Too many yards, too few kitchens

A little while ago, Chris Leinberger and Arthur Nelson were making headlines by predicting that America would face an oversupply of millions of single-family homes. Households have changed; the “nuclear family in its castle” now accounts for less than one in four households. Yet housing production has been geared towards these households for decades, and almost all zoning ordinances strongly encourage that new housing fit families.

The result is a housing landscape that’s already vastly out of whack with housing demand. This is especially evident in thriving cities which draw young people. In many Sunbelt cities, a lack of apartments forces even white-collar thirtysomethings into fraternity-style group homes. Accountability for household chores (and dishes and taking out the trash pale in comparison to yardwork) is inversely related to the number of people sharing the space.

My own dense urban neighborhood has a similar dynamic at work: apartments built for working-class families with children are now unfit for the legions of young singles and couples who now inhabit them. There are nowhere near enough studio or one-bedroom apartments to satisfy demand, and Chicago’s low-rise zoning categories have conspired against the construction of many more around here. (A peculiar provision inserted to stop the “four plus one” explicitly discriminates against studio/efficiency apartments.) As a result, renters pay a significant premium for one-bedroom apartments; indeed, one can rent a two-bedroom for just a few hundred dollars more. At least Chicago has plenty of 2-BR apartments to go around, though.