Housing Diversity

I probably have been spending too much time on my local Next Door group. But, a lot of people there are complaining about various new projects that are working to bring more housing to our area.

Now—granted—I live in the very middle of peak suburbia. But it never ceases to amaze me how the complaints about more density in new housing developments always fall back to a couple of issues.

First, they complain about “ugly apartment” buildings. And while I think a lot of modern development can be a bit soulless, I think the same thing about most new single family housing as well. And I don’t think there’s anything beautiful about some of the new houses that are anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet and may have only two or three people living in them.

Next, they always complain about all the extra traffic from “cramming” a bunch of people into a space. Okay, well never-mind that the people who most often complain about this sort of thing also complain about public transportation and oppose all the efforts to improve transit. (which is the only cure for traffic)

But I think what frustrates me at times is the short-sightedness. Yes – I think there’s a place for single family houses. When you have kids, it’s actually really great to have a good backyard and nice suburban neighborhoods. But—shocker—not everybody has that.

More townhouses, condos and apartments give lots more options for lots more people. I live in a 70-year-old neighborhood that we love, and many of my neighbors are quite old. It’s pretty common (and sad) to see an estate sale at a neighbor’s house and then a few weeks later, a for-sale sign to go up in the yard. Usually these houses have been poorly maintained as the aging owner lacks the ability or finances to maintain their house like they used to.

With more housing types available, I wonder if more older people would choose to leave their single family houses for smaller apartments and town-homes that have less maintenance. And especially if they could remain in a community they love. This would be a benefit both to the older person with less to maintain and worry about, and to whatever young family would move up into the formerly occupied house.

By making effective alternatives available for people, you can accomplish a few things at once. You can enable a higher supply of single family homes without necessarily building more homes. (obviously how significant of an effect this will have will vary greatly on many different factors)

This is the point that I think is often lost with NIMBY advocates. They look at a parcel of land, and perhaps it can fit a few dozen single family homes, but hundreds of apartments and townhomes and other dense housing. The effect this would have on freeing up single family housing is hard to measure — but I don’t think it’s zero.

At the end of the day, everyone’s needs are different, and creating a diversity of housing will better serve an entire community’s needs.