Making the Case for High-Density Housing

A new report calls for more multi-family housing communities where jobs, shopping, and entertainment are within walking distance.

May 1, 2005

As the U.S. population continues to expand, communities throughout the country are facing a housing crunch. The solution? High-density areas where housing, jobs, retail, and entertainment are all interwoven—creating communities where the emphasis is on walking, not driving, according to the National Multi Housing Council 2004 Annual Report.

In the past, the growing population has been accommodated by sprawl, resulting in "bedroom towns with no sense of community, where residents endure long commutes, and cities struggle to cover the costs of servicing their far-flung citizens," according to the Washington, D.C.-based group.

Especially in light of recent gas price hikes, it's a good time to discuss the idea that America return to traditional neighborhoods with high-density housing, which can include apartments, town houses, and condominiums for purchase or rental, the report says.

High Cost of Sprawl

Community leaders already are discovering the high costs of sprawl and the benefits of creating higher-density, mixed-use developments. For example:

Nontraditional Households Fuel Demand

The changing American population also is making high-density living more popular, the report says. Today, less than 25 percent of American households are composed of married couples with children, which is what most single-family housing is designed for.

Now there also are young professionals, couples without children, empty nesters, single parents, and other nontraditional households.

This is creating a desire for more diversity in housing, leading to more demand for multi-family housing. Higher density housing affords more convenience, financial flexibility, and amenities. Residents can choose to be close to jobs, retail, and entertainment.

According to the NMHC report, demand for high-density housing will continue to grow—and is set to hit new highs by 2015—due to an estimated 78 million downsizing baby boomers, 78 million children of baby boomers graduating from college and entering the workforce, and some 9 million new immigrants. Meanwhile, service workers and municipal employees are priced out of the neighborhoods where they work.

It's time that communities, including developers, city planners, and real estate professionals, overcome their fear of high-density housing and embrace it for the benefits it can bring, the report says.

(c) Copyright 2005 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

  • High density "reduces the need to extend water, sewer, electrical, highway, police, and fire protection farther and farther away, which can cost the cities thousands more," according to the NMHC. The report estimates that communities can save more than $100 billion in infrastructure costs over the next 25 years by growing compactly.
  • "Compact development can jumpstart local economies," the report says. Among the issues for employers tempted to locate further from city cores are housing, strict regulations, and high taxes. Cities lose the employee consumer spending and business income when companies locate out of town.
  • High density "supports neighborhood retail districts, which generate additional tax revenue" and support "lively work/live/walk districts and public transit nodes," the report says.
  • Some of the problems associated with density, such as crime, traffic, and falling property values, have more to do with development that’s poorly designed.
  • Towns that avoid adding apartment, rental, or condominium housing are missing an opportunity to create great communities "that are more fiscally and environmentally sustainable," the report says.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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