Fisher Island, located off the southern tip of Miami Beach, has the highest mean income of any place in the United States according to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey. The ACS replaces the “long form” that sampled socioeconomic data in previous censuses. Fisher Island is unusual in many respects as it can only be reached by ferry and consists of 687 condominiums and a mere 8 single family homes. Only 226 of the 695 units are occupied by permanent residents. The Per Capita Income is also the highest in the United States at $355,136.
However, the Census Bureau seems to have totally blown its 2010 count of the island. Somehow, the number of housing units on the island dropped from 695 in the ACS 2005-9 to 226 in the 2010 Census (63 permanent/130 vacant/21 for rent). I guess the bad economy has resulted in hundreds of multi-million dollar condos being razed. Of course, I’m being facetious… but I cannot get any answers from the Census Bureau nor the Miami-Dade Planning Commission as to why 2/3 of the housing stock disappeared in one year. The count of housing units in the 2000 Census was 498. Although the ACS is an estimate, theoretically, the housing count for 2000 and 2010 are supposed to be exact. It is clear from a casual perusal of Google Maps (see below) that there has been no mass destruction
In June of 2011, 133 of the almost 700 units are currently on the market. This fact, in itself, is extraordinary. Elite neighborhoods have not suffered the same fate as lower-middle class and working class neighborhoods during the George W. Bush Recession.
Tiny one bedroom/one bath units (465 Square Feet) on the island are currently available for as little as $180,000. The most luxurious units range up to capacious 7 bedroom units with 7,000 square feet of living space. While the pleasantly homogeneous architecture has a modern Mediterranean motif, the buildings that house the units have finely graded price points. It is difficult to generalize on price as the vast majority of the units have custom finishes that result in wildly different asking prices. A review of properties currently for sale on Fisher Island on Zillow.com shows that an “average” island condo (3 bed/3 bath) has an asking price of between $1.5 and $2 million dollars. The most expensive condo that is currently for sale is on the market for $30 million. It may be wishful thinking as it has been on the market for quite some time. According to Zillow, one of the few single family homes is on the market for $16,900,000.
The Census estimates that there are 425 Non-Hispanic Whites and 15 Mexican-Americans in residence. Twenty-nine of the 226 households have incomes between $35,000 and $50,000, these householders are undoubtedly on-island caretakers. My guess is that some of the tiny units are aimed at some of the fortunate(?) service workers. At any rate, an income in the $35-50,000 range would put any of the island’s real estate far beyond the resources of domestic workers.
As you might expect, Fisher Island is a very unique place. The fact that the housing stock is almost all condominiums is very unusual for the communities that have the highest average incomes. The typical community on the list, is overwhelmingly made up of single family homes… in other words, traditional suburbia.
There are also a large number of condos on the other two resort towns on the list (North Key Largo and Kiawah Island). In both of these towns, there are hundreds of single family homes that are valued at more than $1 million dollars.
Fisher Island must not be confused with the very upper class, summer home haven of Fishers Island on Long Island Sound. Fisher Island, Florida is the epitome of the nouveau riche.
Map #1: Fisher Island, Florida
According to Wikipedia, Fisher Island was created in Biscayne Bay as a result of dredging and land reclamation projects around Miami Beach. It is named for the prominent Miami real estate developer, Carl G. Fisher who became the owner of the island in 1919. Fisher traded the island to William Kissam Vanderbilt II for a yacht and was the location of a single mansion for many decades. After several changes in ownership, Fisher Island began to be seriously developed in the 1980s and has over the years attracted many celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Boris Becker, Julia Roberts, and Mel Brooks. The island attempted to incorporate in 2005 but was denied this status by the Miami-Dade Commission.
Diablo, California: Gated Privilege outside of San Francisco
Diablo, California has the second highest mean household income of all places in the United States Diablo is an unincorporated suburb 35 east of San Francisco in suburban Contra Costa County. It consists of 347 single family homes and 43 townhouses in a gated, planned community built around the Diablo Country Club. Diablo is located in the foothills of Mount Diablo, a 3,864 foot mountain that dominates the eastern vista of the bay area.
Diablo can be considered a poster child for the Census Bureau’s haphazard way of designating unincorporated areas as Census Designated Places (CDPs). Although Diablo was originally built before the area was heavily developed, it is now part of the sprawl that refused to be annexed into the relatively recently incorporated wealthy city of Danville. Danville has an estimated population of 40,950 and with a mean household income of $193,353. It is very affluent by any American standard. Directly west of Diablo is the CDP of Alamo (17,992 population, $218,072 mean household income). Alamo consists of a succession of affluent subdivisions between Walnut Creek and Danville. To the west of Danville and Diablo is the sprawl of “Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara” (10,336 population, $214,832). The Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara area consists of the planned luxury Blackhawk community and numerous upscale tag along subdivisions that make up the Camino Tassajara part of the name. Oh the indignity of having your “community” named for a street! There actually is a country crossroads called Tassajara, but, as of yet, the sprawl has not quite reached that far east. The mainly gated Blackhawk is built around the obligatory golf club and was planned to eventually have 2,400 units. It is a bit different than Diablo in that not all of the houses associated with the development are in the +$1 million range.
In sum, there are any number of luxurious gated subdivisions across the United States that if considered a separate community for statistical purposes, might challenge Diablo’s number two status. Being California, a million dollars for a house doesn’t go a long way. However, it is still the highest category that the Census Bureau recognizes. Danville has 3,710 home in the million plus category. Alamo has 2,217; Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara has 2,328; and Diablo has 331 out of its 400 homes in the million dollar plus range.
Diablo does have its own identity in the area as it has been around for quite some time. The largest number of houses were built in the 1960s and it was only built out in the most recent decade. Diablo is a quiet community and that is the way the owners like it. I’m sure that the Diabloans will be loathe to be named the “suburb” with the second highest mean household income in America! Thank heaven for the gates to keep riff raff like me from gawking!
Map 2: Danville and its Unincorporated Satellites: Alamo, Diablo, and Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara
View Diablo, Danville, Alamo & Blackhawk in a larger map
As mentioned above, 96 out of the 100 places on the list are found in major metro areas. In addition to Fisher Islands unusual provenance there is #74 Kiawah Island, a planned resort community on a barrier island relatively close to Charleston, South Carolina. It is an incorporated community in its own right. Number 31 on the list is North Key Largo, an unincorporated place on the island of Key Largo. It is largely made up of the Ocean Reef Club, a posh second home destination just south of Miami-Dade. North Key Largo is in Monroe County, most noted for the city of Key West. With the exception of some higher priced outliers, the waterfront homes run in the $3-5 million range in both communities.
The third place that does note neatly fit into the suburban definition is Jupiter Island, Florida. Jupiter Island is #3 on the list and it is located in what the Census calls the Micropolitan area of Stuart, Florida. Stuart is the business hub of Martin County. Jupiter Island is also located on a barrier island and is renowned for its large and elegant waterfront estates. In many ways Jupiter Island is the antithesis of Palm Beach, its glitzier neighbor to the south. Life on Jupiter Island centers around the very Social Register Jupiter Island Club and its hallmark is quiet elegance. It is a club that is very difficult to join unless you are from a “proper” family. The ability to maintain the island’s upper class exclusivity is not iron clad. The professional golfer Greg Norman built a 17,800 square foot house, “Tranquility”, that is on the market for $65,000,000. Further ruining Jupiter Island’s reputation, Tiger Woods recently put the finishing touches on his $50 million dollar home in November of 2010.
Table 1: The 100 Places in America with the Highest Mean Household Income
(American Community Survey 2005-9)
|RANK||PLACE||MEAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME||LOCATER|
|3||Jupiter Island||$467,408||Stuart, FL|
|4||Chevy Chase Village||$466,702||Washington DC|
|6||Brookville||$429,525||Long Island Gold Coast|
|7||Westover Hills||$398,883||Fort Worth|
|8||Hidden Hills||$385,536||Los Angeles|
|9||Oyster Bay Cove||$384,963||Long Island Gold Coast|
|11||Munsey Park||$380,882||Manhasset, NY|
|12||Hunters Creek Village||$373,367||Houston|
|13||Rolling Hills||$369,876||Los Angeles|
|14||Bedford Village||$366,254||Westchester County|
|16||Plandome||$365,228||Port Washington, NY|
|17||Pound Ridge||$359,868||Westchester County|
|18||Old Westbury||$356,056||Long Island Gold Coast|
|19||Muttontown||$353,476||Long Island Gold Coast|
|22||Plandome Manor||$349,562||Port Washington, NY|
|23||Cherry Hills Village||$346,678||Denver|
|27||Lloyd Harbor||$338,730||Long Island Gold Coast|
|28||Sands Point||$337,881||Manhasset, NY|
|29||New Canaan||$335,708||Fairfield County|
|30||Old Field||$334,086||Suffolk County|
|31||Harding Township||$333,582||Morris County, NJ|
|32||North Key Largo||$332,992||Miami-Dade|
|33||Laurel Hollow||$323,269||Long Island Gold Coast|
|36||Piney Point Village||$319,265||Houston|
|38||Los Altos Hills||$315,616||Silicon Valley|
|40||Rancho Santa Fe||$312,495||San Diego|
|43||Upper Brookville||$311,166||Long Island Gold Coast|
|45||Village of Indian Hill||$308,331||Cincinnati|
|46||Mission Hills||$304,581||Kansas City|
|50||Mountain Lakes||$295,869||Morris County, NJ|
|54||Bunker Hill Village||$290,071||Houston|
|55||Roslyn Harbor||$289,280||Long Island Gold Coast|
|56||Chevy Chase Town||$287,814||Washington DC|
|57||Saddle River||$287,560||Bergen County|
|61||Hewlett Harbor||$285,829||Five Towns, NY|
|62||Chevy Chase Section 3||$284,697||Washington DC|
|65||Lake Success||$283,117||Nassau County|
|66||Mill Neck||$282,625||Long Island Gold Coast|
|67||Great Falls||$281,848||Washington DC|
|69||Lattington||$278,699||Long Island Gold Coast|
|72||East Meadows||$278,347||Long Island Gold Coast|
|73||Golden Beach||$276,827||Fort Lauderdale|
|74||Kiawah Island||$274,547||South Carolina Coast|
|78||Roslyn Estates||$270,274||Nassau County|
|79||Briarcliffe Manor||$268,983||Westchester County|
|81||Portola Valley||$267,332||Silicon Valley|
|83||Palos Verdes Estates||$266,149||Los Angeles|
|84||Matinecock||$262,828||Long Island Gold Coast|
|85||Plandome Heights||$260,875||Manhasset, NY|
|86||Harbor Hills||$260,335||Great Neck, NY|
|87||Old Brookville||$259,912||Long Island Gold Coast|
|88||Pelham Manor||$259,707||Westchester County|
|89||Millburn (Short Hills)||$259,656||Newark|
|91||Mendham Township||$259,463||Morris County, NJ|
|93||Olmos Park||$258,716||San Antonio|
|94||Martins Addition||$258,022||Washington DC|
|97||Gulf Stream||$256,474||Palm Beach|
|99||Chevy Chase Section 5||$254,676||Washington DC|
There are many considerations when looking at the list of places as an absolute measure of income. First and foremost, the Census only allows a household to claim approximately $2 million dollars as the highest amount of income. There are valid statistical reasons for limiting reported income. After all, Bill Gates would certainly affect the mean income of Medina, Washington (which come in 95th on the list). However, this is still a rather arbitrarily low figure and has not changed from the 2000 Census in spite of 25% inflation and the most massive shift of income to the wealthiest households in the history of the republic.
Munsey Park #11 and Sands Point #28: Problems with the Data
A good example of a couple of communities that make the statistics hard to understand are Sands Point and Munsey Park on Long Island. Munsey Park is ranked as the 11th wealthiest community in America (mean household income $380,882). Although Munsey Park is indeed a lovely place, it is inconceivable that it ends up ranked higher than nearby luxurious Sands Point (#28, mean household income: $337,871). Sands Point fronts much of the coastline of Long Island Sound on Manhasset Neck and is the home to a large number of Gatsbyesque waterfront mansions.
When looking at the list, it must be remembered that in small places there is a large margin of error for the statistics. In the case of Munsey Park it is plus or minus $61,000 for average household income. My estimation is that it is over by that amount. Although Munsey Park lacks the large eye popping waterfront mansions, it does have its own charms. The “alpha” street, Park Avenue is graced with elegant large homes.
The New York City Metro area is heavily over represented on the list as its suburbs, most particularly on Long Island are broken up into endless tiny incorporated suburbs. Because of this fragmentation, 42 of the 100 are from the New York City metro area. Long Island’s north shore has an almost contiguous string of 22 tiny villages from Great Neck to Lloyd Harbor on the list.
Yet another consideration for the reader perusing the list list is that large mansions with live-in staff quarters are counted as separate households and that fact may compromise mean household income. This may partly explain Sands Point’s lower rating than the uniformly upper-middle class Munsey Park (444 out of Munsey Park’s 742 households have incomes over $200,000.) The 10,000-20,000 square foot mansions of Sands Point probably require live-in help and thus bring down the mean household income.
My attitude towards the problems in the data is that it is the best we have and any fair minded person would agree that the 100 places with the highest mean household income are all among the most elite communities that America has to offer.
Map 3 The Higley 1000 Neighborhoods of Manhasset Neck and Great Neck, New York
View Manhasset Neck-Great Neck in a larger map
To make the above list, a place had to have a minimum of 200 households. For all of you that are interested in the most obscure of data… the following is a list of the tiniest places that would have made the list had I included even the smallest of incorporated places. Naturally the margin of error is even more tremendous in the following places.
Table 2: Tiny Places with High Mean Household Income
American Community Survey 2005-2009
|RANK||PLACE||MEAN HH INCOME||# OF HH||LOCATER|
|2||North Beach||$437,946||148||Vero Beach|
|3||Lake Aluma||$384,112||30||Oklahoma City|
|4||Hewlett Bay Park||$383,113||158||Long Island|
|9||Barton Hills||$350,955||131||Ann Arbor|
|11||Centre Island||$337,310||166||Long Island|
|13||Hewlett Neck||$309,038||140||Long Island|
|16||North Crows Nest||$257,873||11||Indianapolis|
|17||Belle Air Shores||$256,964||25||St. Petersburg|
* There were 8 single homes on Fisher Island when Google Map’s satellite made its last pass….