Levittown & the American Dream: Still Alive Some Places

Re: Why We Can't Build an Affordable House, by Wytold Rybczynski

Rybczynski rightly points the finger at overly zealous regulation as a principal reason for the escalation in housing prices. Missing, however, is the fact that the American Dream as embodied in Levittown is still alive where regulatory excesses have been avoided. Rybczynski notes that Levittowners could be purchased for three times the average wage. The average wage in 1950 was virtually the average household income, since there was rarely more than one worker in a household.

In much of the country median house prices today remain at or below three times median household incomes. Notably, these are areas where smart growth style land restrictions have not taken hold and it includes metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston --- the three fastest growing metropolitan areas in the developed world over 5,000,000 population. In all, at the peak of the housing bubble, 46 of 129 US markets had house prices at or below the Levittown ratio (see 4th International Demographia Housing Affordability Survey, http://www.demographia.com/dhi.pdf) --- such as Kansas City, Columbus, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Louisville and other metropolitan areas that are generally recipients of domestic migrants from the more highly regulated and unaffordable markets. Moreover, the median sized house is at least double the size of the Levittowner. Finally, new starter homes can be found at or below the Levittown ratio in many of these markets.

Wendell Cox
Co-Author, Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey
Demographia, St. Louis &
Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris