Roger K. Lewis makes a less than compelling case for more family housing in DC-area TODs. Well, sure, greater housing diversity leads to more social diversity, which is always a good thing. This should probably be another lesson to learn from Vancouver (which requires a set percentage of “family housing”), although more could be done to ensure that such units aren’t restricted to penthouse apartments, giant empty-nester townhouses, or social housing.
These units also should not come at the expense of other, smaller DUs. Particularly in sunbelt areas like DC, the huge growth in smaller households — singles, couples, single-parent families — has not been adequately accommodated for in the past two generations of housing construction. Decades of severe disinvestment in cities, the places friendliest to smaller households, and the widespread imposition of snob zoning that discriminates against smaller units has undersupplied the market nationwide. That’s resulted in suboptimal outcomes for countless people who’d rather not be living with flatmates or housemates, who already find relatively few choices in the housing market, and who constitute much of the market demand for TOD.
Already in the District, less than 1/10 of households are couples with children. Even improving the local schools won’t do much to change this situation, since we’re in the midst of a baby bust (PDF warning): 1/15 of all new households in the entire region are couples with children — they’re almost outnumbered by single dads and roommate households (two very non-traditional household types), and they’re wildly outnumbered by singles (5.5 times as many) and childless couples (8.5 times as many). Delving further into the data, a cluster analysis published by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (the Bay Area’s MPO) shows that the market sectors that most value TOD attributes — transit quality, mixed uses, and regional access — really aren’t very child-centered. As far as their priorities for planning go, schools are pretty far down the list.
In some ways, the District’s tiny households are just pointing the way towards America’s demographic mix circa 2050. Yet the District’s housing stock doesn’t reflect its tiny households; as planning director Harriet Tregoning says, “Part of the challenge is to right-size our housing stock so we can have the type of housing that matches the needs of our residents.” Much of that will involve building smaller units; one-third of the District’s housing is sized for the aforementioned families with children (Census 2000 SF3, number of bedrooms per unit):
– Speaking of townhouses (and “ground related housing”), here’s Townhouse Center — a website about, well, townhouses, including a blog and a useful library. (Via Mouzon.)
– And speaking of weird housing, two people have mentioned recently that I could escape high D.C. housing prices by living on a sailboat. (One of them also, not coincidentally, had a great deal on a sailboat.) So, I checked it out, and sure enough Gangplank Marina offers “liveaboard” slips just a mile south of the Capitol, in the re-renewing Southwest Waterfront neighborhood. The slip rental fee would end up around $600/month, plus utilities, and then of course there’s the small matter of learning how to sail and care for a boat.