One interesting piece of information I picked up at the meeting, which I sort of knew but hadn't really synthesized, is that there seem to be two distinct systems through which "market" housing prices are set. The system in which people use real estate agents, or even craigslist, is distinctly separate from the system in which people sell homes through word of mouth without any sort of advertising. Several neighbors last night mentioned having purchased single-family homes for half of the price of mine during the same time period. These purchases seem to have been made from either known individuals or through informal connections, but without any sort of formal listing.
When I looked at listings during the same time period, including looking with neighborhood real estate agents who do not use the MLS, I found that most of the homes in the area were priced at $250,000 and above for homes of similar size and condition to mine. This would be what is commonly known as the market value of homes in the area. Given that a large number of people are selling homes at these prices, people believe they have to pay this much to live in the area, and people (like me) pay it.
However, there are clearly people who wish to sell their home to a fellow middle-class resident for what it is truly worth, forsaking the huge profit they could potentially make. It's understandable that these people aren't going to list their homes with a real estate agent, because then it's just going to get snapped up by someone who will turn around and sell it for twice as much, which forces out many of the people who really value this neighborhood with a rich history of artists and entrepreneurs and immigrants. It's a tricky situation though, because by keeping these home sales clear of "the market," this also means that they aren't considered in determining the "market value" of homes in the area.
Last night we had presentations from two developers who were asking the neighborhood association to grant variances for renovations and new construction they were looking to build (almost everything in the neighborhood requires variances, since it's an old neighborhood with odd-shaped lots and so forth, where none of the existing houses would be up to code today). The neighbors repeatedly asked the developers whether their homes would be affordable, to which the developers responded that they would be "market value."
The most notable thing about the neighborhood association, really, was that it definitely reinforced the reputation of Fort Hill, which is that it has a culture of people getting along regardless of race, class, profession, roots, provided that people are committed to being hard-working and considerate. It was inspiring, really, to hear discussions among people who come together and use their various skills -- people with professional expertise, people with longtime community connections, people with tenacity -- to work toward a common goal of a neighborhood that is safe, welcoming, and honoring of its historical past.
People at the meeting all seemed to be strongly opposed to construction that could harm foundations of historic homes built on cliffsides, construction of unaffordable homes, or construction of homes that would look out of place in the neighborhood, but I didn't hear any of the statements commonly heard from various neighborhood associations in the city regarding not wanting the neighborhood to be home to any rich people, poor people, or any other group about which they've formed stereotypes. In fact, some of the discussion revolved around how a good community is welcoming to all types of people and mentioned the need to have a certain amount of housing geared toward elders, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities.
I think we're in a good neighborhood.