Defining Minimum Acceptable Housing – And How It Varies From Person To Person

My Friday post about how to afford an expensive housing market raised some interesting questions – the most intriguing of which is the idea of minimum acceptable housing. To me, this was epitomized by the following abrasive comment on the thread:

Sorry for this nonproductive comment, but I’m really dissappointed in your arrogance. I live in New York. I don’t think you get it. It’s damn near impossible to find an “over my dead body” place for a decent price, let alone a place you actually want to live in. Please check your ego at the keyboard.

It wasn’t ego, it was research. Online, in five minutes, I found a one bedroom apartment near a New York City subway entrance (the Tarrytown one) for $725 (here’s a peek at it, though it will likely disappear at some point in the near future) – all utilities included. You can use the subway to transport yourself into the city, so a car’s not an issue, and there are no utility bills, either. Considering where I live actually requires a car and also I have to pay for all of the utilities in my apartment, I actually have substantially higher monthly costs than this apartment will provide.

That’s not to say there aren’t drawbacks. You’ll have roommates, first of all. Second, it may be on the subway, but it’s out at the end, which means you’ll have a commute each day. It’s not incredibly large, either, but it reminds me quite a lot of the apartment I shared with two friends while I was in college – something perfectly acceptable for a young professional.

The real issue here is the differing views on “minimum acceptable housing.” Looking at the pictures of the apartment I linked to, it’s far better than my definition of minimally acceptable, but others perhaps would not be willing to live there – or could not, depending on their life situation.

So what’s my definition of minimally acceptable? I don’t really have one, to tell the truth. I was raised in a very tiny home with structural problems – during my childhood, a basement wall collapsed, as did the wall in the stairway to the second story. In college, I lived in a tiny dorm room with a roommate and exposed pipes; later, I lived in a two bedroom apartment with four other people that had a mice infestation problem that we were constantly battling. My standards might be higher right now solely because of my child, but not too much higher if it were necessary to have a chance at someday having a house of my own.

What’s your definition of minimally acceptable? It depends on a lot of factors: your socioeconomic status growing up, your current lifestyle (a single person will have far less need than a family of three, but a family of three can work in a one-room apartment if there is commitment), and your goals and plans are among the big ones. Are you willing to live in less than you have now in order to live somewhere nicer in the future? It’s a call each person needs to make.

One big thing you can do to help with future financial success is to expand the constraints of what you’re looking at. For example, if you live in New York City, look at options at the far end of the subway lines and also look at situations with roommates. Don’t be afraid of a tiny space, either; I lived in a corner of a tiny bedroom for a year and it helped me save a ton of money – I had less than $100 in living expenses then.

Also, never forget your long-term goals. A short-term living situation can be tolerated if you clearly specify and work towards a long term goal.