Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Average size of the US house building is growing again

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune published a story, "After years of downsizing, big houses make a comeback: Low interest rates, higher incomes and longer wish lists contribute to sprawling new single-family homes," about how the average size of houses is growing again, after having "shrunk" on average for a few years after the real estate crash of 2007.

This is an issue for center cities, not just suburbs, because (1) larger houses cost more to build, buy and finance, (2) as housing prices escalate in high demand neighborhoods, more tranches of the housing market are priced out, (3) households continue to shrink in the number of residents, (4) therefore cities need more housing to accommodate the same number of people, (5) especially as the number of single-person households continues to increase as discussed in Eric Klinenberg's Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone ("Eric Klinenberg on the Trend of Living Alone," New York Times; "Eric Klinenberg on Going Solo," Smithsonian Magazine).

This has many implications for housing policy, (1) in terms of allowing the construction of smaller units on affordability grounds, (2) legalizing accessory dwelling units, (3) general opposition of residents to housing types different from what they are familiar and comfortable with, out of the belief that accommodating "different" people willing to live in smaller units can lead to a diminishment of the quality of the neighborhood, and (4) microunits, which are even smaller than what used to be considered "small" ("Micro-units help DC renters live to the max," Washington Post).  Seattle has experienced a great deal of construction of microunits ("Seattle's micro-housing boom offers an affordable alternative," Seattle Times); "Are apodments ruining Seattle neighborhoods?," Seattle Magazine).

Another element is the teardown of smaller houses, generally on smaller lots, in favor of much larger houses on the same lot.  Residents often oppose this because it changes the character of a neighborhood ("Teardowns: Tearing apart or building up the neighborhood," Washington Post)..

I do wonder about the municipal finance implications.  Some could make the argument that bigger houses with fewer residents draw less in the way of city services than the same size building with multiple units with more residents, even if they are smaller households.  It's an interesting question to research.

-- The Macro View on Micro Units, report, Urban Land Institute

The article has a diagram showing data for average house size in different areas of the country.

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At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Michael Lewyn said...

All very true. But on the positive side, the ability to tear down a house and build a bigger one means that cities can evolve to meet consumer preferences. For example, lots of older homes are built with just one bathroom- not something that is, I think, appealing to modern families.

At 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"especially as the number of single-person households continues to increase as discussed in Eric Klinenberg's Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone "

Well yeah, as long as rents and prices are hostile to families, not to mention our policies, you are basically DRIVING demand to single person households, and I might add, slowly killing off a city. But, like, whatever.



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