Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why We Moved Downtown (and why everyone else may follow)

The main reason was space. My husband (hereafter known as My Boy, or MB) is a computer consultant who works from home. He also has a lot of hobbies and loves to fix watches, collect and use old cameras, rehab motorcycles--basically, take things that aren't working and get them up and running agin. So he needs room for a workbench and tools. Plus just over a year ago we added a charming redheaded baby to our family and Kidlo needs his own room.

We'd been living in Silverlake and needed to move in a hurry (landlord poisoned our air conditioner--don't feel like getting into the details), but all of the places in our price range were tiny--700 sf or less for a two bedroom. We looked at houses but a) they were expensive and b) we were worried that we'd rent a house and then get kicked out a few months later when the owner defaulted on the mortgage (more on that later). We thought of buying but we didn't have enough of a down payment saved up (the days of no-money-down mortgages are over).

So basically we were screwed. Until MB saw an ad on craigslist for downtown lofts.

I work on the west side of downtown and we'd been going to Art Walk for a few years, plus we love going to Little Tokyo for conveyer belt sushi. So we knew the area and liked it a lot, plus MB and I grew up in New York (me in the Bronx, him on the Upper West Side), so we're city kids at heart. We decided to take a look at new lofts on Spring Street and holy shit, they wuz cheap. Crazy cheap. Like $1600/mo for almost 1,000 sf cheap. We were paying almost $2100 for our shithole in Silverlake, so when we saw those prices we did the Tex Avery eyes-bulging-tie-spinning routine. We would have to pay for parking, but even with that we were looking at saving almost $300 a month.

So we went for it. And here we are.

There have been a few things to adjust to. Having the car a block away is a pain in the ass when you have the baby and groceries and other shit to haul around. And the neighborhood is definitely still on the gritty side (though a helluva lot better than it used to be). Seeing drug dealers on 5th did not make me a happy mama.

The good part is that our loft is unbelievable. Brand new kitchen, two bathrooms with deep tubs and marble floors, dark wood (well, Pergo) floors and huge windows. We even have a patio! We're having a wall put in to section off the baby's room and still have enough left over to fit in MB's work area and a writing desk for me.

Plus the creative vibe in the neighborhood is amazing. Our next door neighbor is a DJ, the Japanese guy across the hall is a dealer in vintage vinyl, a woman on the 5th floor runs a dressmaking business. And it's a real city, so I walk down the street and overhear people's conversations (Today's example: "Women, money and drugs they didn't pay for!"). And Broadway reminds me so much of the Bronx. I love how whole families turn out to shop, Abuela, Mami y Papi, Tia and all the kids. I love how you can see some big tough cholo with baggy jeans and tats cradling his baby cousin in his arms.

Financially, living here is an incredible bargain. It's not just the cheap rent--not driving every day is going to save us a huge amount of money. And here's where I get to the "why everyone else will follow" part...

Because the condo market has collapsed and condo buildings are being converted to rentals, the rents have dropped and are going to keep dropping. It's just flat out cheaper to live here than in Los Feliz, Silverlake and even Echo Park (which is ridiculously overpriced). Cheaper rents = what I'm seeing in my building, which is an influx of young artist types who are no longer priced out of the neighborhood. The more creative people who flood in, the more retail we'll see, the streets will get safer and that in turn will attract even more people.

Also, the price of gas is going to keep going up--China and India want gas too, which means the days of cheap gas are over. Mass transit ridership is booming. Downtown is where all the transit lines for the region converge, so you can live downtown and take the Rapid to Santa Monica...or the red line to the Valley...or the gold line to get the picture. Or if you're like me and work downtown, you get to walk, get some exercise and completely eliminate your commuting cost.

(As an aside, places like the Inland Empire and Antelope Valley which have long, expensive commutes, high rates of foreclosure and no local employment are fucked).

Of course, there have been artists moving into downtown for more than ten years, but what you're seeing now is the second wave--people weren't willing to deal with hard core skid row or couldn't afford to buy a luxury condo, but are now getting pulled in by the Art Walk vibe and the cost of living.

Downtown has gone over the tipping point, so now it's just a matter of watching the people flood in.

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