Flyover Country Needs to Keep Our Biggest Edge: Housing Affordability


If there’s one location advantage for the heartland that’s become clear during the last several years, it’s the edge we enjoy over the coasts in housing affordability. Time and again, people who locate in or come back to Flyover Country cite the fact they can afford to live in a decent home – and they can’t do that on the seaboards, especially in big metro areas.

Problem is, the current acceleration in home prices in most of our region could be whittling away at our competitive advantage in housing affordability, the most important component of the overall reasonable cost of living that has been attracting so many folks to our locales.

And if we lose a significant piece of that advantage, fewer people will be interested in looking at all the other quality-of-life aspects of living out here. Such a development could blunt the economic momentum we’ve achieved recently.

“What’s kind of new on the horizon is that cities around Flyover Country that thought of this as a San Francisco problem or New York problem are seeing it’s their own problem too,” Cullum Clark, director of the George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative, in Dallas, tells me. “It’s a huge issue.”

In the wake of a wave of New Yorkers decamping to Florida amid the pandemic, says Richard Florida, “Go try and find a house in Miami now.” The founder of the Creative Class Group and author of books including The New Urban Crisis says, “Where can you buy an affordable house? Austin is out now, too. The coastal hubs also are unaffordable. Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit [areas] all have beautiful homes, though, with nice neighborhoods and school districts. Where can normal, average, middle-class people live?”

‘Pa’ Bailey Was Right

It may seem obvious, but we need to remind ourselves of the primeval and continuing importance for Americans of being able to afford where they want to live. As savings-and-loan-chief “Pa” Bailey put it in It’s a Wonderful Life, advising his intrepid son George, “It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace.”

“Affordability” was the No. 1 answer given by people surveyed by Prudential Financial when asked why they chose to live where they did, topping “job prospects” and “school quality,” Clark has noted. The lack of affordable housing in thriving cities is the main reason geographic mobility among lower-educated Americans receded in the United States before the pandemic, economists Peter Banong and Daniel Shoag have pointed out.

For decades now, coastal denizens have been complaining about the stratospheric costs of housing. Increasing emigration from California is one proof that unaffordable housing finally is pushing the middle class out of locales that haven’t been able to get their arms around this problem. Many of these folks are heading inland where, data and perceptions tell them, they might actually be able to afford to put one of Pa Bailey’s roofs over their heads.

Read the rest of this piece at Flyover Coalition.

Dale Buss is founder and executive director of The Flyover Coalition, a not-for-profit organization aimed at helping revitalize and promote the economy, companies and people of the region between the Appalachians and Rockies, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes. He is a long-time author, journalist, and magazine and newspaper editor, and contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and many other publications. Buss is a Wisconsin native who lives in Michigan and has also lived in Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Photo: Nathan Metcalf, via Wikimedia CC 4.0 License.