All the single families (all the single families)

For the better part of 80 years, the dominant type of new construction in the U.S. has been suburban, single-family housing. In a CityLab article from a couple years ago, Richard Florida wrote:

  • 60-70% of existing homes are in low-density, suburban areas (less than four homes per acre). Assuming an average household size of 2.54 people, that’s around 10 people/acre. For comparison sake, Manhattan has 112 people/acre.
  • 90% of homes built since the 1940s have been in low-density areas.
  • In the 2000s, 23.3% of new homes were built in undeveloped areas (aka “greenfield”), 33.2% were in areas with a prior density below one home per acre, and 31.9% were in areas with a prior density between one and four homes per acre.

This development trend is as much a function of the regulatory difficulties of building in cities and their immediate outskirts as it is a viable business model for the suburbs—conditions like high infrastructural costs and taxes, high (personal autos) transit costs, and limited economic opportunity plague many suburbs.  

The above are some reasons why suburban poverty growth is far outpacing cities and rural areas. And despite a median sales price of an existing single-family home being a modest $257k, factors like flatlining wages and high rates of debt for both school and auto loans have led to a suburban affordability crisis—evidenced by record low homeownership rates.

This is why any housing solution in America that excludes the suburban, single-family home is incomplete. Here are a couple such solutions that are rocking the suburbs. Continue reading “All the single families (all the single families)”

One Step Forward, 6,533 Steps Back

Last week was NAHB International Builders Show (IBS) in Orlando, Florida. Per tradition, the show builds The New American Home (TNAH), an offsite showcase for the latest and greatest in single-family home design and construction.

This year’s entry put the “NAH” in TNAH (it’s also like real estate’s case of IBS…so many puns to choose from). The 6,533 square foot “Tuscan” five bedroom behemoth featured two double garages and a master bathroom suitable for bathing at rhinoceros. Read Treehugger’s Lloyd concise takedown of this monstrosity.

The house is a sad commentary on the mindset of American builders.

Single-family housing is still the main type of American housing, making up 76% of the housing stock. And there’s a huge deficit of low-and-mid-market new housing. Harvard reported last year that “Between 2004 and 2015, completions of smaller single-family homes (under 1,800 square feet) fell from nearly 500,000 units to only 136,000. Similarly, the number of townhouses started in 2016 (98,000) was less than half the number started in 2005.”

This deficit at the middle and bottom exacerbate an already-bleak housing situation. And while there are intermittent signals that builders are interested new, modest models of single-family housing, the TNAH shows that, despite its bad press, the McMansion is alive and well.