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Three Perspectives on Housing

1. Future Housing Demand: Problem or Opportunity
by Beth Humstone

2. Perspectives on Planning for Housing
by Wendy Grey, AICP

3. Housing: “One-Size-Fits-All” No Longer Works
by Edward McMahon

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How many times has your commission heard, “But there’s no market for that development,” “People want a big home on one acre,” or “It’s more affordable to buy a house out in the country?” In the past it was commonly accepted that suburban or fringe housing on large lots was where most of the housing market was focused. But the recent housing foreclosure crisis, coupled with high unemployment and rising energy costs, has challenged old assumptions and dramatically altered the picture.

Now planners in communities across the country are increasingly hearing different demands for: more housing close to transit; walkable neighborhoods; and affordable, low-maintenance, energy-efficient homes. In this chaotic time, how do citizen and professional planners determine what people really want or need, and what to plan for?

It is essential that planners understand the market for housing in their community: what types (and price ranges) are needed, and in what locations. Planners must also consider economic trends and other factors that could impact future demand.

Today’s demographic and economic conditions, along with consumer preferences, are converging to create a major shift in housing demand.

The time is ripe to plan for future needs. Economic forecasts suggest that there will not be much action on homebuilding for about two years. Many communities currently have excess housing stock that very likely will be filled before much new construction begins. So there is time to examine residential markets and how they are changing to avoid housing shortages, meet community needs and revitalize neighborhoods stricken by economic conditions.

Demographic Trends

Two national trends are clear: (1) decreasing household size, and (2) an aging population. Once planners focused their housing plans on providing for couples with children. Now these households are a minority. As Arthur C. Nelson, Director of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah, recently noted that: “Between 1950 and 2000, average household size decreased from 3.38 to 2.59 [and] will continue to fall to about 2.46 persons by 2030 … Single-person households will rival households with children and will be the fastest-growing market segment.” Moreover, as Nelson explains, “Baby boomers will turn 65 between 2011 and 2029.

Large homes in outlying locations may no longer be affordable or practical for retired people. According to a report published by the Urban Land Institute, “Some baby boomers will choose to downsize to an apartment or condominium after their children leave the ‘nest’… Multifamily housing allows seniors to remain in their neighborhoods through the different stages of their lives without the hassle of maintaining single-family housing.”

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