Report shows national shift away from single-family housing as predominant housing-type

According to a new report released by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB), a major shift is now underway as less suburban-style single-family housing is being constructed and cities are allowing more construction of multi-unit housing on individual lots. This change is transforming residential housing for the first time in more than 60 years. “Diversifying Housing Options With Smaller Lots and Smaller Housing”, written by Opticos Design on behalf of the NAHB, looks at this shift underway in cities across the country and the underlying issues that are causing the shift to occur.

“Housing market projections suggest that construction in the near future will accelerate only moderately for single-family housing but will greatly increase for multifamily housing or Missing Middle Housing and its wide variety of sizes, housing levels, and accessibility” the report states.

The report credits an increase in the demand for more affordable housing since the end of the Great Recession and a limit in the diversity of available housing stock (generally limited to two types of living choices: single-family detached/attached housing or apartments and condominiums) as leading causes for this shift. Couple this with changing attitudes about the desirability of neighborhood living, with both baby boomers and millennials desiring to live in more walkable neighborhoods with access to places where they can live, work, and play, development is now shifting to ensure that there is more housing to address the so-called “missing middle” housing type.

Missing middle housing consists of multi-unit housing types such as duplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts and mansion apartments that are not bigger than a large house, that are integrated throughout most walkable pre-war neighborhoods. While common in many older neighborhoods, this type of development has become far-less common in the post-war era of suburban housing development.

While missing middle development is often thought of as infill development, it can be a part of new developments as well. The report notes the example of New Town Street in St. Charles, Missouri, which is an entirely new development on a 726-acre agricultural site, first planned in 2002, and offering a range of affordable housing choices in six walkable urban neighborhoods.

Among the more notable findings in the report:

  • Awareness is increasing that multifamily development can be done effectively through ‘discreet density’, missing middle housing, or other sensitive infill housing approaches

  • Previous long-held resistance to smaller lot sizes is being reconsidered

  • Density limits are not the most effective way to regulate residential neighborhood infill development or to ensure that new buildings fit well into a neighborhood

  • Being within walking distance of amenities (retail services, food uses, transit) is more important than unit size

  • The market responds favorably to well-designed, smaller-unit buildings that fit within a single-family neighborhood

The report does note that there are challenges involved in this transition. One example deals with construction costs and fees; these affect smaller units much more than conventional, larger units because of the smaller amount of square feet across which costs can be repaid. However, it is also noted that fixed costs, such as infrastructure, are the same or nearly the same.

[Photo by Florian Schmid on Unsplash]