Demographic changes will reshape housing in contradictory ways
American housing is about to go through tremendous changes. And those changes will not all lead in a single direction.
There will be strong demand for smaller living quarters in coming years, authorities predict. Baby boomers, in particular, will be looking for homes with less square footage—in locations that walkable and close to transit and services. Meanwhile, some inner-ring suburbs that already have small houses will see many of those dwellings expanded or replaced.
Those were among the highlights of an American Planning Association press briefing on Monday that featured two experienced planners: Terry Holzheimer, economic development director of Arlington County, Virginia, and William Anderson, principal and vice president of AECOM and previously planning director of San Diego
“Soon, one of five Americans will be over 65,” Anderson said during a conference call with reporters, conducted during APA’s national conference in Los Angeles. Some seniors will “age in place,” Holzheimer chimed in, but others will choose to move, often to locales that are “pedestrian-oriented,” with transit and amenities close by.
This will present a mixture of challenges and opportunities. Some boomers, Holzheimer pointed out, have lost a significant chunk of their retirement savings during the economic tumult of the past several years. Others have had low incomes for quite a while, Anderson said. Consequently, Anderson observed, there will be a call to “provide more affordable housing options, close to services.”
In Arlington in decades past, people generally “stayed in place long after their children left home,” Holzheimer said. In the future, there may be a larger contingent ready to sell and relocate.
For some of them, there will be obstacles—mainly economic, Anderson suggested. “We won’t see a large market that can afford the big homes the baby boomers bought,” he said. Also, he said, the rising generation—“Generation Y”—has “more urban sensibilities; they want to be closer to jobs, etc.” This lends support to the argument made a year ago by Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Utah about the coming housing calamity: there will be more large, single-family suburban houses than there will be buyers available.
Some of the houses may become occupied by immigrants (many of the middle-class) who are accustomed to having multiple generations under one roof, according to Anderson. Another possibility is the creation of accessory units in existing houses. Anderson and Holzheimer expect accessory units to become more common.
From a West Coast perspective, Anderson sees “one of the big planning challenges of the next decades” as what to do about houses and neighborhoods that were built from the 1950s to the 1970s—developments that were constructed “without the same level of amenities as planned communities” (which generally arose later).
Many houses from decades ago are on larger lots than are common today. That may lead to those houses being expanded or replaced by larger new dwellings—a phenomenon that Holzheimer calls “the mansionization of the inner-ring suburbs.”
Anderson foresees a growing demand for rental housing. The challenge for communities, he said, will be to provide rental housing of good quality and put it “in the right places,” such as in walkable settings that are near transit service.
Tighter office space
Holzheimer and Anderson said the nature of office space is changing, too. Workers are getting less office space per person than they had in the past. This reflects a shift to doing more work from home, at clients’ sites, and in other locations, Holzheimer said.
The total volume of office space will probably not drop, because overall employment in the US is expected to grow. But according to Anderson, it’s possible that “not every city” will have a need for a sizable downtown office sector.
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