the middle class a firmer footing and an easier life. In the eternal competition among urban centers, the shift has produced some new winners.

Oklahoma City, for example, has outpaced most other cities in growth since 2011, becoming the 12th-fastest-growing city last year. It has also won over a coveted demographic, young adults age 25 to 34, going from a net loss of millennials to a net gain.

You can see why places like Oklahoma City let themselves get raped by major league sports team owners in order to call themselves major league. Oklahoma City snagged Seattle’s NBA franchise a few years ago and now has a wonderful basketball player in Kevin Durant. The OKC basketball team is currently cool, so OKC gets featured in this article about a broad trend.

Other affordable cities that have jumped in the growth rankings include several in Texas, including El Paso and San Antonio, as well as Columbus, Ohio, and Little Rock, Ark.

Newcomers in Oklahoma City have traded traffic jams and preschool waiting lists for master suites the size of their old apartments. The sons of Lorin Olson, a stem cell biologist who moved here from New York’s Upper East Side, now ride bikes in their suburban neighborhood and go home to a four-bedroom house. Hector Lopez, a caricature artist, lives in a loft apartment here for less than he paid to stay in a garage near Los Angeles. Tony Trammell, one of a group of about a dozen friends to make the move from San Diego, paid $260,000 for his 3,300-square-foot home in a nearby suburb.

… While the overall number of people who move to a different city or state has fallen in recent years, a significantly greater share of domestic migrants now say they were drawn to a place where housing is more affordable. As a result, the latest winners in the competition among urban centers include locations like San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

… But of those who moved more than 500 miles, the share who said they were chiefly motivated by housing has risen to 18 percent in 2014, from 8 percent in 2007, the earliest year such data is available, according to the Census Bureau. The desire for a new, better or cheaper home and the opportunity to buy instead of rent were among the housing-related reasons people cited.

The story was different from 2000 to 2006, when cities with high-cost housing grew more quickly than those with affordable housing, according to an analysis of metro areas by Redfin, a national real estate brokerage firm. …

The mayor cited clean air, a lack of traffic gridlock and, of course, affordable housing as factors in the city’s growth. But like other midsize cities, this one has labored to give people additional reasons to move here, notably acquiring a professional basketball team, the Thunder. …

But during the housing bubble, when even people with modest salaries could get loans to buy staggeringly expensive homes, the cost of housing was less of a concern. Now that getting a mortgage has become harder, the wage stagnation that has hobbled the middle class for years has deeper consequences. “People have no choice,” Mr. Kelman said. “They can’t move across the street; they have to move across the country.”

During the bubble, people coming from the most expensive places viewed even moderately expensive housing in places like Phoenix as a bargain, especially if they expected the value of such housing to rise, says Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economist who studies cities.

But, Mr. Glaeser says, there is also a historical trend driven by severe restrictions on building new housing in highly regulated cities like San Francisco, Washington and New York. Whereas high housing prices were once a sign of growth because they indicated strong demand, now they are more a function of limited supply. Midlevel prices (as opposed to rock-bottom values in places like Detroit) have become a better predictor of growth.

Additional next questions seems obvious: Does affordable housing imply affordable family formation? What’s the difference in fertility between couples who move from expensive to affordable places and similar couples who stay? Is the higher white fertility in places with higher incomes to cost of livings more a selection effect of importing family-oriented people or is it more a nurture effect on people who happened to already be there? What are the effects on voting?

George Hawley, a political scientist at the U. of Alabama, has been researching these questions I came up with a decade ago. But mostly, there hasn’t been much interest.