241 Comments

I’d definitely be fine with a bedroom with no windows. I’ve gone to great lengths to try and block light from my window with black-out curtains (helps with odd sleeping hours). Even in my office I normally keep the blinds closed. I love nature - but I’d rather just go outside to experience it.

Is there some huge public demand for bedrooms to have windows or is this yet another example of a zoning regulation designed to push up property prices?

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I don't think it's to push up property prices, I think the regulators either think this means everyone now gets a free window or that building fires are as common now as they were 150 years ago.

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Yeah I think MY wrote an article earlier about regulation killing boarding houses etc for similar reasons. Unfortunately banning lower quality accommodation doesn’t means everyone gets higher quality accomodation - it means some people do while others end up getting pushed out of the market (having to move further away or becoming homeless). Even then some people who can afford higher quality accomodation may legitimately prefer to save the money.

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Thinking in cost/benefit terms seems like a developmental milestone that most regulators never reached.

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There’s a specific type of brain worms in progressivism called “race to the bottom,” basically if you allow less than ideal products, services, or jobs to exist then somehow everyone gets forced into them. There might be some mechanism for this to do with norms, expectations, etc. but I think it’s a pretty good scissor between progressive and neoliberal worldviews - whether you believe this effect exists or is a big deal.

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I think this kind of thing applies only in specific circumstances, usually when there is some kind of "diffuse costs, concentrated benefit" situation. A lot of useful environmental regulations fit this model.

Unfortunately it really requires careful attention on a case-by-case basis to determine whether regulation is the right solution.

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This is a problem with regulation in general. And one that is not solved by favoring "deregulation." On most dimensions of regulation, there is an optimum level that sometimes is zero -- laissez faire -- but often is not, but neither is it what might have been near optimum 75 years ago.

There is no good alternative to CBA.

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Building fires may thankfully be less common but they're still really, really, really [insert almost arbitrary number of additional "reallys"] bad. Admittedly, with modern high-rise building construction, I'm not sure how much windows ameliorate the risks of them. Would love to hear from a resident building-code savant if we have one.

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Fire codes require windows so people can use the windows to escape from fires, not because windows prevent fires. But we're talking about a building where there is now an office where we're proposing to put a bedroom—people can be working in that office, and there can be a fire, and they'll have to get out of the building, and presumably there's a way to do it.

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Not an expert, but a cursory google search makes me think that windows don't help to prevent fires -- they're just beneficial as another possible egress point.

That being said, I doubt that that holds for skyscrapers, in which you'd almost certainly want to use the fire escape stairwell

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I fucking love windowless bedrooms!

My apartment in Athens has aluminum shutters that block the light completely and although my Airbnb guests are welcome to open them, they stay closed whenever I'm there. (They face an airshaft anyway so there's nothing to see.) And at the moment I'm staying in a hotel in Kabul that was converted from a shopping mall, so the cheap rooms are also windowless.

If you've never tried sleeping in total darkness, I can confirm that it's awesome. I think "lack of natural light in bedroom" might be the equivalent of "shadows/shade from tall buildings": a feature that's being represented as a bug.

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Speaking solely for myself, I find the ubiquity of artificial light in urban environs to be a much, much, much bigger problem for comfortable sleep than anything to do with natural light. In the sticks, barring a full moon, night is just....dark. It's in the city that the hellish flood of artificial light has one seeking out effective blackout curtains.

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True, but I'm not a fan of sunlight in the early morning either.

It works if you intend to get up at dawn, which requires going to bed early enough to get eight hours of sleep before dawn. People do this in rural Afghanistan, and I'm sure in lots of other developing countries. (A special feature here is that if you're staying in someone else's house you'll normally sleep on the floor of a parlor with huge windows and no curtains at all, so in summer you're awake at 5am.)

This is fine for places without electricity, but if you're on a typical post-industrial schedule I find it's helpful to have complete control over when the room is lit and when it isn't.

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I like being woken up by the sun, but sunrise is often 1-2 hours earlier than I actually would like to wake up. My ideal would be blackout shutters that are tied to my alarm, which gradually open (over the course of, say, 10 minutes) starting a bit before my alarm goes off.

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You can get the equivalent of this by buying a light with a timer, and control exactly what time it turns on each morning. I use blackout curtains and wake up to this instead. It is very effective, to the point where I don't even use an alarm.

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Random comment. I’m sending my two step-daughters and their two cousins to Athens today they will be in Greece for two weeks. Karditisa. Santorini and then two days in Athena. Any recommendations?

Or did u mean Athens Ohio.

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It could be Athens, Alabama or Athens, Georgia. I'd guess the latter to watch Auburn get sadly curbstomped in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.

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Or Athens, Texas, just down the road from New York, Texas. :)

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An Auburn fan friend of mine has been begging for BSU to take Bryan Harsin back.

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Or Athens New York. I just worked a job there.

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The one in Greece :)

Obviously they should do some of the museums if those appeal. I won't list the major ones, apart from Byzantine and Christian because that's my favorite.

Many people won't be aware of the Goulandris collection, which opened to the public a couple of years ago and has some great works by Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, etc. If they happen to be staying in Plaka they can walk there by cutting through the National Garden, although they'll need Google Maps not to get lost along the paths there.

There's also the Municipal Gallery, which is free and happens to be located on Avdi Square, not far from my slum neighborhood. The square itself is very nice (formerly rough but rehabilitated) and has some excellent bars and restaurants. If they feel like checking it out they can drink at Blue Parrot or eat at Seychelles or Rooster's Egg, all in the same area.

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Oh. They won’t be doing any museums except for the instagram ones. Acropolis.. for example. They are definitely low-brow types.

What’s the cool hangout and eat and drink places?

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For rooftop bars with views of the Acropolis at night, there are plenty of choices. The Electra Metropolis hotel might be one of the nicest ones.

Athens also has good high-end cocktail culture, which I hadn't expected when I moved there. Standing around and drinking in crowds isn't really my thing but I'd recommend The Clumsies (also good food, but expensive), Noel, or some of the various bars around Noel.

Keramikos also has an interesting bar called MOMIX, which serves weird cocktails made with dry ice, liquid nitrogen and what not. That's worth a visit. (It's near a really good restaurant called Favela, and is walkable from the Avdi Square area.)

I hate Gkazi and discourage people from going there, but there are bars and clubs there too. I'm just not familiar with most of them.

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I fooled someone before on my precise destination by saying I was going to Moscow.

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Sleeping in total darkness is awesome... but waking up, not so much.

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We keep the blinds closed all the time. I will say that the time I _do_ like bedroom windows is that in summer on a weekend, I appreciate the natural light helping me identify morning (it's a suburb, so it's not much artificial light)

But... I wouldn't pay a significant premium for that small use case. If getting rid of those knocked several thousand off the price of the home... great!

The other use:

In Boston I liked the window since we didn't have central A/C, so in summer I wanted to open the window. But I'd imagine that these converted units have central A/C so that wouldn't be a concern.

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Second Rory’s question, will be landing in Athens on Sunday.

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My husband is a night shifter (and I wfh at my schedule) so we can attest that we would love one of these apartments.

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Yeah this article made me realize that both bedrooms in my home (my sons and the master bedroom) have the windows completely blacked out- my sons with cardboard even so that he takes long naps, ours with two layers of blackout blinds we never open. If I was in an incredible loft space in downtown Manhattan with floor to ceiling windows in the common area, I’d love windowless bedrooms.

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For fire safety reasons, sleeping areas are often required to have two means of egress, which in practice means a window and a door.

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That may have been the case years ago, but modern apartments don't have windows that open enough to get out or fire escapes to use if you actually did get out.

There's probably more of an argument for ventilation.

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The window doesn't have to open. If the building is on fire, a fireman can climb a ladder, break the glass, and carry you down.

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I thought the idea was that a ladder truck could get to a window. That only holds for however high the ladder on the truck can access, of course (a quick search indicates that's 100 feet).

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Can't you just put two doors on each bedroom? The window isn't going to be a useful means of egress if you're on the 15th floor of a former office building.

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The “two egress” thing as applied to office buildings is more about multiple stairwells.

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"are required" By the Ten Commandments? The US Constitution? Or did some city councilmember think it was a good idea? :)

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I think the fire rules are in the standardized building code that applies across this great land. Could be wrong.

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My understanding is it's a legacy of the early 20th century. There were a lot of concerns about air quality, disease, etc, so it was considered important for bedrooms to have a window you can open to get some fresh air. It also put some soft limits on how many bedrooms you could try and pack into a building, which was seen as a desirable limit at the time.

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Not only is a windowless bedroom darker than a bedroom with a window, it's also quieter. Walls just tend to be much better sound insulation than windows are. Even if the neighborhood seems quiet, there are still intermittent noises that need to be kept out in order to sleep well, and it's the intermittent noises that actually matter much more than the continuous noises. I'm talking about things like garage doors opening, horns honking, motorcycles revving their engines, or 7 AM leaf blowers. My bedroom windows have extra layers of glass to block these sounds out, which cost at least $10k to install - on top of blackout curtains to block out the streetlights, all of which could have been avoided if my bedroom were simply windowless to begin with.

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Well I would be willing to live with windowless bedrooms to get a lot of square footage in Manhattan or San Francisco, but the windows in my bedroom are very useful at bringing in cool night air and alerting me to the fact that it's morning -- those are things that are nice to have and really essential to keeping our AC costs down in the heat of summer.

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Yeah, I think everyone likes windows. It's just a matter of what tradeoffs ought to be allowed. In terms of AC, I'd expect a large building with centralized air to be more efficient than a house or smaller apartment building. And I know there are newer technologies out there that can simulate sunlight in a room according to a natural schedule to help with circadian rhythm concerns.

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I was thinking this during the whole debacle with the proposed UC Santa Barbara dorm that included windowless bedrooms. When I was a UC student I put blackout curtains in ASAP to make sure my nocturnal schedule didn't get disrupted by the sun.

I'm sure plenty of people in college love to get woken up by natural sunlight, but why not have a spot for people who hate it?

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Ditto. I would actively prefer a windowless bedroom. And if that means there's more exterior wall to put windows in the living room, then great.

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It's funny, I probably should like windowless bedrooms, as I much prefer to fall asleep in complete darkness. But I also like waking up with the sun when practical. So I'd be conflicted.

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I sort of see it as a preventative measure against an owner throwing up walls and calling a 3 bedroom a 10 bedroom. Agree with Matt though time to loosen the regulation.

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I mean, listings tend to also include square footage. Without seeing a floorplan, a description for a 10-bedroom unit that's 2,000 square feet would imply that the average bedroom size can't be higher than 200sqft (and will in fact be less once you account for kitchen and bath).

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I was trying to think about who is supporting all the regulation that makes these types of changes harder, and it occurred to me that a lot of people really do think they can legislate living standards.

Like, I'm certain the thinking is that if we require all bedrooms to have windows, then everyone gets a window and there are no tradeoffs. It seems as those not smart enough to do organic chemistry go from pre-med to public health, those not smart enough to do econometrics go into public policy instead of economics.

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A thousand times this. Cities did a lot of work to ban poverty and then are shocked when the cost of living is prohibitive and people end up on the streets with nowhere to go. This is what happens when we cut the bottom rungs off the ladder.

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I have no doubt a lot of well-meaning but not particularly insightful people have helped advance ill-advised housing regulations and zoning rules over the years. But I also have no doubt in many cases they've been useful idiots for much savvier but self-interested parties who, for whatever reason, oppose housing abundance.

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I think this is likely true.

My point is that the regulators were trying to do good (give everyone a great bedroom with a window!) but just were too dumb to realize the negative unintended consequences. But yeah the idea that savvier self-interested parties likely used them for their advantage also seems true.

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

Meh - stick with Hanlon's razor, which I think holds 98% of the time even here...

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The larger issue is to analyze why a regulation should be useful. Presumably people want windows in their bedrooms (although some may not, but leave that aside). So why REQUIRE them by regulation? I do not mean that there might not sometimes be reason to do it, but it deserves some thought and though that the reason might disappear over time. This is an approach to policymaking that seems often missing.

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In this particular case, there is actually a public safety rationale for the regulation. Bedrooms are the rooms where people are most often caught by surprise by an ongoing emergency (usually a fire, but also floods, collapses, intruders, etc.) A secondary exit reduces the chance of being trapped, so regulations that require bedrooms to have secondary exits really have saved lives.

At the time when fire code regulations were being broadly adopted and standardized, specifying a window as the secondary exit made sense: windows would always lead directly outside, and residential buildings were generally constructed so that all windows opened and were accessible by a ladder truck or a fire escape. Homes and apartments were also fairly small, so a second interior exit would probably just lead to the same impassable room/corridor/stairwell.

The problem is that things have changed since then. A window no longer guarantees a usable exit, especially in the kinds of buildings we're talking about converting here. And we've made a ton of progress on other aspects of fire/quake safety, so the case for emergency exits is both rationally and emotionally less compelling; tons of apartments are already being constructed without any usable secondary exits in the bedrooms.

But any regulation is a useful weapon for people who want to block housing development, so people invent new justifications for any provision that becomes outdated. A window requirement that used to be about fire safety is now about quality of life. That's affected everyone's perception to the point that somehow that's what we're all talking about on a YIMBY blog, accepting the premise that we somehow need to prove people *don't want* bedroom windows anymore.

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Although more is at stake as an emergency exit than as a lifestyle amenity, the fundamental question is why REQUIRE what people presumably want, anyway?

Secondarily, why would it be difficult to change or waive the regulation for a building conversion? In other words why don't we have ways to keep regulations more or less net benefit-maximizing.

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Sure, and in some cases there may not have been any obvious negative side-effects in terms of housing affordability, if we go back far enough. It wouldn't surprise me if some of this stuff was on the books many decades ago, long before the contemporary housing crunch was a twinkling in an YIMBYist's eye.

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This is called the "Baptists and Bootleggers" problem.

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No this regulation all dates to the start of the 20th century where they tried to set standards for livable apartments. Of course mandating hot water and a window makes apartments more expensive but renting dwellings is so multifaceted you can’t leave everything up to the market. Lighted bedrooms are only hard to provide when you have bad building design, which coincidentally is what office buildings are for residential.

American apartments are mostly bad though because of regulations that actively make apartments worse. Matt I think has done articles on single stair, but he should ask Stephen smith or an architect with international experience to do a roundabout on all of them (elevator lobbies, large elevators, multiple staircases etc.)

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We had a very specific cultural moment around the industrial revolution about tenements - lack of light and air being a big part of what made them scandalous. Corresponding things going on with working hours and conditions. It was a time of immense productivity growth but also intense regulatory and union activity, and I think people can reasonably get the balance wrong regarding to what degree it was the productivity that improved things vs. the regulation and organizing. Some seem to think it was all about the regulation, and if we would just keep stepping up regulatory floors then we would continue seeing those kinds of gains.

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You mentioned Denver having a disorderly vibe on underpopulated streets, and that DC could have a smaller, more crowded downtown with good vibes. Maybe that's true. I've been to NY a lot this year and the streets in mid-town are pretty packed and lively and some of the liveliness is people clearly fucked up on drugs, rooting through trash, stumbling around twitching. I saw a guy actively putting a needle into his arm right on the street a few weeks ago, early evening, right by Times Square. Maybe it's less crowded than before, I don't know. But to me it just looks as crowded as ever, but now it's dangerous. I'm not a "cities are scary!" person. This is different and needs to be dealt with to get cities, or NY at least, back where it was.

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Yup. It's bad in NY. Downtown Chicago is also like this and obviously San Francisco. I feel like it's weirdly underplayed in the crime debate. Like it's one thing to argue about murder rates but open air drug abuse has gotten way more visible in many major cities.

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Honestly at some point a mayor is going to come along and just use the police to clear all this shit out in a major city, not waiting for the courts. And the ultra-progressive left will get up in arms… and the normies will breathe a quiet sigh of relief they didn’t know was in them and re-elect this person by whopping margins while the commentariat scratches its head.

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What will clearing all the shit out look like? In Portland, there was a major cleanup effort of a nice park that had turned into an encampment, mostly on the sidewalks surrounding it and the street next to it.

It was apparently quite expensive, and as far as I’ve seen the encampment just sprung back up.

I don’t disagree with you that there could be an attempt made, but I think it could end up as an embarrassment when they publicly spend a ton of money and resources on cleanup only to have everything revert back before the next election.

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It looks like right to shelter with enforcement. So, NYC under Bloomberg.

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Learning more about that policy today, disappointing that it was somewhat undone.

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Totally. I think it’s a great policy, it was a progressive triumph of its time, and when paired with enforcement I thought it was both humane and practical.

The issue in New York was substandard housing quality, but that is an issue for all poor New Yorkers.

Anyway, right to camp is a moral failure and a practical disaster, IMO, comparatively.

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Just keep promptly kicking them out over and over again.

Or better yet, lock them up.

Many/most cities in the developed world seem to manage this well enough, so it clearly isn't impossible.

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Kicking them out of where and to where? Red states seem to have hit upon a winning strategy, but how can it work on a national level?

If you make the answer jail, unless you plan to keep them there forever I don't see how a criminal record makes them *less* likely to be homeless in the future.

As for your last statement, I believe Matt has addressed this based on a previous mailbag question that assumed the US is an outlier on homelessness and that other Western countries don't have these problems. Neither is true by the numbers.

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I'd say putting them in insane asylums and drug rehab places would be the more humane solution.

But if you keep pushing them out further and further, the climate/weather solves the problem in much of the US.

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Other developed nations deal with it through a combination of "get the fuck out of sight and stop hurting or harassing other people, and in exchange you get a warm bed and food" and "insane asylum it is, then."

There's some genuine rehabilitation in there, but most of it is externality control.

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I thought Eric Adams would be this person in NYC but it hasn't really happened

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This kind of happened in Boise, and it resulted in the Martin v. Boise case that's been cast over almost all the states in the West (those under the 9th Circuit) that's declaring these kind of actions unconstitutional.

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It reminds me a bit of what Matt mentioned in a recent Bad Takes podcast about border policies. No one likes the status quo, but many decisive moves appear to be political suicide. Like Trump with his remain in Mexico policy, red states can offload the bad publicity of dealing with the encampments to coastal blue ones.

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That is untrue. You can clear encampments, you just have to offer shelter.

However there is a misinformation campaign by homeless advocates that tries to suggest otherwise.

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That, in and of itself, is a ridiculous condition to impose and no sane reading of the 8th Amendment supports it.

But yes, a city like NYC could build shelters with 5,000 beds (repurpose Rikers, anyone?) and effectively mandate that its homeless population either use them or get the fuck out of the city.

And they’d have my complete and utter support.

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NYC has had a right to shelter system since the 1970s, where they are required to expand shelter capacity to the need. They do it by renting hotel rooms. Under Giuliani and Bloomberg they paired that with aggressive enforcement and had very little unsheltered homelessness.

DeBlasio went away from that and we see the result.

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If this is what Democrat-appointed justices gets us, fuck it, let the GOP use the judiciary to end democracy, lol.

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I was really surprised SCOTUS didn't take that case, and I think there's room for a city not in the 9th Circuit to try to clamp down and try to create a circuit split for SCOTUS to bite on.

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There's a recent Martin v. Boise successor out of Grants Pass, OR out of the Ninth Circuit. There's some chance it will go en banc as a vehicle to overturn Martin or go to the Supreme Court. Judge Collins dissented and he has a very strong recent record of getting the Supreme Court to take Ninth Circuit cases.

https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2022/09/28/20-35752.pdf

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I’ll bet the liberals declined it out of ideological commitment and two or more conservatives joined them out of a strategic commitment to making blue cities look terrible, lol.

Had they accepted it the conservatives would have found it impossible to agree with the 9th, but they’re not required to show reasoning for declining a case.

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Here in LA I saw a guy shooting up on the street a couple years ago and passed by a tent in which some guys were preparing to huff paint a couple weeks ago, the latter a few blocks from where I live. It can’t go on.

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I used to be able to see this out of my window in SF, in a formerly nice neighborhood...

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Another good reason for windowless bedrooms!

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I had my first ever experience witnessing people smoking meth (or crack?) during my last extended visit to the States (summer of 2020). Not once but twice. On the street. And they weren't making making much effort to hide it. But this wasn't in NYC but in Seattle.

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If Seattle, then probably meth or fentanyl! Welcome to Seattle! And no, they don’t make an effort to hide it.

Contrary to this article I just don’t believe that housing prices is what is driving these psychotic tweakers (not using it as an insult, just a statement of fact) to sleep in a tent close to their dealers and each other. In fact, a decent number of these folks either are or were in permanent supportive housing.

What is the right response when folks in permanent supportive housing are found passed out in the street or assault strangers? Asking on behalf of our downtown.

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founding

The claim is that housing prices drive people to sleep in a tent, and if they're in a tent next to a dealer they're more likely to become a tweaker.

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Is it? I think the claim is that it housing is cheap enough drug addicts will sleep in flophouses and SROs.

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founding

I think there's both directions here. Hard to say what the relevant scale is of the two directions of causation.

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Of course in this case, my point is that some (many? A few?) of these folks are already in PSH (or were) so the housing part is a total red herring.

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I was utterly shocked by homelessness. Had never seen anything like it. But FWIW it didn't turn me off the city in the slightest. I really loved my time there. There can't be a more beautiful city in the summer. I hope they turn it around.

The meth smoking on both occasions was in Ballard, though, not downtown. Great neighborhood, though. I fell in love with my running route along Shilshole Bay.

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Yeah it’s crazy. Ballard in particular. I still love the city, but would like to see homelessness addressed, with a combination of housing and assertive services.

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On one of the handful of times I’ve ridden BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in the last 30 months, a guy literally lit up a crack pipe in the train car while we were under the water between SF and Oakland. Two big civilians confronted him and told him he had to move to another car. He spit on them and it turned ugly. It was just nuts.

I also recently had occasion to talk to a visitor from suburban NJ who had never been to the the Bay Area before. He said it was all very nice, but the problems on the street were absolutely shocking and even worse than the National media portrayed them. It made me very sad and ashamed.

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I work in the heart of the Tenderloin. I've seen multiple people shoot up, tweak on the streets, and human waste everywhere. It is beyond disgusting.

And I am going to say it right now. The tenderloin is a centrally located neighborhood in a major city. The condition of it is just beyond unacceptable. For a lot of people the Tenderloin is their welcome to SF when they get off at the Civic Center BART.

It really does refute the blue state model that the neighborhood has remained in this condition for decades.

The progressive coalition claims to care a lot but always points to gentrifiers as being the cause. Guess what people moving from Iowa to SF didn't cause people to smoke meth and poop on the streets.

And the moderate coalition is just impotent. I do think building a lot more would help reduce the problem. But things like mandatory drug treatment programs are reasonable. It degrades QOL for normal people to have revolting neighborhoods everywhere.

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I work for the State and they recently said we can stay 100% remote forever in no small part because they can’t guarantee our safety commuting to the State building at Civic Center. I’m happy about it. But yikes.

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I'm not physically strong but I am a larger than average man: 6'2, 190 lbs.

One of my co-workers is petite and short even for a Filipina. She openly asks when we are going to leave because she feels uncomfortable outside and I don't blame her.

If a guy like me feels uncomfortable out there, the feeling must be dreadful if you are that size.

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Yeah absolutely. Word is that about a year ago, one of my colleagues was assaulted in the parking lot that serves the State building.

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Yes, I live near downtown Denver and work downtown as well, and the open drug use and discarded drug paraphernalia these days is really obnoxious and I actually favor drug legalization! (Use all the drugs you want, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect even hardcore junkies to at least throw their used syringes in the trashcan that's right next to the bus shelter they're living in rather than throwing them on the sidewalk.)

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This is the kind of thing that we need non-"police" officers to deal with.

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I have been fully Fijan-pilled on windowless bedrooms. Why spend over 1k to put up shades and curtains when you can just not have windows in the first place?

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I still remember learning how expensive blinds were to put in when I became a homeowner. $1,000 is if you’re getting them off of Amazon and DIYing for a house.

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so i’ve ended up in the situation where through circumstances i’m currently actually living in a windowless basement in new york and tbh i’ve found it unpleasant enough that it’s made me seriously re-evaluate some views on housing.

i know the housing shortage is what it is (and is a reason why i live in a windowless basement), and I’m probably being blinded by my PMC upbringing and social circle but…I really don’t know if people should be living like this and if there isn’t a better way. a place with limited to no natural light sucks.

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I think the idea, though, is that at the margins the choice is between a windowless place and not living in New York at all, or between a windowless place and being homeless. In other words, mandating windows would make it less likely that your basement room would even exist as a rental at all.

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yea i’m sympathetic to the argument and tbh before i moved to this place i think i would’ve been pro-legalization of aboveground windowless apartments. (before ida, i probably would’ve been fine with the basements also, but now i buy the death-trap argument).

i’m YIMBY enough that i still see the logic in it, but…this might also be my personal limit for it.

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The great thing about being a Neoliberal is you don't have to personally want to do anything you endorse, you just have to accept that someone somewhere is willing/able to do something for the right cost.

So in your case I hope you can move out soon, to an apartment with a window that would be more likely to be vacant if some other person with a lower willingness-to-pay-for-windows can snag a cheaper windowless basement apartment.

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(oop sorry to necro an old post with a really long comment but)

I think the blind spot here though is that OP by external appearances *is* the person with the "willingness to pay" for the windowless accommodation. I think the worry from the left is that a "willingness" to settle for things most of us wouldn't is actually just inability to afford higher standards. The obvious rejoinder, given many times in these comments, is that the choice in fact is between having the shitty thing and having nothing. But the leftist then questions why you choose to hold some variables fixed but not others in your analysis of potential policy improvements. The leftist goal is regulation *and* subsidy for those who'd be left with nothing.

I think, to the extent that us neoliberals disagree, it's more about the substance of what's unliveable than the actual principle that some things should be regulated away. Im thinking about something like water filitration. I actually don't know who pays for this - I imagine it's taxpayers/a municipal budget directly and not utility companies? If we left this to private hands, I'm sure there's a bottom rung in the market that would pay for unfiltered or less-filtered water if they could get it at cheaper rates than the standard city-filtered stuff. And if the city regulated water filtration without actually paying for it (such that utilities passed the cost onto consumers), we'd have a situation structurally identical to the mandated-window apartments: some people wouldn't be able to afford the marginal cost increase and get pushed out of the market altogether. Because we don't want filtered water to be something you can opt out of (or get priced out of), there's regulation and taxpayers foot the bill. I have strong neoliberal sympathies and I would not want to leave this up to the market. I think the leftist is mostly just working with a broader set of "stuff that's essential to a minimal standard of living."

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I think you have a very good point, and a great explanation of leftist and neoliberal thought. Water filtration is also a good counter-example.

A big core of disagreement between leftists and neoliberals seems to me to be the amount of deviation less from what people agree is a decent way of living. A lot of leftist thought at its core seems to be that they believe they have identified the ideal way for people to live, whether that is windowed bedrooms or filtered water (they're not necessarily wrong in each case). And they think ideal should be the same as minimum standard.

By contrast, neoliberals often think one of the functions of the free market is to allow adults to make tradeoffs in a world of resource scarcity that lets them set their own priorities. Obviously there are guardrails there, and filtered water is a great example of those guardrails. But there needs to be a very high bar for something to qualify as such an important service that it should be mandated for everyone, regardless of how they set their own preferences. I feel filtered water easily clears that bar, the health benefits have been overwhelmingly proven, and having individual households filter their own water is extremely inefficient.

By contrast, I don't think windowed bedrooms have reached that high bar. I assume there are some studies out there about seasonal depression or something similar maybe have some effect on people if they don't have windows, but given the low bar that a lot of social science has to pass to get published I would want to see a lot of very hard proof before we started mandating things that increase the cost of living on people and on the margins can encourage homelessness, since we also have a lot of data that poverty and homelessness are really bad, and those kind of studies rarely look at economic tradeoffs.

In a lot of ways it reminds me of the debate on gig work. So much of the push to make gig contractors full time employees is obviously meant to help those gig workers, with the leftist assumption that being a full time employee who works for a salary for exactly 40 hours a week should be the only way people live. And that's despite most surveys showing the vast majority of gig workers want to remain independent contractors, and many of them choose to do gig work on top of another job. Personally, I would never want to do anything other than be a salaried worker at a 9 to 5 job myself. But I also don't feel arrogant enough to decide that everyone who says they want to hustle and set their own hours should have to give that up.

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

Conceivably there are instances in which that equilibrium is actually better though -- the solution is just "not living in a super expensive metro that doesn't pay enough to live in a reasonably habitable space."

The conditions that could justify this equilibrium seem like they hold in two classes of instance

The first, in which a lot of major metros find themselves right now, is where housing demand vastly outstrips supply and likely will continue to do so under any conceivable marginal increase to such supply: Given that there's going to be a large class of people priced out of living in New York *anyway,* it's natural that the limited supply of housing should go to those most able to pay. Conversely, since most of the money paid in this situation goes to land-rents rather than improvements (hello Georgism!), there's relatively little tradeoff to insisting on high-quality improvements since they're a relatively small contributor to housing costs. In other words: if demand exceeding supply means you'll be paying through the nose to live in New York in a shoebox no matter what, we might as well mandate that the shoeboxes are nice.

Note also that the YIMBY "build more shoeboxes" rejoinder here is kind of nonresponsive unless there's some way to cap population growth since you obviously can't accommodate infinite people in finite surface area nor build infinitely upwards, so all you're doing is increasing density (and intensity of use of the commons) while eventually ending up the same set of housing problems you had in the first place (due to population growth and attendant space demand), just with more crowded parks and other commons. You're at best forestalling rather than solving problems while also putting common spaces and resources under perpetually increasing strain.

The second, kind of orthogonal situation, is the one where information costs and asymmetries result in a shitty living situation that nevertheless commands a potentially above-market return and so, given the difficulty in solving information asymmetries, you try to solve it ex ante via building code so that you have fewer such situations in the first place.

A central example here is probably noise: realistically, you're not going to be able to evaluate the noise level of neighbors or the neighborhood at large when viewing a living space for the half-hour to twenty-minutes that a viewing actually takes. Given that even a one-year lease is a long-term commitment (and that moving transaction costs are super high. Moving blows.), it's pretty easy to find yourself living in a highly unsatisfactory location that's worse than it seemed on viewing and that, had you been aware of its shortcomings, you wouldn't have paid the same price for or, more likely, would have looked elsewhere rather than inhabit. Given that moving is such a PITA and so the transaction costs are high once you've committed to it, the landlord is likely able in a high-demand market to just convert a buyer's lack of information into a price that doesn't reflect the actual lower value of the property. Conceivably, however, you could significantly mitigate this with a good set of soundproofing standards so that the information asymmetry doesn't matter as much because it's harder to be sold a lemon in the first place.

(There's also a third which is general safety and externality concerns that we expect consumers to systematically underprice -- the success of seatbelt laws suggests that this is a very real problem -- but I don't think anyone's arguing that we should get rid of fire escape means of egress so it's less salient here and doesn't seem to be at issue).

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As long as New York City is a nicer place to live than literally anywhere in the US, people will want to move there, and currently the primary thing controlling the pace of moving is price. But that also acts to force many of the sympathetic "life-long New Yorkers" out of the city or into being homeless.

The city could presumably YIMBY its way into a situation where even more people find it just too damn crowded and stop wanting to live there even if it's more affordable than it is now.

That would probably be a win for the economy and country as a whole, but if you're currently living comfortably in New York there's no real non-altruistic reason to support that vision.

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I think there's a major difference between living in a ninth floor unit featured decent living room windows but none in the bedroom and your situation in the basement.

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if you have a spacious living room than i guess i could see it working. we do have an above-ground living room (which is where i spend much of my time), but it’s extremely cramped and doesn’t have much natural light still (we still need the lights on all day).

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I’m with you, I just moved from a basement to the fourth floor of a building and my basic baseline happiness level changed. The ideal for these buildings I think would be that the rest of the apartment has a ton of natural light, so it wouldn’t be as big of a deal to not have it in the bedroom.

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I definitely feel for you, I have an extremely strong aversion to the lower levels of split-level homes and that’s just the windows being in weird higher places sometimes. I do think there’s likely a different between a bedroom having no windows and the entire living space having no windows, especially when you’re free to move between the rooms.

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 5, 2022

Do you live alone/with a significant other, or with roommates?

I think I would have gone crazy with a windowless bedroom when I lived with roommates because my bedroom was my only truly private space. I didn't just sleep there; I'd hang out alone, watch TV on my laptop, read, etc. People who live with non-family-member roommates spend a lot of time in their bedrooms in my experience (even if they get along with their roommates), so not having a window in the bedroom would be pretty awful.

But now that I live with a spouse and spend most of my non-sleeping time at home in the living room, kitchen, and office/guest room I could probably tolerate a windowless bedroom (though it's still not ideal).

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i live with two roommates i like. so, yeah, you're pretty on point there. i definitely miss having a place to retreat back to.

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founding

I guess the question is whether some people might be allowed to live there for a year while they get to know the city.

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Can you say more about what you don’t like about it?

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assorted reasons:

* have definitely felt a return of constant low-level anxiety to my life since my move. i do think the environment has something to do with this, bc the rest of my life hasn’t really changed since the move.

* weekend mornings just kind of feel worse – never really been a quick riser, so being in a pitch-black room has made me sleep in longer and has pretty much removed the “read a book and watching some tv” part of my weekend mornings because i need to gtfo and see some real light.

* the room in general is just not a super pleasant place to do anything other than sleep. i’ve been mitigating this by going to the office more and spending more time outdoors, but the latter option is obv gonna be gone as fall and winter comes around.

* this is nyc basement specific but the ida stuff from last years scares tf out of me.

so generally, just a worsening of mood. i think other people might be more built for it, but i really am not and regret the choice.

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founding

Windowless isn't the flooding hazard - basement is the flooding hazard. There's no risk of flooding in a 20th floor windowless bedroom.

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This feels like the set-up for a locked-room murder mystery where the victim is found with his lungs full of water in an otherwise dry room on the 20th floor of a skyscraper . . . .

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"Fire and carbon monoxide hazard…flooding hazard in NY."

If you need to open your windows in freezing-cold midwinter NY to ventilate your apartment, then you already have a problem. And I don't want to rely on windows to escape flooding in an emergency either.

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We converted a very large finished basement open space to two small bedrooms and a playspace when we had kids (we live in East Harlem, NYC). The bedrooms are very small and windowless and aren’t technically bedrooms. But man, they are amazing spaces for kids to sleep. Total darkness. Add in some white noise and we’ve had kids that have basically never gotten up from 3 months up til 5 years now. We also built a ‘shed’ that my wife and I now both work in. We have a small back yard, being the first floor of a 7 floor condo building. We wired the shed with electricity and Ethernet and it is a great quiet place for the zoom-based work my wife does.

These spaces are both unconventional, but everyone who comes over realizes that we’ve essentially made one large living space awesome, while having four small working/sleeping spaces that are functional only. Maybe this works less well with the kids as they get older, but we actually love the norm of bedrooms being just for sleep, that all other activity in the household is open and together. I’d move to one of those windowless bedroom spaces with awesome big window living rooms- that floor plan looks awesome to me.

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"we’ve had kids that have basically never gotten up from 3 months up til 5 years now"

This is definitely the best way to get through the hard years of toddlerdom and preschool! At what age do you plan to wake them up?

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I’m thinking when they are teenagers - right before college, but only if the appropriate prince/princess can plant the perfect kiss on them.

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The Lex and Leo apartments at Waterfront metro in DC opened about 5 years ago and have interior bedrooms. https://lexandleowaterfront.com/floor-plans/ I think the buildings prove Matt’s point because they were a conversion of two old office buildings to living spaces. Most apartments have transome windows high in the wall between the bedroom and the living room. Ironically the affordable units that have AMI income qualifications do not have the transome window “amenity”.

I don’t know if these apartments had a special variance or what, but they definitely advertise the interior rooms as bedrooms.

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That is a really common layout in Seattle, as well.

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I think that managers and businesses feeling like they can’t mandate return to office without a mass exodus of very hard to replace talent at the moment is a big motivator for letting people at least try these conversions because that, to me, is what makes any “downtown will bounce back” ideas wishful thinking for the fore eagle future. I personally would like to get out of my apartment sometimes and work from the office, but if I want to go when other people are going, it becomes a coordination problem I need to solve since we have no prodding from management. I’m not saying it’s impossible to create some hard and fast rules amongst office people, but when you get used to flexibility and then have to do the work to create useful in-office days yourself, it becomes really easy to just stay at home.

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My company just said each team can pick three days to all come to the office (my team went w Tu-Th, as did most) and is still super flexible about WFH as needed. It works really well and I’m not sure why more companies aren’t going with it.

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Something like this is where I think the equilibrium will end up, and probably should, give or take the unique attributes of each job.

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My company is also doing something like this, though they're being very lax about enforcing it and my supervisor is in another office so I personally don't feel much pressure to go back. I try to go in once per week just for a change of scenery.

I do think something like what you describe is where we're headed, albeit with considerable variation.

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Yeah I’m sure “enforcement”/expectations vary wildly by manager. I’ve been a bit lazy about coming in myself lately. But technically if I want to regularly WFH on days other than M and F, I’m supposed to fill out formal paperwork with HR like we had to prior to Covid.

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Yea, I think Matt and fellow white collar, self-employed, individual actor commentators have wildly over-indexed on how well other knowledge fields are coping with WFH. There’s a very good chance that 80-90% of this office space is fully and effectively utilized in 2028.

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There is almost no chance tech goes back to 80% in office. The momentum was towards remote work even before COVID. There was one possible adaptation that could have enticed us back but no one I know of has leaned into it yet - end the real productivity killer (open floor plan offices) and give employees one with a door.

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Tech is a massive, massive outlier with a small employment footprint, about which I made no industry specific claims.

I would bet that basically all other engineering and scientific disciplines land between 75 and 100% in office. Finance, banking, accounting all headed there too. Business consulting resuming normal travel and site visit schedules… and that’s not getting into knowledge workers who deal with actual physical processes, like manufacturing and industrial experts.

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We have sw, systems, safety, and test engineers in my division and only the test engineers are really back in the office.

Previous job that I jumped from mid-covid was medical device engineering, but situated in a manufacturing plant.

They stayed at least 50% in office throughout most of covid.

The thing is that most downtowns are more likely to be full of the knowledge workers that can WFH easily.

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

100% this. Open offices are the bane of my existence. Give me an office with a door, and sure I'll be back in the city in a heartbeat

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founding

I personally like working from home, and I truly hated commuting, but if my company offered me an office with a door remotely like the one my brother in PE has (I wouldn't need his insane view, though it'd be nice and I'd like natural light at least), I would seriously consider it.

Unfortunately, it seems like the lesson learned was precisely the wrong one - companies aren't offering private offices to the first people to opt back in, the move is now to hot desking, so you don't even get a personalized desk setup.

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Not sure if this is a hot take, but the first companies to come back in person seem to be the ones who did the best* job of it.

Which maybe wouldn't be surprising--those organizations had good in-person work cultures/environments that they thought were important and wanted back. Those who didn't before are doing a crap job now.

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Perhaps why we saw relatively little pushback against returning!

Not even a cube to be found, never mind open-format trash.

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I just am in a completely different professional world, I guess. I've been back in the office full-time for more than two years, and most people I know have been back since 2021.

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

I'm in a tech or tech-adjacent field (sw and related forms of engineering, but govt), and we're maybe 20-30% back in the office.

Management is rightly afraid to push, because all but the trash-quality workers can find new jobs very quickly.

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Bingo! Much harder to demand WFH home with unemployment a record lows. Fed keeps raising interest rates (a policy that unfortunately seems the most prudent one), it seems likely that we'll have at least a mild recession (at least crossing my fingers for a mild recession). Point being, the leverage that workers have had for the past 18 months to dictate not just salary but work/life balance is going to be eroded at least temporarily.

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This seems pretty plausible to me. In such a tight labor market, they have to play ball on the requests. Once we get more slack (which at this point I think is very likely with this Fed) they’ll have scared workers willing to acquiesce more.

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Perhaps we’ll learn something from the dorm with many windowless bedrooms that Charlie Munger is building at UCSB:

https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/15378-exclusive-interview-with-billionaire-charlie-munger-on-controversial-ucsb-dorm

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That’s actually a pretty cool floor plan for a college dorm, and given the weird sleep schedules that college students keep I can see the ability to totally shut off the light as a highly desired feature.

The key thing is Munger understands they’re responding to the acute housing shortage with a bomb of housing. 4500 units is a lot! If they price those as low as they can it could move the margins in Santa Barbara.

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The markets aren't segregated. Now that people who don't care about light/space aren't competing with people who do, the price of lit spacious apartments will drop. (More generally, now that people who do care about light/space get to trade that desire off against ready cash, some will decide that light/space aren't worth the full cost of the light/space, further reducing the prices.)

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Oct 4, 2022·edited Oct 4, 2022

This seems backwards. Just let someone build them if they want and then the market will decide if they are worth anything.

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Honestly, getting your own room is a pretty dang good deal.

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If I read the 116 comments that came before to verify that this is not redundant, I will never get it written.....

There are three reasons why windows are in the codes: Light, Ventilation, and Egress.

Natural light is nice, but we can replace it with color corrected lighting. Lots of work environments do not have much natural light. Nor do northern cities in the winter. This is not really a big deal.

Ventilation can be replaced with mechanical ventilation. In residential settings, air is usually forced out with fans and naturally slips in through cracks. If you convert an office building to residential, you may want to design a way to bring some air in.

Egress is a tradeoff. Every modern bedroom has two methods of escape from fire: the door and a window. Each floor of every modern building has two methods of escape for the other rooms: typically front and back doors.

The example layout does not provide egress and would be expected to result in more deaths by fire, including deaths of firemen. That may be a tradeoff that society will accept. Providing egress from converted office space will be very expensive. But this is the problem that needs to be minimized if it can not be completely solved.

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I think egress is a bit off, you generally don't want to egress through the window of a highrise even if you could, and most converted buildings will have sprinklers so I think they are comparable if not better safety wise.

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Yup. I'm just not sure people realize exactly how "No windows, just color corrected lighting," is a turn off to many, many people. It's not just about the light (although nothing looks/feels like the sun)...but looking outside at the world. And mechanical ventilation feels nothing like a fresh breeze.

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Good points, but I would have liked to see some discussion of why the bedroom window is regulated and what we might do about it. The answer is fire codes; there's a legitimate safety rationale for wanting bedrooms to have more than one way out. That may be outdated, or there may be simple things that can be done to mitigate it, but neither of those things is immediately obvious to me.

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Modern buildings don't have fire escapes or windows that open wide enough to get out.

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Well the DC building code Matt linked to specifies a bedroom needs either a door directly to the outside or a window that opens with appropriate dimensions for egress. So that certainly seems to be what they're contemplating.

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Break what? The windowframes? The nonexistent fire escapes?

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In the context of a fire the use case involves the Fire Department's ladder. And the windows are required by code to be big enough, so they just have to break the glass.

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In Los Angeles there was a fire code feature that required buildings over 75 feet tall to have a helipad for additional egress. I think this was used in the Aon Building fire in downtown in the 1980s, but not otherwise. A few years back some activism from urbanists and then a city councilmember (or was it a county supervisor? maybe it was a county rule rather than a city one) got it repealed, because people didn't like the "stubby" skyline it produced. But maybe there's a way that these different aspects of fire code either complement or substitute for each other.

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I think it’s important to note that these floor plans at least did have 2 doors, though no exterior egress option. I wonder if there’s some extra measure, like automatic sprinklers or something similar, that would make the tradeoff reasonable.

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If these are converted office space, they’d already have sprinkler systems. Might need to move the heads, but that’s it.

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This makes a ton of sense to me.

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Austin is being absolutely hammered by the move to remote, because we’re (still barely) a “low cost” city and now that a lot of young professionals are free to move where they want, we’re the cheapest of the hot cities for that demographic. Admittedly, I’m part of the problem because there’s also a non-trivial amount of former Austinites who had to move and are now moving back. (Moving back to Austin was basically unheard of years ago, because it used to be thst it was nearly impossible to have the kind of success you’d have outside of Austin while living here.)

As a result of this change, rents are going absolutely bonkers. There was an 80% increase in the median rent over the last year. Even though lots of new places are being built, demand is so great it just isn’t physically possible to keep up.

Also, the fact that Austin is no longer a college town is causing some weird things to happen. (The University of Texas is still just as big as it ever was, but Austin has grown so much that it is no longer the center of gravity it once was.) For example, there used to be a lot of basically-SRO apartments for students. Places where they’d had lots of big suites with 4 individual bedrooms and they would lease out each bedroom. Students could live there and have more amenities than the dorms (like a full kitchen in the suite) but still basically have the dorm situation of random roommates. It was also less worrisome than renting a single big apartment with a bunch of friends since everyone in the suite was on their own lease of if one person decided to fuck off for Europe you didn’t have to scramble to make up for the lost share of the rent.

Now, a lot of those old places are converting to regular apartments. Which results in really weird listings like this apartment you could rent that has 3 bedrooms and a “study” (but that “study” has its own bathroom since it was once a room rented to a single college student).

https://www.estatesateastriverside.com/Floor-plans.aspx

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Boise gets compared to a smaller version of Austin at times, and I see it in this comment as we've had a very similar experience: I think at one point we were/are the fastest growing top 100 metro in the nation.

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Austin doesn't really have "very dangerous neighborhoods", at least in comparison to other major cities. Our crime rate remains one of the lowest of all the major cities in Texas. There's also scant numbers of houses in disrepair, as most of those have already been bought and bulldozed over the last decade. One of the biggest issues with Austin is that we've had a major construction boom going for about a decade and a half, so the majority of the housing stock in the city is relatively new.

Normally, all this new construction would be doing more to keep things more affordable. But the level of growth we've been experiencing is just shocking.

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Number of houses in disrepair is also a function of the size of a city 30 years ago compared to the current size of the city. Places that grew in the early 20th century and then stagnated have a lot of houses of that age. Places that were small in the early 20th century and grew recently don't.

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It's pretty close to sailing, but we're still cheaper than the other tech hubs (San Francisco, Seattle, New York, DC) and the other major lifestyle/destination cities (Miami, Denver, Portland).

There's certainly a squeeze in Austin right now, but as the article points out, that squeeze is happening in all those other cities as well. So comparatively we're still a bargain.

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Shh!!!!! Don't let them know.

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I’ve never heard that financial advice of house not more than 4x income. I can’t think of anywhere in the US in 2022 where wages are high enough, and housing prices low enough, to make that math work.

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It equates to a mortgage payment at 7% interest of ~1/3 of pre-tax income.

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I feel like a lot of the energy that’s been spent on “work from home” vs. “not work from home” would have been better directed at “four day work week,” something everyone could benefit from, not just people with intangible email jobs.

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Isn't it odd that so many things about buildings that might or might not be nice to have -- parking, bedroom windows -- are mandatory? I suspect the same goes for building codes that (probably at the time) specified best practice given the technology at the time.

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founding

Windows are relevant for fire escape purposes, which is the sort of thing that people often under-consider when choosing where to live, which makes it different from parking, which people probably over-consider.

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OK That is an argument. That would imply that it would not apply above the jump out level and or might be waived in the case of some special disclosure.

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I think they want it above the jump-out level, but not necessarily higher than the firetruck ladder level (unless they have some sort of window-washer platform that can come down and help people get out?)

But I think it should be enough if the building has two fire escape staircases, and each room has two completely separate paths to the two different fire escape staircases, one of which could be through something like a fire alarm door from the bedroom directly into the hallway.

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Agree. The point is to regulate the outcome ("occupant must be able to exit room in less than x seconds in case of fire") not the technology to achieve the outcome.

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I saw this post. My idea was to have windows from the bedrooms into the central living area. (Like offices do).

On the remote working… I always wonder if I’m a remote worker. 90% of my work in in the field. I fly to the job site. Work. Fly home. My “office” (actually my bosses office) is in Pittsburgh. I fly there occasionally for projects, but the most of the few zoom meetings and other miscellaneous stuff, I do at home.

All I know is there are two things I would hate.

1. Going into an office everyday and seeing the same assholes every day for years on end.

2. Working from home full time. How boring. I’d kill myself. I know remote workers have to slack. I do.

I actually enjoy my job cause it’s a combo. New people at every job site.

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I much like working from home full time as far as the "working" part goes, because when I'm coding I get into the zone of deep thought and concentration that can be very disruptive when someone interrupts me. But during and post-pandemic, it did get old not being around different people more regularly.

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With that specific floor plan, you could put in windows between the bedrooms and the big open-plan living space. That way you could get some natural light into the bedrooms. They'd probably have curtains that are normally left drawn (so other people can't see into your bedroom!) most of the time.

I woke up to no electrical power this morning (scheduled maintenance that I'd forgotten about: power came up about an hour later, no harm no foul). I was very glad that all I had to do was open my blackout curtains and then there was some natural light; I would not have enjoyed getting dressed in pitch darkness.

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Probably also possible, much of the time, to run a “light tube” between floor joists out to a prism mounted to the side of the building for premium units to mimic a “skylight” in the bedrooms.

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