Think back to the last election. Do you remember how many Mitt Romney signs and how many Barack Obama signs appeared on your neighbors’ lawns? I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, much less my neighbors’ politics, but recent research shows that that maybe I should pay more attention. Apparently, my neighbors’ electoral values may affect my home value.
Among the nation’s biggest housing markets, home prices are currently the highest in places where residents voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in the last presidential election. Conversely, markets where Romney received the most votes have lower, more affordable homes.
For the average North Carolina woman, this is just more bad news. It’s no secret that we live in a state divided. We can be sorted in red vs. blue, rural vs. urban, by level of education, or by race. Now it looks like we are locked out of home buying, even by political preference.
The average home in North Carolina sells for $150,000. At that price, a typical single mother making $20,000 -$30,000 a year cannot afford to buy a home and will have no choice but to rent indefinitely. Even more depressing: more than half of the homes statewide cost more than average. In my town of Chapel Hill, the median sales price for homes is double at $300,000. A woman would need to be making at least $70,000 annually to afford a mortgage payment here.
So why do Obama supporters live in more expensive areas? According to the research, our politics coincide with our environmental values and ethics around home development. In areas that are more left-leaning, towns and cities tend to be more restrictive about planning regulations. This is certainly true in Chapel Hill where developers are reluctant to build cheaper, smaller homes. Developers have to put up a big chunk of cash to get their projects approved by the town zoning boards — and it to make it worth their buck, they build big, expensive homes.
As these rich towns gets richer and homes grow more unaffordable, it drives the working class further away and creates more class division. When we live, work, and vote in tiny communities made up of people exactly like us, we don’t grow as a state. Moving further apart from those who have different values and opinions is the last thing we need.
The solution is not to vote more red or more blue. The solution is to create communities that are inclusive of everyone, so that everyone feels welcome and can prosper. That single mom barely pulling minimum wage should be able to buy a townhouse just down the street from the captain of industry. The political signs on our streets should be for all the candidates, and we should (politely!) disagree with our neighbors. That way the next economist who runs the numbers can’t find yet another trend to divide our already divided state.