Greater Greater Washington

Development


More homebuyers want walkable, transit-served communities

New research shows that a growing number of homebuyers are interested in walkable, transit-served communities, and are willing to sacrifice a bigger house for a better neighborhood.


Rockville's King Farm has single-family and multifamily housing near shops and transit. Photo by the author.

Last night, Joe Molinaro, director of Smart Growth and Housing Opportunity at the National Association of Realtors, and Shyam Kannan, director of research at real estate consultancy RCLCO, gave a talk on "Polls, Demographics and Demand for Smart Growth" hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth at the National Capital Planning Commission.

They presented the results of recent surveys NAR and RCLCO recently conducted. They show that many people, and not just young singles, would like to live in neighborhoods with amenities in walking distance and good transit, and many would even trade a larger house for a shorter commute. But there isn't enough such housing to meet the demand.

Demand far exceeds supply of housing in walkable, transit-served communities.

The NAR study, which surveyed 2,000 people nationwide last February, found that 47% of respondents would like to live in a downtown, an inner-city residential neighborhood, or a suburb with shops and amenities within walking distance. Meanwhile, Kannan's research found that 23% of Americans surveyed want to live within walking distance of rail transit.

While that may not seem like a lot, this population is still underserved by existing housing options in most of Greater Washington, where only 14% of residents live within a half-mile of Metro. 22.8% of District residents can walk to Metro, but in Northern Virginia, defined as Fairfax and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria, just 13.3% of all households live within a half-mile of Metro.

In Montgomery County, that falls to 10%, while in Prince George's County, with fifteen Metro stations, it's 7.7%. Regionwide, it would take 170,000 new units within walking distance of transit to accommodate the estimated demand for such housing.

Though the real estate market slowed down considerably due to the recession, there will be a pent-up demand for new housing, and new kinds of housing when the economy improves. In 2005, 2.1 million building permits were issued nationwide, about 38% of which were for multi-family homes. In 2011, only 597,000 permits were issued, but nearly half were for multi-family homes.

Given the demand to live in walkable, transit-accessible communities, and buyers' willingness to consider attached homes, trends suggest that we'll need to build many more townhomes and apartments in the coming years.

There's public support for Smart Growth and better transit.


Molinaro presents his findings. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
After decades of urban disinvestment, Americans are interested in fixing established communities and providing alternatives to driving. When asked what type of development state governments should encourage, 57% said they should improve existing places, with another 32% endorsing new development in older communities.

50% said better public transit would reduce traffic, and another 30% endorsed creating places that required less driving. Molinaro said these results are pretty consistent around the country, with the opinions of people in mostly-rural states like Idaho and Montana mirroring those nationwide.

People will sacrifice a larger house or yard for a shorter commute.

NAR's survey confirmed common assumptions that Americans want to live in detached, single-family homes. 80% of respondents in the NAR survey said they'd prefer to live in a single-family house, which is in line with other studies. 87% said the most important thing they look for is privacy.

Yet when asked to choose between a neighborhood of large-lot single-family homes which require driving everywhere, and one with smaller homes but amenities within walking distance, 56% chose the latter. 58% said they'd pick a walkable neighborhood over one where driving was a necessity, and 59% said they'd take a small house and a shorter commute over a big house with a longer commute.

Homebuyers are willing to give up space for a close-in location, but those surveyed seem ambivalent about living in attached housing. When asked to pick between a single-family house and a long commute, and an apartment or townhome with a shorter commute, just 38% chose the latter.

A wide cross-section of Americans, not just young singles, desire these places.

Both surveys explored the demographics of the typical Smart Growth homebuyers. They found that they're not just limited to young professionals, as is the common wisdom.

In the NAR survey, respondents who said they preferred an auto-oriented, suburban community were more likely to be politically conservative, married, middle-aged, white men. Meanwhile, a broad range of people expressed preference for Smart Growth communities, including women under 40, low-income earners, and individuals with post-graduate degrees. Though each of these groups has different reasons for wanting to live in these places, they all find benefits in them.


Kannan describes his study. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
Kannan's research looked at interested market segments in greater detail using psychographic variables, which groups people based on similar personality traits, occupation, or cultural outlook.

People who'd be interested in living near transit include the "Laptops and Lattes," affluent liberal professionals, but also "Boomburbs," suburban dual-income households, or "Urban Villages," large, middle-class Hispanic families.

From this, Kannan concludes that the demand for transit, coupled with buyers who either currently live or want to live in suburbs, will result in a mismatch between where people live and where transit is available. "Are we undercounting the overall demand for transit-oriented environs?" he asks. "I don't know if we're seriously thinking about our regional, fixed-rail transit."

Despite demographic trends favoring homes in walkable communities, not all future homebuyers and renters will flock to the inner city, meaning that there will continue to be demand for housing in the suburbs. And though people may want to live near public transit, they won't use it unless it's fast and frequent.

Yet it's not feasible to cover every single piece of a sprawling metropolitan area with high-quality rail and bus service. This can be seen in Montgomery County's study of a 160-mile Bus Rapid Transit system, which was revised to reflect higher estimated costs and fewer projected riders.

If we're going to meet the demand for Smart Growth communities, we'll have to make significant changes in the way our region is structured. Building new transit is expensive, so we'll have to place a greater emphasis on building housing around the system we have, even when there's local opposition to doing so. We'll also have to make walking and biking easier, through the provision of sidewalks and bike infrastructure, but also through top-notch urban design that creates environments where people actually want to walk and hang out.

Those who want to live in walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods may be a minority, but they're underserved by our existing housing stock and the communities we live in today. As Generation Y enters the workforce, we'll see a greater demand for these kinds of places, not just for swinging singles but for young families as well. And all this can happen while relieving development pressures on auto-oriented, suburban areas, allowing the majority of people who enjoy those places to continue enjoying them.

Smart Growth doesn't mean that everyone has to live in an apartment. In reality, the NAR and RCLCO studies reveal that most people don't want that. But it's a tool to create communities where people have a greater breadth of choices, from how they live to how they get around. In the coming years, we'll have a chance to give people in Greater Washington the choices they deserve.

A planner and architect by training, Dan Reed also writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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Granted I don't know the methodology that was used, but whenever I see something like 80% would prefer to live in single family hosues, I wonder how strong that prefernece is. If someone asked me would I prefer to live in a condo or a single family house, I would say single family house. However this preference is not overwheleming and I would be willing to live in a condo in an urban environment, and would rather do that then live in a single family home in a non walkable suburb.

I wish they would redo this by asking people on a scale of 1-10 how willing they would be to live in different types of housing.

by nathaniel on Aug 18, 2011 10:26 am • linkreport

It's an interesting study, but your spin is wrong:

87% said the most important thing they look for is privacy.
80% of respondents in the NAR survey said they'd prefer to live in a single-family house
59% said they'd take a small house and a shorter commute over a big house with a longer commute
58% said they'd pick a walkable neighborhood over one where driving was a necessity,
57% said they should improve existing places
56% one with smaller homes but amenities within walking distance
50% said better public transit would reduce traffic
47% of respondents would like to live in a downtown, an inner-city residential neighborhood, or a suburb with shops and amenities within walking distance
32% endorsing new development in older communities
30% endorsed creating places that required less driving
23% of Americans surveyed want to live within walking distance of rail transit

The takeaway is very different than smartgrowth:

1. Americans wants single family homes in walkable communtities. They would like that be to close to work.
2. Size of the house isn't that important
3. Transit isn't that important, either.

You are using the numbers to support townhouses and multiunit housing, which the majority of Americans -- from this data -- don't want.

If anything, I'd say you could turn this on its head. Improving North-South connections in Fairfax, for example, would make it easier to get to work. Multi-unit housing is fine for singles, not for families, which limits cities.

by charlie on Aug 18, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

Charlie
I take the results to mean there is a greater demand for transit and walkable places to live then are currently provided. This means we should build more. It doesn't mean though it needs to be the majority of the new construction, but simply we should encourage and allow more than we do at this time.

by nathaniel on Aug 18, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

What @nathaniel said:

whenever I see something like 80% would prefer to live in single family hosues, I wonder how strong that prefernece is.

I would love a SFH in Manhattan. Having said that, I'd prefer a three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side over a SFH in Paramus, NJ. Out of context, the question is meaningless.

by oboe on Aug 18, 2011 10:50 am • linkreport

Thanks everyone for your input. One thing to note is that while we may begin with 80% wanting single family homes, there is a solid majority that would trade house size and location for more convenience. That convenience may take a number of forms (transit, walkability, etc.), but either way, that convenience is a core smart growth principle. Joe Molinaro, one of our speakers, elaborated on this very well in his post back in April, which you can find here: http://economistsoutlook.blogs.realtor.org/2011/04/18/community-preference-survey-smart-growth-neighborhoods/

by Laura DeSantis on Aug 18, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

The link for NAR report seems to be broke.

by Fitz on Aug 18, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

I'd certainly live somewhere like King Farm or Kentlands. The main thing I want is an SFH with a backyard though. It doesn't have to be a big house or yard but I like the privacy and sense of having my own domain that comes with it.

@Oboe you make a good point. I'd rather live in an apartment in Manhattan than an SFH in Nowhere, PA. But I'd really rather live in an SFH in Falls Church or Bowie or Germantown.

by Martin on Aug 18, 2011 11:01 am • linkreport

The questions posed similar issues in different ways, intended to bring out the sometimes contradictory opinions of those surveyed. While at a superficial level many people appears to want sprawling-type development, when the questions got to the root of people's preferences it found that there is actually a preference for more smart growth style development. People have a huge preference for privacy, which tends to jive with more rural landscapes and what drove much of the sprawl-love at the surface, but once past privacy it was impressive to see how quickly smart growth's tenants of accessible services, short commutes, and social environments quickly won out.

Note that smart growth doesn't have to mean dense urban cities, but can even include compact rural towns... I'd say some great examples that aren't too distant are many of the towns strung along NJ Transit lines in the NYC suburbs. As much a reputation as Jersey has & as much as I was raised to vilify North Jersey given my roots in its south, I have to admit that those rail towns have a distinct small-town charm and often make the "Best Places to Live" lists for good reason.

by Bossi on Aug 18, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

If families want both a SFH and Smart Growth (walkable community, near transit) then it doesn't really seem like the market is catering to that in Greater Washington.

Am I off base with that observation?

by Fitz on Aug 18, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

@Fitz - No, you're not off base. In fact, demand for living near transit is much higher than the supply of housing near transit by a difference of about 10%. You can find Shyam's presentation with this info on our website here: http://www.smartergrowth.net/anx/index.cfm/1,253,0,0,html/Event-Materials

by Laura DeSantis on Aug 18, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

@Laura - Thank you for that link.

by Fitz on Aug 18, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

@charlie

Townhouses and rowhouses are single family homes. Single family attached homes, but still single family nonetheless.

Rowhouse residential densities can and do yield some of the most walkable and transit-supportive areas that anyone would call urban. Amenities within walking distance require rooftops within walking distance - which means density.

Regardless of what 'most people want,' the rent data from DC right now shows that quite a few people in DC do want more apartment options in this particular market.

by Rail~Volution DC on Aug 18, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

What people want is privacy. Townhouses/Rowhouses don't provide that.

Oboe is quite correct that a major flaw in this survey is identifying WANTS rather than what they are going to buy.

What people want, apparently, is single family homes, with privacy from neighboors, in a "walkable" community. A strong minority wants access to rail transit, but 75% of Americans don't think that is important.

The model being drawn here is vastly different than the model talked about inside GGW. Think Key Blvd in ARlington, not Wilson. Or Tenleytown.

We could go off on hours about how demand patterns are different in Washington, and they are, but suggesting this is national model is more preaching to the choir.

by charlie on Aug 18, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

@charlie-

Agreed, high-density urban communities absolutely isn't a nationwide model, but what this research does indicate is that there is a lack of the full gambit of smart growth style options ranging between town & city and across the spectrum of densities.

As example, sure not everyone wants to live in apartments & condos... but the research does indicate that we do not currently have enough apartment/condo supply to meet the demand that is actually out there.

by Bossi on Aug 18, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

Rowhouses provide plenty of privacy. There are big brick walls between me and my neighbors. I occasionally hear very faint TV noises, but don't hear conversations, or really know anything about what they're doing.

Sure, if people go in their backyards it's less private, but many families actually like to have play space be somewhere others can observe so that neighbors can help keep an eye on kids. That's why they're building cohousing developments where houses cluster around a shared yard or something.

Some people want to be on a farm where nobody can see or hear for miles. But for most people, the privacy afforded by a townhouse is plenty, as long as there are good enough walls between.

by David Alpert on Aug 18, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

I have said for 10+ years and this discussion proves it, that as far as the suburbs are concerned "screw 'em". The center city isn't competing with the suburbs, for the most part. Sure the housing market self-selects. So what. The point is to improve the variety of urban-appropriate housing in DC.

I know the smart growth folks are concerned about improving the suburbs. That's not my battle, although I weigh in from time to time, because the issues are sorta the same, but from different directions.

In the city, people imprinted with suburban planning paradigms (remember that a significant number of residents moved to the city from elsewhere, often suburban places) make the wrong proscriptions for how to do planning and development in the city, especially as the city has the opportunity to grow.

Note that most of DC's neighborhoods are made up predominately of one type of housing, just like suburban neighborhoods, it's just different by degree: rowhouses vs. single family detached.

By not having a mix of land tenure forms and housing types including condominiums, plexes (flats), alley and other accessory units, apartments, larger buildings, etc., our center city neighborhoods are similarly less resilient as demographics and exogeneous conditions change--at least theoretically, because what is happening is that they are just changing demographically to the upper middle class as demand and prices continue to rise. (That's a problem if you make less money, and leads to my joke that polygamy is going to be legalized, because you need at least three incomes to buy a house.)

In the suburbs, the suburbanites who are imprinted with the same planning perspective fight against building a more rounded set of housing types within neighborhoods because they see that as "urban," and as a fundamental change in what the suburbs are supposed to be about.

So yes, there is a supply imbalance generally, and yes there is a supply imbalance for the 60% of people willing to live in more urban conditions (based on Leinberger's research), which tends to mean in smaller places, in attached places, in apartments and condos, etc., more than it means living in large detached houses.

As someone else said, the real issue is attached vs. detached (and multiunit), not "single family home" per se.

by Richard Layman on Aug 18, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

@Rail-Volution DC,

The NAR study distinguishes between SFH-detached, SF-attached/townhome, and apt/condo.

I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that when someone says SFH that they are referring to detached dwellings.

by Fitz on Aug 18, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

A solidly-built apartment can also provide a lot of privacy, though obviously not as much as you can get if you live in a single-family detached house with an attached garage and an automatic garage door opener.

by Miriam on Aug 18, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

attached and detached as SFHS

seems to be a regional thing.

I grew up in NYC, and anything that wasnt an apt was a "SFH" but ive never seen the terms used that way outside greater NY.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 18, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

@Fitz

That's true, but that 80% number is presented in the abstract. When respondents were presented with different scenarios (one sprawiling, all SF detached, one urban and mixed use, only some SF detached), the majority chose the walkable, urban scenario. When presented with tradeoffs, people are willing to compromise on that demand. Likewise, moving from a SF detached to a SF attached rowhouse is one of the easiest ways to bridge that gap between person's housing structure preference and their neighborhood typology preference.

(Check slides starting at #19: http://www.smartergrowth.net/anx/ass/library/11/narforum_joemolinaro.pdf )

Charlie presented it as a dichotomy between SF and multi-unit buildings, and I don't think that's a correct interpretation. The NAR study is far more nuanced than that.

by Rail~Volution DC on Aug 18, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

one could spin it another way.

20% actually prefer something OTHER than a SFH. Of the 80% who prefer a SFH, many would trade it off for something else.

How the preference for privacy (oddly, HIGHER than the preference for SFH's) relates to the market for SFHs on less than quarter acre lots, a growing trend, I dont know.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 18, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

'we do not currently have enough apartment/condo supply to meet the demand that is actually out there.'

As a renter, I hear this alot. But then I wonder about the condo's being built that no one buys (columbia heights) that are converted to rentals.

Does DC truly lack apartment/condo's? Does DC lack enough variety of apt/condo's (0 - 3 bedrooms), odes DC lack apt/ condo's in the neighborhoods that could benefit from them (georgtown) or does DC lack affordable apts in various areas (Ward 1)?

by greent on Aug 18, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

@greent-

Also a renter, myself, my 2 cents is that there seems to be an overabundance of "luxury" units... often overpriced for the younger professionals as well as for lower-income people. From time spent in those types of apartments I've also found that they're usually rather lax on sound-proofing, adding to privacy concerns that many probably have.

It's spectacular how quickly units in converted townhouses go- if you spot one on Craigslist that you're ever interested in, you're in the range of minutes or hours to make your decision before someone else takes it.

by Bossi on Aug 18, 2011 1:03 pm • linkreport

We've had this conversation recently before, Bossi. There is, according to one housing expert, in point of fact a glut of condo availability now. The owners are asking too much. That is why they often as not end up being rented out. Are any apartment buildings even being built these days? Please, someone tell me.

Charlie appears to be correct in his assessment. At least that is my opinion. What it seems people want in fact are villages, similar to what they have in England.

Only 30% wanna live in apartments (excuse me, condos). And yet that appears to be the number one thing advocated for in this blog (condos, not apartments).

We skirt the ruination for cities if we buy 100% into the so-called smart growth model - the reason people moved to cities in the first place is scale, proportionality, beauty.

by Jazzy on Aug 18, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

I think the significantly increased property values of walkable areas with good transit access speak pretty clearly. Single family homes and walkability are not mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary. You have a main street with a transit stop (commuter rail/light rail/subway/etc) at the center. This main street is lined with mixed use retail and apartments. Out from that you have town houses and on the next layer out you have single family homes, many still walkable to the transit. Those that aren't can be fed with buses. It's a simple formula that works well in many areas already and it can be a model for some very lucrative development as well as smart urban planning. There's something for everyone.

by Alex on Aug 18, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

I don't know, but I think that what there is a real shortage of is single family houses in the District. It would be interesting to see the percentage of non-residing investors (even those who do not live in the country) of condominiums. And it would of course be interesting to see the decline in apartment unit availability.

by Jazzy on Aug 18, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

@Bossi - that's my 2 sense too - DC lacks affordable apt rentals - that don't require richyrich salaries to pay for. If I see one more stupid luxury apartment being built....

My current place never has an apt empty - it's posted, and rented, within hours. And I do not plan on leaving my place, til it is sold and converted to luxury condos :)

by greent on Aug 18, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

yeah, people want cheap older apts. Now if only the developers could build MORE of them :)

Maybe they could get a time machine and start some more buildings in 1960 - or better, 1880, for the charm.

Like since used cars are in demand, maybe detroit could build some, huh?

Or we could increase the number of single family homes in the district - how? Build them in rock creek park? Annex PG county to DC?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 18, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

@greent

DC's apartment vacancy rate is very low. Rents are rising:
http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/low_vacancy_rent_increases_and_few_concessions/2805

Clearly, demand for more apartments in these submarkets is very high.

As for 'luxury' units - more luxury units means people with the money to spend on those units will likely take the luxury ones, which reduces pressure on the lower-priced units to increase in rent:
http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2008/06/filtering.html

Condos aren't selling well because of the dynamics of all for-sale residential, not because of some inherent dislike of multi-unit buildings. If buying a condo is predicated on someone selling their existing house or condo, then that market is going to be much slower in the recession than it would be otherwise.

by Alex B. on Aug 18, 2011 1:53 pm • linkreport

Well, since you asked - you could begin by not tearing down attractive older buildings. What I'm saying is that the framing of the argument is wrong. Love the sarcasm though!

by Jazzy on Aug 18, 2011 1:53 pm • linkreport

Condos in DC are not selling because the asking price has gone too high and as rich as many people are here, they cannot afford to pay it as it has increased.

by Jazzy on Aug 18, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

@greent-

SFDU on ground level.

Another SFDU on stilts a couple stories above it.

Then another even higher.

It'd be a skyscraper of 4 or 5 SFDUs, replete with yards at each level!

by Bossi on Aug 18, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

@Alex - I those significantly increased property values in walkable areas and with ease of access to transit are why so many families, especially young ones, choose to live in suburbs outside the Beltway instead of closer to the core of DC.

by Fitz on Aug 18, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

I feel like everyone's arguing, yet so far I think I've agreed with everybody...

by Bossi on Aug 18, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

I don't think it's true that there is a shortage of Single Family Houses in DC ... although there's that failure to distinguish between attached and detached. That being said, there are plenty of 'em, I live in one in fact.

What I would say is that there is a shortage of SFHs in DC in places that have lots of amenities within walking distance. By definition, it's economically not possible to do this (see the discussion of neighborhoods in Belmont's _Cities in Full_).

E.g., I was floored when I told a high level city official where I lived and the person was incredulous that I wasn't living in a place like Columbia Heights, Dupont Circle or H Street. (We didn't have time to go into a discussion about how intellectual purity doesn't help with the job scene.)

I live 3/4 mile from the Takoma Metro, in an awesome house on 1/6 acre (Suzanne isn't into rowhouses), but Georgia Avenue isn't H St. or 14th St. in Columbia Heights definitely. Takoma Park's commercial district is cool, but definitely not targeting the kind of people that go to Rock and Roll Hotel...

There are plenty more such houses in Ward 4, 5, and 7, maybe in Ward 8 too. You'll just have to have a car, or be reliant on bus service or be committed to biking.

WRT comments about "privacy" it all depends. Frankly the houses in Chevy Chase east of Connecticut Ave. seem closer to each other than the houses in my neighborhood, but plenty of people seem to be eager to want to live there. And the density of those houses shapes the ability of the CT. Ave. commercial district to be successful, in a way that my neighborhood, being less dense, cannot.

by Richard Layman on Aug 18, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

Great points, Richard.

Thanks for relating that. I guess you're right. And to refine what I meant - perhaps I mean what you say, single family houses (I don't care about attached/non attached) that are close to the things we want to be close to. And, I should also add in there - two and three bedroom apartments.

by Jazzy on Aug 18, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

@Alex: Clearly, demand for more apartments in these submarkets is very high

Yes Alex, as a renter, I am fully aware of this. And yet, how many apartment buildings were built in the mad scramble of the past 10 years? If any were built, were any afforable ones? Highly doubtful when the market was all about condo's and luxuriousness. Shocking to none.

Richyrich people who want luxury units live in lower end apartments? Oh, nope, owners will price units for what they can get them for... yeah I see. Capitalism doesn't keep anything lower if it can go higher. Regulations do however.

Progress is only for the wealthy. Outsourcing the nonwealthy creeps at a steady pace.

by greent on Aug 18, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

Regulations can also have the opposite effect...

Despite a glut of so-called luxury apartments, they're extremely slow to cut rental rates to respond to reduced market demand... that is: cutting the price to increase demand in response to excess supply -- that's not even Econ 101; that's Econ 001.

But usually large apartment buildings are ultimately owned by large investment companies which prefer to weather a downturn in demand with vacant units. The reason being that they prefer to not deal with the PR of doing a lower rent & then jacking it up when the market changes...

Or they're in cities with laws that prohibit large increases in rent each period. Which means if they lock into a lower rent: they're stuck with it even if the market changes such that they can get a higher rent.

by Bossi on Aug 18, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

@Bossi: yeah, good sides and downsides to regulation. There is no cure, and there is little hope. Nonrichyrich folks will be forced out of DC eventually, it will become the richmans enclave.

And then, DC will get the vote.

by greent on Aug 18, 2011 3:01 pm • linkreport

@greent

And yet, how many apartment buildings were built in the mad scramble of the past 10 years? If any were built, were any afforable ones? Highly doubtful when the market was all about condo's and luxuriousness. Shocking to none.

Yes, quite a few apartment buildings went up in the last ten years.

As for the affordability of those units, please read that second link I posted again. We have lots of demand here - that demand exceeds supply, and new units have not been keeping pace. But the demand is still there. And some landlord of a crappy-but-affordable apartment building with a good location will take that opportunity to renovate and capitalize on that high-rent demand. Now, if that high-rent demand had been captured by new construction, that wouldn't happen, primarily because new construction is always going to be more expensive.

Regulations to provide affordable housing are fine, but they don't simply undo the law of supply and demand. If you can't keep up with the demand by adding new supply, the price will go up no matter what.

by Alex B. on Aug 18, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport

"Well, since you asked - you could begin by not tearing down attractive older buildings. What I'm saying is that the framing of the argument is wrong. Love the sarcasm though! "

can you tell me where an older building is being torn down to replace it with one the same size?

Of course older buildings are torn down to replace them with significantly larger buildings. Thats the only way to increase the total number of units. Preventing that would drive rents up, not down.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 18, 2011 3:11 pm • linkreport

Alex B - is there a list of new apartment buildings you can point us to? Thanks.

by Jazzy on Aug 18, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert; there are big construction -- and noise -- issues between a older rowhouse in Dupont, and the new modern, wood framed ones being put up elsewhere. Narry any concrete in sight.

by charlie on Aug 18, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

jazzy, check out DC Urban Turf, their "pipeline" shows projects just completed, under construction, and planned.

Lots of new rental construction.

All or almost all luxury - new construction, not luxury would still be expensive, and I think the economics just isnt there for it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 18, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

@Alex: I read your links, they often answer questions I have asked, and I have and will thank you for them. I also read your blog info, as I find alot of you posts very intriguing. But your last sentence is the biggest one to me. If the only thing that matters is supply/demand, then DC is going to be the richmans haven.

I get the supply and demand. In my time here, I have gone from a 2 bedroom (with parking!) to a studio. Even with the decrease in size, my rent has increased - and if predictions are met, will increase dramatically over the coming years.

What are DC planners doing to consider this and to assist in keeping DC a mix of incomes? Anything? Are developers offering to build mixed income housing units, and once they get the tax breaks, do they actually build those? Or is this just capitalism and the nonrich will have no options but to move out?

Progress?

by greent on Aug 18, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

Green T, I think I'm with you on so many things here, but I'm afraid you are just barking up the wrong blog tree. This is not the place. I mean, keep at it, if you want. But frustration is in store, it would seem. This is a tecnocrat's dream blog - supply, demand, economics. There's no room for much else I've found. I little sliver of light here and there, but on the whole, no.

As far as "will" people have to move out. They HAVE had to move out. It's not going to happen. It IS happening. It HAS happened.

by Jazzy on Aug 18, 2011 4:43 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy

AWalker is right for a more comprehensive list, but just off the top of my head there are lots of large residential buildings near the ballpark, almost all are rental. Many of the high rise residential buildings along Mass Ave are also rentals. Also, be careful not to be too fooled by the word 'luxury,' but instead look at the rents. It's in the interest of the landlord to market something as luxurious, but the real telling is in the price.

@Greent,

I'm with you - the concern that the city will become a wealthy enclave without more supply is very real. I think the city has some good tools in place to help address the issue, but the single most important aspect is to continue to grow and add more supply to help meet that demand.

by Alex B. on Aug 18, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

Alex B, I googled before I got that suggestion, and found:
Latrobe, Highland Park, West End 25, Ashton (not sure if that is built yet), and Onynx on First.

Most are visual nightmares, except the Latrobe looked somewhat pleasing.

Rent for most 1Brs I looked at (about 3 different buildings) was between $2,000 and $2,500.

Obscene.

At any rate, yes, I must admit they are apartment buildings.

by Jazzy on Aug 18, 2011 4:54 pm • linkreport

I am under the impression DC has some affordable housing programs. Heck, even Fairfax county does. Though I think your income has to be like under 45k to qualify, and I do not know how hard it is to find the units.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 18, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

The issue here is what JJ called having a "large stock of old buildings" as being key to a Great American City. It's because the buildings are paid off and they are cheaper to own or rent.

In 20 years, the stuff built in the last 5 years will be considered cheaper. It's all relative.

DC has different issues both because of the height limit and because it was never an industrial city, so even in boom times, houses that were constructed are relatively small. (E.g., compare DC rowhouses to those in Manhattan or Brooklyn.)

Now that DC is in demand, what happened 100+ years ago really matters.

E.g., these buildings are in what was Allegheny City, for decades the Northside of Pittsburgh. It's the rare commercial district in DC (Georgetown, 14th St., right at Dupont Circle) that has buildings this big.

- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/308653321/

And in Montreal, you basically have double wide rowhouses, called plexes, that have 4-6 units. (Places like Cleveland and Greater Boston have similar kinds of housing, not done as rowhouses, but as small apartment buildings, with 3-6 units, although I suppose they can be split up and more units added.)

- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/25724135/

Unlike Alex, I'm not really hopeful that DC will have a wide variety of housing types and land tenure forms that preserve the opportunity for people of limited financial means to live in the city long term, at least not in NW, SW, and near NE and SE (except for public housing).

by Richard Layman on Aug 18, 2011 6:56 pm • linkreport

What a person says he wants during a 2-minute cold call from a pollster, and what he actually chooses in the real world after being confronted with the actual costs and benefits of each alternative, may be very different. In the abstract, people tend to want lots of conflicting things: a single-family home with a lot of privacy AND a walkable neighborhood. Good, close transit AND lots of parking. When push comes to shove and people have to make their choice, they choose the low-density, car-oriented alternative in overwhelming numbers. If there really were a huge pent-up demand for walkability and transit and dense housing, it would be expressed in political and consumer choices more favorable to that kind of lifestyle.

by Bertie on Aug 18, 2011 11:53 pm • linkreport

Bertie,
Where things so simple. If the extensive S.F. and row house neighbornoods in NE came with the equivalent safety and school quality of the low density, car-oriented neighborhoods you claim people overwhelmingly prefer, my guess is those "consumer choices" would differ. For a similarly priced "safe" S.F. home, most people I know have to endure 1-2 hour commutes one way. Do you really think that losing 1.5 hours a day from one's children while fuming in the fumes is something people really want?

Who dosen't want the nice single family home in Cleveland Park with safety, privacy, transit connectivity, and easy access to services? I believe the prices answer that question. The point is wasting your time in traffic vs. living it with the ones you love. Most people could give a fig about the specifics people discuss on this blog, but what everyone seems to relate to is their own quality of life, and that's what many of these specifics address on one level or another.

The politics used to be completely slanted towards suburban expansion due to a variety of reasons well catalogued on this site, but that seems to be changing. Again, I beleive you'll find a lot of data beyond this survey to back that up such as how consumer choices have affected housing prices.

by Thayer-D on Aug 19, 2011 6:22 am • linkreport

@Bertie

The pent-up demand for walkable urban places is expressed in their consumer choices. As noted, the prices/rents for housing in walkable, urban places has been skyrocketing even in the midst of a recession triggered by the collapse of a housing bubble.

As for why you don't see more political pressure, as well as why people choose driveable suburban areas, the answers to both of those questions are more or less the same: zoning and regulation. There's a huge body of research that shows the huge bias towards suburban forms from zoning, finance rules, etc.

So, why don't these rules change, even in the face of obvious market signals? The short answer is that the people who would benefit from new development are not organized in a way that can change the rules in a productive fashion:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1816368

(h/t to Yglesias: http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/04/27/200745/balancing-the-zoning-budget/ )

Abstract:
The politics of urban land use frustrate even the best intentions. A number of cities have made strong political commitments to increasing their local housing supply in the face of a crisis of affordability and availability in urban housing. However, their decisions to engage in “up-zoning,” or increases in the areas in which new housing can be built, are often offset by even more “down-zoning” or laws that decrease the ability of residents in a designated area to build new housing as-of-right. The result is that housing availability does not increase by anywhere near the promises of elected officials.

In this essay, we argue that the difficulty cities face in increasing local housing supply is a result of the seriatim nature of local land use decisions. Because each down-zoning decision has only a small effect on the housing supply, citywide forces spend little political capital fighting them, leaving the field to neighborhood groups who care deeply. Further, because down-zoning decisions are made in advance of any proposed new development, the most active interest group in favor of new housing – developers – takes a pass on lobbying. The result is an uneven playing field in favor of down-zoning.

Drawing on examples of “extra-congressional procedure” like federal base closing commissions and the Reciprocal Trade Act of 1933, we argue that local governments can solve this problem by changing the procedure by which they consider zoning decisions. Specifically, they should pass laws that require the city to create a local “zoning budget” each year. All deviations downward from planned growth in housing supply expressed in the budget should have to be offset by corresponding increases elsewhere in buildable as-of-right land. This would reduce the degree to which universal logrolling coalitions can form among anti-development neighborhood groups and would create incentives for pro-development forces to lobby against down-zonings in which they currently have little interest. The result should be housing policy that more closely tracks local preferences on housing development.

by Alex B. on Aug 19, 2011 9:27 am • linkreport

Lots of good points about the difference between what we desire and what we do. Even if everyone wanted to live in a castle surrounded by 500 acres of fields and woods, most of us wouldn't do it because we couldn't afford it. So desires are tempered by economics. What is unfortunate is that our tax system subsidizes speculation which needlessly inflates real estate costs and which pushes new development to seek cheaper (but more remote) locations. This economic impetus for sprawl can be reduced. Some jurisdictions have modernized their property tax by reducing the tax rate on buildings and increasing the tax rate on land. This takes the profit out of speculation while also making buildings cheaper to construct, improve and maintain. For more information, see www.justeconomicsllc.com

by Rick Rybeck on Aug 19, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

For most of metro stations, to get more housing within 1/2 mile will mean going up - mid & high rise construction. Our experience suggests the relatively narrow demographic band that buys or rents into this building type. In absense of additional housing such as this near metro stations, the price, particularly in places with better access to employment and other amenities, will only continue to rise beyond the means of most of us. If anyone has a solution out of this cycle . . .

by David C on Aug 19, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

build the dang trolley lines!

by Thayer-D on Aug 19, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

Frankly, don't use surveys as your evidence, show how people vote with their wallets and how property values in the District haven't experienced the drop that those in the exurbs have. Which GGW did, but maybe the point didn't become clear enough.

Also long term, yes, continued focus on urban growth and amenities nationally will likely push more of the poor into the suburbs and make urbanism for the wealthy. Think France. Perhaps moreso, given our tolerance for a higher Gini index.

by EJ on Aug 19, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

The pent-up demand for walkable urban places is expressed in their consumer choices. As noted, the prices/rents for housing in walkable, urban places has been skyrocketing even in the midst of a recession triggered by the collapse of a housing bubble.

Yes, that must explain all the bankrupt high-rise downtown condo projects. And as I have explained before, price comparisons alone tell you nothing about relative demand, anyway. You also have to account for the cost of supply and the other factors that influence market prices.

As for why you don't see more political pressure, as well as why people choose driveable suburban areas, the answers to both of those questions are more or less the same: zoning and regulation. There's a huge body of research that shows the huge bias towards suburban forms from zoning, finance rules, etc.

Zoning laws are created and sustained by the political process. If people were unhappy with zoning laws, they'd change the laws. And where is this "huge body of research" showing bias towards suburban forms of zoning, finance rules, etc.? Why aren't the enormous subsidies provided to mass transit a huge bias in favor of transit-oriented urban forms?

So, why don't these rules change, even in the face of obvious market signals? The short answer is that the people who would benefit from new development are not organized in a way that can change the rules in a productive fashion

Then why haven't those people organized in a way that can change the rules in a productive fashion? It's not like suburbanization is a new or localized phenomenon. It has been happening for more than half a century all over the country, and in Europe and Canada and Australia too. If there really were a huge pent-up demand for walkable urbanism, we'd have a lot more of it. The fact that walkable urbanism exists shows that people can create it if they want it. The fact that it is relatively uncommon shows that most people don't want it. You are simply ignoring the obvious reasons why suburban lifestyles are more attractive for most people: cheaper, more spacious housing; a cleaner, quieter, greener, more private, less crowded, less congested, less stressful urban environment; and the speed and convenience of car travel.

by Bertie on Aug 19, 2011 3:42 pm • linkreport

@David C - Nailed it.

by Fitz on Aug 19, 2011 3:56 pm • linkreport

@Bertie

Yes, that must explain all the bankrupt high-rise downtown condo projects.

Those are mostly a casualty of the financial crisis, not of the underlying demand for housing. For example, many of the projects here in DC that failed were finaced by Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros - when those two went belly up, so to did their financing. If you haven't noticed, we've been in a bit of a credit crunch the last few years, and construction financing is somewhat hard to come by. That's no reflection of the underlying market demand, however.

Zoning laws are created and sustained by the political process. If people were unhappy with zoning laws, they'd change the laws.

No, they wouldn't - as the paper I cited shows. There's a strong interest to change zoning laws, but the political incentives aren't structured to put any value on future potential residents, therefore the zoning laws don't change.

This is a condition of our political and legal system. Again, it isn't a reflection of the underlying demand.

And where is this "huge body of research" showing bias towards suburban forms of zoning, finance rules, etc.?

You can do some googling yourself, but I'll point you in the direction:
http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1038&context=lewyn&sei-redir=1#search=%22suburbia%20as%20product%20government%20regulation%22
Check out the "Great Books" on the sidebar of the GGW homepage if you want some in-depth reading. "Zoned Out" by Jonathan Levine is another great book, as well.

Why aren't the enormous subsidies provided to mass transit a huge bias in favor of transit-oriented urban forms?

Probably because those subsidies don't even come close to matching the scale of subsidies for highways and cars.

Then why haven't those people organized in a way that can change the rules in a productive fashion?

Asked and answered - see the abstract of the paper I posted in this thread above. Our political system and land use laws are set up to explicitly discourage this kind of organization.

The fact that walkable urbanism exists shows that people can create it if they want it. The fact that it is relatively uncommon shows that most people don't want it. You are simply ignoring the obvious reasons why suburban lifestyles are more attractive for most people.

For this to be true, you must assume that it is equally easy to build a walkable, urban place and a drivable, suburban one. However, your statement fails because the above assumption is not true at all. The sources I've listed above explain in detail why that is.

Chris Leinberger is fond of saying this: real estate is the most regulated asset class out there. There's no such thing as a free market in real estate. What you see is a product of regulation and government incentives. Likewise, it's worth noting that when we had fewer regulations, the settlements that we built were more urban. Food for thought.

by Alex B. on Aug 19, 2011 4:16 pm • linkreport

Interested study - We have found similar results in the SF Bay Area. We asked people who were looking for housing about various characteristics of interest, and defined eight market segments based on respondents preferences - some value living close to transit, some like urban areas with the right characteristics, and others want traditional SFR with lots of land. Most want to be able to walk to amenities.

Different people have different preferences, but we have a similar situation that we have have more demand for "smart growth" urban oriented housing (mixed use, close to transit and jobs)than we have housing of that sort.

Our study is on-line at http://www.mtc.ca.gov/planning/smart_growth/tod/briefing_book.htm

by Valerie Knepper on Aug 19, 2011 4:43 pm • linkreport

Those are mostly a casualty of the financial crisis, not of the underlying demand for housing.

Then so is the falling prices of suburban housing. It doesn't signal any change in underlying demand. It's the result of a bubble created by subprime mortgage practises and exacerbated by the recession.

No, they wouldn't - as the paper I cited shows. There's a strong interest to change zoning laws, but the political incentives aren't structured to put any value on future potential residents, therefore the zoning laws don't change.

The paper you cited doesn't address the underlying problem with your argument. If people wanted a certain outcome but were prevented from achieving it by "political incentives" then they would change the political incentives. Every law, every public policy, is subject to change through the political process. Again, if suburbanization were a recent or localized phenomenon you might plausibly be able to dismiss it as the result of a glitch in the political process that would be corrected in due course as the true will of the people asserted itself. But suburbanization is neither recent nor localized. If it didn't reflect the kind of lifestyle most people prefer, it wouldn't be so prevalent or longstanding.

Probably because those subsidies don't even come close to matching the scale of subsidies for highways and cars.

Direct public subsidies alone to mass transit are around 75 cents on the dollar. Fo every dollar in spending, 75 cents comes from taxpayers rather than transit users themselves. That is an enormous incentive to use transit. It promotes massive overconsumption of transit. If you seriously think you can show that subsidies to car travel are even remotely close this level, then please do so.

Asked and answered - see the abstract of the paper I posted in this thread above. Our political system and land use laws are set up to explicitly discourage this kind of organization.

You're just repeating your claim using different words here rather than addressing the fundamental problem with it I described. If the system and laws are "set up" to discourage the kind of organization people want, why haven't they changed the system and laws to rectify this supposed defect? That's how democracy works. If people wanted to set things up in a way that is more conducive to urbanism and mass transit, they would have done so.

For this to be true, you must assume that it is equally easy to build a walkable, urban place and a drivable, suburban one.

I don't assume that at all. It is definitely harder, in the sense of "more expensive," to build a walkable urban place. Land prices are higher, because more people are competing for each square foot. And construction costs are higher, because it is more expensive to build vertically than horizontally. This is reflected in higher prices for walkable urban housing. Which in turn limits demand for such housing, along with the other disadvantages of density that I mentioned before (more noise, more congestion, less privacy, etc.).

by Bertie on Aug 19, 2011 5:38 pm • linkreport

@Bertie

If people wanted a certain outcome but were prevented from achieving it by "political incentives" then they would change the political incentives. Every law, every public policy, is subject to change through the political process.

And you keep missing the point of the article I cited - the "people" that want more density cannot easily change the laws in their favor because they do not have power. New development would benefit future residents, but obviously future residents cannot vote since they do not yet live in that jurisdiction.

Since the relevant policy in this regard is zoning and is locally controlled, there's not much political recourse. If zoning were a national policy, then things might be different - but it is not.

by Alex B. on Aug 19, 2011 7:13 pm • linkreport

And you keep missing the point of the article I cited - the "people" that want more density cannot easily change the laws in their favor because they do not have power. New development would benefit future residents, but obviously future residents cannot vote since they do not yet live in that jurisdiction.

But that's not a failure of the political system. If we wanted to give potential future residents of a community the same political power over the community as current residents we would do so. We choose not to, for the perfectly understandable reason that we think the people who actually live in the community ought to have more control over what happens there than people who don't live in it and probably never will.

by Bertie on Aug 19, 2011 7:50 pm • linkreport

Roger Lewis on Kojo. "Shaping the City"


Absolutely. You mention luxury housing, and, of course, a lot of the apartments you mention are luxury only in their price tags. They're not necessarily immense, large apartments that a family could live in. I mean, I think the -- it's a -- there are a lot of moving parts to the story. I think we should tell the audience right away there are a lot of moving parts to this.

MR. KOJO NNAMDI
But the boom-bust cycle of the last decade left a huge mark on the look and feel of our built environment. In some D.C. neighborhoods, tall, shiny condo projects lay empty. In many suburban communities, for-sale signs still line most streets. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the number of truly affordable houses and apartments is evaporating.

LEWIS
The fundamental problem is that there has been a divergence generally between what people's incomes are and what they could afford to pay for housing, on the one hand, and the cost, you know, the market value of the housing on the other. And if, you know, when you -- when I started designing housing in the early '70s, it was much easier. I mean, I recall vividly I did a lot of projects for development -- developers that were market-rate housing.

And there was never much of a question that there'd be plenty of people ready to buy or rent the housing that was being developed. And, of course, also in that period, we still had a lot of programs that financed -- provided subsidy financing of some sort for affordable housing. And it seemed to me that at that time there was a -- what people could afford and what it cost were in closer relationship to one another.

I think what we've really seen. And it isn't just -- it didn't just start with this recession. I mean, I think there's been a relatively steady divergence between affordability, and by that I don't just mean low-income housing, but affordability in housing and what people's incomes allowed them to pay, whether it's renting or buying.

NNAMDI
Has the boom-bust cycle over the last 10 years affected the built environment in Washington, especially its housing stock?

LEWIS
I think there's been a lot of new housing built that has -- in Washington. And I think when you say Washington, you're probably talking about the city. We might also later talk about...

NNAMDI
The whole area.

LEWIS
...the whole area, the suburban part of the city. But I think the -- what we've seen in the last 10 years is a lot of multifamily construction, that is, apartments, apartment buildings, some row housing, but a lot of apartments which were generally condominium. They were meant to be sold, and that was because the -- that was -- there was a lot of market demand for that. Generally, until 2006, the notion was ownership is good.

LEWIS
I can afford -- if I buy this, I get interest tax deductions. I build up equity. Housing is going to go up in value, never down. That was the market. And by the market, I mean the effective demand of people who have the money to buy apartments. And what happened in -- after 2006 is the population able to afford to buy and service the loans to acquire a condominium or apartment began to weaken. And a lot of those apartments have now turned into rentals.

LEWIS
This happened not only in the city, but it happened in places like Rockville. I know that in particular. I worked on a project there where a lot of the housing that was built around the new Rockville Town Center was intended to be condominiums. It's now gone, a lot of it, to rental. The same thing is happening along Massachusetts Ave., and you mentioned the Navy Yard, Southeast Federal Center.

So why is this happening? It's happening because the -- right now, it is easier to get someone into an apartment if they're renting it than if they have to buy it. And, again, it's just pure economics.

NNAMDI
800-433-8850 is the number to call. What does the word affordable mean to you? Have you seen it in your neighborhood? We use that word affordable housing a lot, 800-433-8850. Let's go there for a second, Roger, affordable housing. We use the phrase a lot. Exactly what do we mean by that?

LEWIS
There is -- well, of course, affordable is completely relative. And, you know, if I'm making a million bucks a year, I can perhaps afford a $5 million house. But I won't be able to afford a $10 million house. Afford -- generally, the term affordable housing refers to housing that middle-income, middle-class people who have incomes -- who are employed -- this is not -- we're talking here about housing for the indigent.

But affordable housing generally is -- would mean housing that people who are gainfully employed, whether it's teachers or firemen or policemen or architects, whose incomes are respectable, but not huge, that they can afford it. And that hugely means that they wouldn't have to spend more than 30 percent or so of their income for housing.

What has happened is those people now, to find housing in D.C. , in Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, instead of looking at a 30 percent hit to provide themselves with dwelling, they might be looking at 40 or 50 percent. That -- it's -- again, it's really simple economics. It's that disparity I talked about earlier between what people are earning and have available to spend versus what the cost of housing is.

It's exacerbated by the fact that that the cost of producing and operating housing has gone up, that is, the cost of land, the cost of utilities, the cost of construction. One thing that hasn't gone up is the financing costs. We're at the lowest interest rates that I can remember in my whole professional career. I mean, you can get loans now -- numbers that I thought were unimaginable 30 years ago.

NNAMDI
What does affordable housing mean to you? Call us, 800-433-8850. We're talking with Roger Lewis. He writes the Shaping the City column for The Washington Post. He's professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. We're talking about how the housing situation in the Washington area has been changing over the last few years or so.

by Jazzy on Aug 19, 2011 10:03 pm • linkreport

Where exactly are these huge empty downtown buildings? The vacancy rate is extremely low in the city and rents are rising. That's a completely inaccurate statement.

by H Street Landlord on Aug 19, 2011 11:47 pm • linkreport

Roger Lewis does not mention downtown buildings. If you read the whole thing, it will get clearer for you (if indeed your comment about "downtown" buildings refers to the dialogue on the Kojo show).

by Jazzy on Aug 20, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

I was referring to Bertie's statement.

Although Kojo's statement that their are empty luxury buildings in the city is equally laughable.

Roger seems well spoken, but I don't see him referring to vacancy rates at all. Furthermore, his point about the increase in input costs - but not financing costs- is a good one.

by H Street Landlord on Aug 20, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

Then Bertie, consider reducing the amount of control, period. Legalize density, and see what happens.

by Neil Flanagan on Aug 20, 2011 12:40 pm • linkreport

Landlord:

I was referring to Bertie's statement.

I didn't say there are huge empty downtown buildings. I referred to bankrupt high-rise downtown condo projects. And my statement did not refer to Washington specifically, although downtown condo projects have gone bankrupt in Washington in the wake of the housing bubble as well as in many other cities. What typically happens is that the unsold condos are converted to rentals to try and attract occupants and recover some of the costs.

Nell:

Then Bertie, consider reducing the amount of control, period. Legalize density, and see what happens.

Legal restrictions on density are a way of limiting the negative externalities of density -- noise, pollution, litter, crowding, congestion, loss of privacy, loss of green space, etc. Unless you can find a way of internalizing these costs (which would raise the price of dense development), people aren't likely to give up the restrictions.

by Bertie on Aug 20, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport

Legal restrictions on density are a way of limiting the negative externalities of density -- noise, pollution, litter, crowding, congestion, loss of privacy, loss of green space, etc. Unless you can find a way of internalizing these costs (which would raise the price of dense development), people aren't likely to give up the restrictions.

But that's not what you're arguing - you're arguing that dense development isn't as common as low density suburban development because people want the low-density sprawl. If that's the case, then why not lessen the restrictions on development and let the market decide?

And we have a way to internalize those externalities - they're called taxes.

by Alex B. on Aug 20, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

But that's not what you're arguing - you're arguing that dense development isn't as common as low density suburban development because people want the low-density sprawl. If that's the case, then why not lessen the restrictions on development and let the market decide?

I'm arguing that most people prefer low-density sprawl and that legal restrictions on density are one of the ways in which they express that preference. In order for the market to decide, the external costs of density would have be internalized in market pricing. Noise, crowding, congestion, etc., are not iternalized in market pricing. They are negative externalities. Hence the need to limit them with legal restrictions on density.

I seriously doubt that even you really want the market to decide. One of the ways in which communities limit density is by setting aside land for municipal parks that are legally protected from development. Even New Yorkers, who are willing to accept much higher density than most Americans, do this. Do you really think Central Park should be opened up for development? Given the demand for housing and office space in Manhattan, I'm sure there are developers who would be happy to pave over the park and fill it with apartment and office buildings if they were permitted to do so.

And we have a way to internalize those externalities - they're called taxes.

What taxes? There's no "density tax." No "noise tax." No "crowding tax." No "invading other people's privacy tax."

by Bertie on Aug 20, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

I'm arguing that most people prefer low-density sprawl and that legal restrictions on density are one of the ways in which they express that preference.

Yet you don't acknowledge the logical fallacy this presents.

I seriously doubt that even you really want the market to decide. One of the ways in which communities limit density is by setting aside land for municipal parks that are legally protected from development. Even New Yorkers, who are willing to accept much higher density than most Americans, do this. Do you really think Central Park should be opened up for development?

Please don't bring those strawmen into this discussion.

We're talking about reducing the restrictions on density for private land and private development here. Is equating the upzoning of private land to the development of a public park the best you can do?

by Alex B. on Aug 20, 2011 4:58 pm • linkreport

Yet you don't acknowledge the logical fallacy this presents.

What logical fallacy do you think it presents?

Please don't bring those strawmen into this discussion. We're talking about reducing the restrictions on density for private land and private development here.

How is it a strawman? You complained about legal restrictions on density. Setting aside land for public parks is obviously a restriction on density. Manhattan would be signifcantly denser if Central Park were covered in high-rise office and apartment buildings. But the people of New York don't allow that. Central Park is an oasis of greenery and tranquillity and (relatively) clean air in the urban jungle of Manhattan. It enhances the quality of life in the city. It has substantial aesthetic value. And for similar quality-of-life and aesthetic reasons, people in other places support other kinds of restriction on density, such as minimum lot sizes.

by Bertie on Aug 20, 2011 7:43 pm • linkreport

I'm so glad you mentioned shared public spaces Bertie. Now we can get back on a constructive path.

The end product that is being discussed (a certain type of housing) is an amalgamation and compromise between a series of demands based on a location's context. So we can not talk in the absolutes of single family homes versus higher density because we're not speaking the same language. I live in a single family home on a high density lot (38 homes built on 3 acres, with an extra 3 of preserved forest and shared open spaces). I also have a private backyard, as well as a shared wall with a neighbor (see clustered housing) So while it is considered a single family home it does not fit into a stereotypical definition. So let's stop with the stereotypes since they won't push this conversation forward on what American homebuyers want and need in today's market.

We need to encourage a dialogue in terms of demands and needs, not final output. A condo, a rowhouse, a clustered single family home, a detached single family home, these are outputs, the end result. When not trying to simplify the demands of homebuyers, we can get into the meat of the argument, on what they need and desire in terms of open green space, a sense of place/neighborhood, privacy (ps-there's a higher sound transmission between the windows of detached houses then between insulated (ie well constructed) attached walls.), walkable streets, close to transit/shops. Perhaps we should stop imagining what people do and do not desire, and look at successful communities that have actively designed their own neighborhoods and built in exactly what they wanted. (http://www.cohousingco.com/project-type.cfm?cat=cohousing-communities), for you locals (http://www.takomavillage.org/wordpress/)

I appreciate this dialogue, yet I hope it can focus on constructive action instead of enforcing the status quo, which doesn't usually need much of a cheerleading squad to keep plugging along.

by Jillian Brooks on Aug 22, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

I would describe a successful community as one that provides its residents with what they want, not with what someone else thinks they ought to want. What most people want, as expressed through their behavior as voters and consumers, seems to be very different from the kind of community described in your links.

by Bertie on Aug 22, 2011 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Bertie. I would also describe a successful community "as one that provides its residents with what they want, not what someone else thinks they ought to want."

I encourage you to explore the communities in more depth, because they were designed by future residents to EXACTLY meet their own needs through a series of workshops with a design facilitator. It couldn't be any less about what 'someone else wants' since nobody else was involved in the process, only residents, who basically took out the developer as middleman and did it themselves. Turning 'build it and they will come' on its head, they instead came and built it themselves (with the help of a skilled designer and construction team)

If you're still confused then you should add this book to your reading list: Creating Cohousing. Building Sustainable Communities
Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett (2011).
http://www.newsociety.com/Books/C/Creating-Cohousing

by Jillian Brooks on Aug 22, 2011 3:05 pm • linkreport

What logical fallacy do you think it presents?

It's circular logic.

You complained about legal restrictions on density. Setting aside land for public parks is obviously a restriction on density.

Yes, for private land. Not for public space. Again, your logic is incorrect.

The reason is that restrictions on density have nothing to do with parks. Those are independent decisions. There are lots of examples of dense places with big parks, dense places with no parks, low density places with big parks, and low density places with few parks. The existence of parks is not a regulation on the allowable density for private land at all, and conflating them to be the same thing severely discredits your argument.

by Alex B. on Aug 22, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

It's circular logic.

Sorry, I still don't understand what you're trying to say here. Please explain what you think is circular about it.

The reason is that restrictions on density have nothing to do with parks. Those are independent decisions. There are lots of examples of dense places with big parks, dense places with no parks, low density places with big parks, and low density places with few parks. The existence of parks is not a regulation on the allowable density for private land at all, and conflating them to be the same thing severely discredits your argument.

You complained about "legal restrictions on development" that limit density. Both of these kinds of law are legal restrictions on development that limit density. You said "let the market decide." Both of these laws prevent the market from deciding. Whether the land is public or private is irrelevant to these facts.

And why do you think land use should not be subject to restrictions on density just because it's private, anyway? We restrict private land use in all sorts of ways for health, safety, aesthetic and quality-of-life reasons. Unless you can give people a clear reason why they should give up the zoning laws that protect features of their community they value (peace and quiet, green space, privacy, lack of crowding, and so on), they're not likely to do so.

by Bertie on Aug 22, 2011 5:19 pm • linkreport

Sorry, I still don't understand what you're trying to say here. Please explain what you think is circular about it.

You're arguing that people like low density living, as evidenced by their choice in housing. However, their housing choices are not the product of a free market, but of a highly regulated one - but you claim that's ok, because there's a free market of regulations (or something).

You don't see the disconnect there? The entire justification is based on a choice that didn't really exist, but you're using the outcome of that false choice as evidence that one answer is superior.

As for the rest of your post, I don't even know what you're arguing. I've read it three times now and it doesn't make any sense, and it doesn't respond to what I've written at all.

by Alex B. on Aug 22, 2011 5:33 pm • linkreport

You're arguing that people like low density living, as evidenced by their choice in housing. However, their housing choices are not the product of a free market, but of a highly regulated one

But I didn't say their housing choices were made in a completely unregulated market. The preference for car-oriented, low-density suburban housing is revealed, as I said, through the choices people have made as consumers and voters. Their choices as voters shape the boundaries within which the market operates. For a number of reasons, including the presence of significant negative externalities, we regulate the housing market, just as we regulate every other market.

As for the rest of your post, I don't even know what you're arguing. I've read it three times now and it doesn't make any sense, and it doesn't respond to what I've written at all.

I don't know why you're finding it so hard to understand. For aesthetic and quality-of-life reasons, people support zoning laws that impose limits on the density of development in their communities. You apparently think that this is somehow an illegitimate use of the law. I still don't understand why you think that.

by Bertie on Aug 22, 2011 6:05 pm • linkreport

You apparently think that this is somehow an illegitimate use of the law. I still don't understand why you think that.

You probably don't understand because you're misrepresenting (or misunderstanding) my argument.

by Alex B. on Aug 22, 2011 6:25 pm • linkreport

Then please explain your objection to zoning laws that limit density. You previously said that you want to "let the market decide." I explained that the market cannot decide, because densification creates negative externalities. That is, social costs that are not reflected in market prices. In response, you alluded to taxes as a way to internalize these costs. But there are no densification taxes.

by Bertie on Aug 22, 2011 6:33 pm • linkreport

I encourage you to explore the communities in more depth, because they were designed by future residents to EXACTLY meet their own needs through a series of workshops with a design facilitator

Then that's great for them. It doesn't appear to be anything like what most people want, though. The "common dining room" feature alone would probably kill it for most people. From the information on the websites, these "cohousing communities" seem to consist of small groups of people with very unusual tastes in living arrangements.

by Bertie on Aug 22, 2011 10:06 pm • linkreport

So let me make sure I'm understanding your perspective properly. If you had every convenience that your current housing situation included, all the privacy that you want, plus much lower energy bills, a private patio, a public front porch in which no cars buzzed by your home, but instead children and neighbors walked and gardened, with parking and garages on the periphery of the neighborhood, you would consider that an unusual taste in living arrangements? I'm afraid it's you who are in the minority.

You mention that the common dining room would kill it for most people. Since it sounds like you've never been in a cohousing common house, your assumption is based on... The common dining room functions much like a clubhouse at a country club, a ymca, or any community center, except it is maintained (what little maintenance it requires, by residents alone, with no outside companies contracted in). It includes a dining room and generous kitchen so people can share (optional) common meals with their neighbors. Parents with small children can actually spend time together instead of stressing over who's going to make dinner, older adults can share some stimulating conversation instead of eating alone in their homes. The common house also contains complimentary guest rooms so residents don't need extra bedrooms in their houses. There's a playroom for kids, a music room for classes/events, a teen room, a sitting room, a free laundry facility for those who chose not to buy their own washer/dryer. Please tell me when this starts sounding horrible and 'unusual.'

I really encourage you to look into cohousing more since you are so resistant to the idea which essentially comes from the model of a traditional small village. One community being built in Canada explains it well, I encourage you to explore their FAQ in depth before responding - http://www.yarrowecovillage.ca/coho/faq/

by Jillian Brooks on Aug 23, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

I'm afraid it's you who are in the minority.

No, it really is you who is in the minority, Jillian. If the majority of people wanted to live in this kind of semi-communal development, they would. They don't want to. They want privacy. They want a spacious, private home for themselves and their family, not shared meals in a communal dining room. And, predictably, your sales pitch omits all information on costs and prices, square footage, automobile accessibility, the kinds of things that most people actually care about. How much was that solar panel installation, by the way?

by Bertie on Aug 23, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

I really encourage you to explore all of the information I've posted, all of your general questions are addressed there.

I have privacy, I have my own home, with a spacious kitchen, a large open dining and living room, office space, a covered porch. Eating the occasional common meal in the common house is optional, and only happen when people sign up to cook them, we have between 4 and 6 common meals posted on any given week.

While I was trying to respond to your previous concerns over what exactly a common house is, it left little room to address costs and prices, square footages, etc. The cost of solar panels in our neighborhood was offset by the savings that were accrued by the passive solar design, since we don't need AC, we can spend that money on solar panels that as an initial investment pay back over time.
But all of these are details specific to each community, and dictated by the residents themselves, so I can only accurately speak to the commonalities that they share, which I believe I have addressed.

by Jillian Brooks on Aug 23, 2011 12:56 pm • linkreport

Per my comment way up above on 18 Aug, 1356:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/6078123887/

Everybody wins!

by Bossi on Aug 24, 2011 11:04 pm • linkreport

First, I agree w/almost all the comments concerning the DC non-lack of condo/apt., rentals, in the affordable range.

However, my opinion is that condos are priced (rent) so high mainly due to exploding condo fees. Especially in the case of older buildings, which most on this blog seem to prefer.

One of the biggest reasons condos are not selling in this tough economy is the attached condo fee. Unless the seller is willing to "eat" that fee by buying the fee out some how, buyers simply cannot afford the huge financial burden.

Second, for both condos and apts. owners are being taxed heavily by local governments in these hard economic times. Those taxes are being passed on to us consumers, via rents.

Only cities with programs like "rent control", (I am not advocating one way or another), have been successful with stabilizing demand and inventory levels, to a degree.

In DC most politicians even rent houses or apts. out of DC together.

by RA Canmp on Nov 26, 2011 4:23 pm • linkreport

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