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Posts By Rolf Pendall
Rolf Pendall, PhD is Director of the Metropolitan Housing & Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. His research expertise includes land use planning and regulation; federal, state, and local affordable housing policy and programs; and metropolitan planning and development. His projects have explored land-use regulations in the biggest metro areas; exclusionary and inclusionary zoning; state and local affordable housing policies and programs; transportation and residential neighborhoods in fast-growth metro areas, especially Denver and Houston; and sprawl in weak-market metro areas, especially Upstate New York. He is a member of the MacArthur Foundation's Research Network on Building Resilient Regions.
Between 1998 and mid-2010, Pendall was a tenure-track and tenured professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. In 2007, Pendall was appointed to a National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board panel on links between land use, transportation, energy, and greenhouse gas emissions; the committee's report, "Driving and the Built Environment", was released in September 2009. Pendall holds a PhD (1995) in City and Regional Planning from the University of California at Berkeley, an MS in Community and Regional Planning and an MA in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin (1989), and a BA in sociology from Kenyon College in Ohio (1984).Links: http://www.urban.org/bio/RolfPendall.html
| Posted: July 23rd, 2013
Detroit is the biggest city to declare bankruptcy in U.S. history. Most of the attention on the city’s fiscal crisis, however, has so far ignored the wider metropolitan, state, and even Great Lakes context that portends widespread fiscal challenges.
Between 2000 and 2010, Michigan grew by just 87,000 households. But from 2000 through 2009, local governments in Michigan—mostly those in outlying suburban and rural areas—issued an estimated 371,000 residential building permits. That’s more than 4.3 times more building permits than new households. While not all these houses were ultimately built, many of them were, resulting in the rapid devaluation of the state’s older housing stock. Detroit’s abandonment is partly an outcome of this surplus housing construction; between 2000 and 2010, its vacancy rate shot up from 10 to 23 percent even as the housing stock declined by over 25,000 units.
But the impacts weren’t limited to Detroit. Many of the state’s other big- and medium-sized cities—Grand Rapids, Warren, Flint, Lansing, Southfield, Westland, Kalamazoo—also lost households. Housing vacancy rates went up in every one of the state’s 25 most populous cities and townships between 2000 and 2010. In all, about 3 out of 10 cities and townships in Michigan lost households in the 2000s, and even the municipalities with household growth generally added more housing than they needed.
In cities and suburbs large and small, Michigan’s housing surplus already translates into an excess of streets and highways to sweep, plow, and patrol; more extensive sewer and water systems to build and maintain; and a more dispersed population—many of whom need help getting to school, medical appointments, or workforce training sites. All these needs demand local government spending. And as retirees become an increasingly large share of Michigan residents, their fiscal contributions through income, sales, and property taxes will likely fall. Detroit’s bankruptcy involves unique local factors, but it’s vulnerable to these local idiosyncrasies in part because of larger trends that are likely to affect many other cities in and beyond Michigan in coming years.
Photo from Flickr user wearemodeshift (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Filed under: Economy |Tags: bankruptcy, Detroit, housing, suburbs, Urban Institute Add a Comment »
| Posted: August 2nd, 2012
A recent post at Atlantic Cities, reporting on an article in the Journal of the American Planning Association, suggests that reining in urban sprawl may produce more costs than benefits. “Smart growth” advocates have vigorously attacked the article for not clarifying the assumptions behind its simulation model of growth and its impacts in 30 English cities.
Less has been said, however, about whether and how the simulations should matter to policymakers on this side of the pond. The same methods applied to American metropolitan areas would likely produce greater benefits and lower costs, for at least two reasons.
First, England’s baseline conditions are much more compact than those in the United States. For example, the median lot size of new single-family houses in Atlanta in the early 2000s was six-tenths of an acre, according to the Census’s American Housing Survey. In Dallas, the median was about a quarter acre. If every lot needs an equal amount of land for streets and community facilities, 100,000 new houses built at the median lot size would need 120,000 acres of land in Atlanta but 50,000 in Dallas. Atlanta’s large lots are at least partly a product of exclusionary zoning by suburban jurisdictions whose minimum lot requirements exceed what buyers appear to prefer in less-regulated metro areas such as Dallas and Houston. Deregulation in Atlanta, and in many other American metropolitan areas, would therefore increase density at the urban fringe. England’s land-use regulations work in just the opposite way, producing densities higher than many households prefer. Even a small increase in density there might reduce satisfaction, while a doubling of density in suburban and exurban Atlanta might even increase overall satisfaction.
At the same time, boosting density at the far-flung margins of America’s fastest-sprawling metropolitan areas will reduce the total number of miles driven by vehicles in the area (measured as “vehicle-miles traveled” or VMT) much more than a similar proportionate increase in England. Boosting density here would sometimes mean shrinking single-family lot sizes from, for example, half acres to quarter acres, while in England it would mean shifting from houses on small lots to townhouses. And the number of destinations one can reach in a given period of time increases much more—and potentially, vehicle-miles traveled will decrease more—when single-family lot sizes shrink.
Second, England expects much less population growth in the coming decades than does the United States. Consequently, new land development naturally will play a smaller part in its path to greenhouse gas emissions than it might in the United States.
The benefit-cost ratio from compact development also varies among U.S. metro areas. The gross impact of allowing suburban lots to reach market-equilibrium sizes in metros stretching from Richmond to Birmingham would appreciably reduce vehicle-miles traveled compared with what will occur if lots continue to be so large. In metro areas such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, by contrast, new development is already occurring at relatively high densities, so their path to VMT reduction will depend more on changing how people travel than will be true in Atlanta or Nashville. New development is occurring at low densities in Pennsylvania and Ohio too, but neither of these states is projected to account for much of the nation’s growth.
Ultimately, urban simulation models hold significant promise for decision-making. They offer ways to avoid one-size-fits-all policy prescriptions, showing how and where various policies threaten vulnerable people and important environmental assets. It’s ironic that the main message emerging into the popular consciousness from this article is a one-size-fits-all conclusion that may not apply to a single U.S. metropolitan area—much less to all of them.
[A note on sources: A few people have asked me since the first posting for suggested sources, especially to follow up my contention about density and VMT. Some excellent recent ones include:
Bento, A.M., Cropper, M.L., Mobarak, A.M., Vinha, K., 2005. The Effects of Urban Spatial Structure on Travel Demand in the United States. The Review of Economics and Statistics 87, 466–478.
Boarnet, M.G., Houston, D., Ferguson, G., Spears, S., 2011a. Land use and vehicle miles of travel in the climate change debate: getting smarter than your average bear. In: Hong, Y.H., Ingram, G. (Eds.), Climate Change and Land Policies. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Cambridge, MA.
Boarnet, M.G., Joh, K., Siembab, W., Fulton, W., Nguyen, M., 2011b. Retrofitting the suburbs to increase walking: evidence from a land use – travel study. Urban Studies 48, 129–159.
Salon, D., 2009. Neighborhoods, cars, and commuting in New York City: a discrete choice approach. Transportation Research Part A 43, 180–196.
Salon, Deborah, Marlon G. Boarnet, Susan Handy, Steven Spears, and Gil Tal. 2012. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, Volume 17, Issue 7, Pages 495–508.]
Filed under: Built Environment Add a Comment »
| Posted: June 5th, 2012
The foreclosure crisis is far from over, with nearly 16 million homeowners underwater on their mortgages, according to Zillow. That’s 31 percent of homeowners with mortgages and 14 percent of households. A recent Zillow infographic shows that, as usual, national summaries are less interesting than breakdowns by geography and by where people stand with regard to home equity—ranging from far below zero to comfortable.
Underwater mortgages are common in the “drive-’til-you-qualify” exurbs of certain metro areas. Just over half the homes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, for example, have negative equity, far more than in Orange County (25%) or Los Angeles County (32%). In San Bernardino’s high-desert cities of Victorville and Adelanto, for example, over 70 percent of the homes have negative equity. This pattern shows up all over the Sun Belt and in New York, Chicago, and DC. It’s provided another round of ammunition to people who argue that sprawl causes or contributes to many of our social ills.
What doesn’t show up on Zillow’s maps, though, is the uneven racial and ethnic composition of suburban America. This additional layer on the map would show that Victorville and Adelanto aren’t just faraway exurbs of San Bernardino; they’re also majority-minority cities with large numbers of first- and second-generation immigrant families. Atlanta’s highest rates of underwater houses are also distant from downtown, but these hard-hit neighborhoods aren’t just suburban and exurban—they’re also predominantly African American. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s lowest rates of underwater houses are in sprawling zip codes just as far north of its central business district as the hard-hit zips sit to the south. These better-performing zips are predominantly white and non-Hispanic.
The Washington, DC, area’s pattern of negative equity would be hard to understand based entirely on distance from the Capitol. But most people know that the deeply underwater neighborhoods inside the Beltway are modest tracts developed around World War II and now occupied mainly by African Americans and Latinos. Place does matter: predominantly black neighborhoods within the District are less deeply underwater, just as mostly black neighborhoods inside Atlanta are less deeply underwater than its mostly black suburbs. But the DC-area maps, like those of other metro areas, suggest that race still matters at least as much.
Filed under: Built Environment 2 Comments »
| Posted: May 4th, 2012
Mitt Romney suggested that Americans would be better off without a federal agency responsible for housing and urban development. I disagree, and here’s why. We still need the national housing goal, spelled out in the National Affordable Housing Act, that “every American family should be able to afford a decent home in a suitable environment.” The fact that we don’t meet this goal on any of its measures—affordable, decent, suitable, or universal—doesn’t mean that we should give up.
Having a national goal has meant many long debates about its real meaning, and we need a federal housing agency to be the ultimate authority to settle those debates. For example:
- Being able to afford housing means being able to buy other necessities after paying rent or mortgage. We need a federal housing agency because the meaning of affordability will continue to evolve, for example, as we address the joint costs of housing and transportation.
- Federal standards for a decent home have helped make houses safer and healthier and have yielded industry standards for building materials and house types (especially manufactured homes), helping build more efficient markets. Definitions and standards here are evolving for indoor air quality and energy efficiency—and we need a federal agency to broker those definitions.
- The federal goal of a suitable environment is perhaps best reflected in the Fair Housing Act, which requires that the federal government—led by HUD—actively promote racial residential integration. Here, too, debates continue. Should we define a “suitable” living environment based only on avoiding the most toxic situations, or on attaining excellent situations?
- The words “every American family” mean we need to go deep—to strive to reach everyone. Without that part of the goal, we would likely be worse off than we are now. But we’ve never had enough housing resources to meet all needs. Should we simply give up? Or should we expand our resources by looking beyond the HUD budget to what we spend on such needs as health, transportation, and homeland security?
Beyond words and definitions, we also need a federal agency that motivates and guides action. HUD’s many partners currently have either broad autonomy with little accountability or exacting accountability with too little autonomy. State and local actors need autonomy for many reasons, foremost because conditions vary so much across the country. But the flipside of such autonomy must be accountability—first for planning to meet the national housing goal, and then for moving closer to it.
Together, this means that as long as we have a national housing goal, which I hope we always will, we’ll need a national agency to help us get there. The “U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development” is as apt a name as I can think of for such an agency.
Filed under: Built Environment 2 Comments »
| Posted: May 1st, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently expressed the sentiment that social issues would be better left to state and local governments, without federal involvement. Among those issues, he included housing and urban development, even stating a preference for getting rid of HUD. While I disagree with that position, I agree that state and local governments ought to have more autonomy over their urban development programs and policies than they currently do.
Some housing programs—the Community Development Block Grant, HOME, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit—already grant substantial discretion at the state and local levels about which investments, communities, and neighborhoods get funding. This discretion allows slow-growing places to buy, renovate, and rehabilitate established housing and allows fast-growth locations to build new housing. It also fuels a local process that, even though sometimes flawed, creates a potentially important forum for deliberating about the future of cities and neighborhoods.
But this latitude isn’t enough. Most of our housing and homelessness policies and programs are still locked into particular purposes, with separate funding streams, offices, and even agencies (HUD, USDA, Treasury, the VA, and so on), not only reducing the reach of these programs but also often conflicting with state and local priorities. Local governments clearly want more flexibility even among their HUD programs, as shown by the wild popularity among housing agencies of the Moving to Work demonstration.
Beyond this lock-in within the housing domain, the status quo makes it difficult or impossible to develop programs and deploy resources across domains. In particular, stable and affordable housing might be the ounce of prevention that avoids a pound of cure in areas ranging from health to criminal justice to education (HUD calls this “housing as a platform”). But state and local governments can’t redirect federal funds—or large streams of state and local matching funds—from education or health programs into housing, even though doing so might save costs and (more important) prevent harm. For another example consider housing and transportation, which are complementary expenses—it costs more to live in a location with many opportunities, but if you already live there, you don’t have to spend as much to get there. But states and cities can’t easily transfer transportation funds into community redevelopment, even though doing so could cut down on the need for more highway lanes or miles of transit provision in the long run.
Both examples suggest that a dollar spent on housing can meet more than a dollar’s worth of some non-housing goals. Any government has a host of goals to reach; in principle, it should be able deploy resources in ways that minimize costs and maximize benefits. So, what should the federal role really be in housing and urban development? Should there be any at all? That will be the subject of my next blog.
Filed under: Built Environment Add a Comment »
| Posted: March 5th, 2012
How do metros rank on rent affordability? It depends on what you mean by rental affordability. Experts rely on the rule of thumb that renters should spend no more than 30 percent of their before-tax income on rent and utilities. Across the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, about 54 percent of renters paid more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing in 2010, according to the American Community Survey (ACS). At the extremes, over 60 percent of renters overpaid in Miami, Orlando, Riverside, and Stockton; around 46 percent did so in Harrisburg and Des Moines. This “overpayment” index gives an estimate of what current tenants actually pay.
In a recent MetroTrends commentary, my UI colleague Bob Lerman reported another standard that he calls the “rent burden,” dividing the median rent plus utilities by the median income as reported by the ACS. This yields the optimistic conclusion that families at the 12th percentile of income (about $20,000 per year) can spend 30 percent or less of their income to rent a place at the 20th percentile of rents (about $500 a month). This measure doesn’t account for the real distribution of tenants across rental units, though; some higher-income renters occupy low-cost apartments and many low-income earners live in apartments renting at median levels or higher. Lerman’s index gives a rough measure of the relative cost of a metro area’s rental housing stock.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s “housing wage” offers another dimension for housing affordability: the number of work hours per week at the local or state minimum wage required to afford fair market rent (HUD’s estimate of fair rent in a local area). The Coalition lists work hours required for a range of apartment sizes and follows the 30-percent-of-income rule of thumb. In the DC suburbs, for example, it would take 159 hours of minimum-wage work per week to afford a two-bedroom place at fair market rent. Whereas the “overpayment” and “burden” measures use rents paid by current tenants, the “housing wage” measure is based on a survey of asking prices for vacant apartments. The housing wage shows the costs confronting low-wage workers looking to rent an apartment.
The interactive map below ranks the 100 largest U.S. metros on the three measures of rent burden. Mouse over a metro to see more information; use the slider on the right to switch between measures.
Source: Urban Institute analysis of 2010 NLHC and ACS data
Ranking the 100 largest metro areas on these three measures suggests that no single measure really captures all the subtlety of rental affordability. Some metros rank high on the overpayment scale (meaning many people pay more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent), but rank low on the housing wage measure (meaning low-wage workers have affordable rent options).The Washington, DC, metro area, for example, ranks 87th on overpayment, 40th on rent burden, and third on the housing wage measure. El Paso, at the other end of the spectrum, has the second lowest housing wage and the 11th highest rent burden, but ranks 61st in overpayment.
The alternatives for measuring rental affordability don’t even end here. Michael Stone’s 1993 book Shelter Poverty, for example, reported how much money would be left in a family’s budget—assuming a “basic” no-frills budget—after they paid for rent and utilities. Stone contended reasonably that rent and utilities usually rank at the top of families’ priorities list; those who forgo other needs, such as food or health care, to pay their housing costs are “shelter poor.” Many large families in 1990 were shelter poor but spent less than 30 percent of their income on housing, and many small and older families and those with higher incomes weren’t shelter poor even when they surpassed the 30 percent standard. We now also have the supplemental poverty measure, which accounts for housing cost differences. Once this measure can be computed for local areas, we’ll be closer to a more integrated view of how material want varies across the United States. But even then, we’ll wrestle with simple measures of rental affordability that tell only part of the story.
Filed under: Built Environment 1 Comment »
| Posted: February 1st, 2012
The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s website made a triumphal proclamation this week that we have reached “the end of the segregated century.” The New York Times dutifully spread the news, leading with the headline “Segregation Curtailed in U.S. Cities, Study Finds.” The story beneath the spin, however, shows that segregation isn’t just a phenomenon to look back on regretfully during African American History Month (which begins today). Segregation lives on in far too many American cities.
In 1970, two years had elapsed since Congress enacted the end of private-sector apartheid with the Fair Housing Act; only a few years before that, President Kennedy had ordered the desegregation of public housing. Why should we wonder that segregation levels have declined since then? Shouldn’t the real story be that in the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area, Chicago, over 70 percent of African Americans would have to move to a predominantly non-black neighborhood (or the same proportion of whites would have to move to mostly non-white areas) to achieve an even racial distribution? Chicago isn’t the only metropolitan area in this position: Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis also surpass 70 on this segregation index. New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia—that is, a continuous band of urbanization stretching from just north of Washington, DC, to the middle of Connecticut with well over 25 million inhabitants—stand between 60 and 65. The heart of the northeast corridor still lives in a segregated century, as does the fringe of the Great Lakes. Even “less segregated” metropolitan areas still have levels of racial segregation far higher than the Fair Housing Act promised.
Beyond racial segregation, the Urban Institute’s own research for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies shows that concentrated poverty has spiked since 2000 and that African Americans and Latinos have borne the brunt of that increase. A quarter of African Americans in U.S. metros live in census tracts with poverty rates above 30 percent, as do about one in six Latinos. Only one out of every 25 non-Hispanic whites lives in a high-poverty tract. Startlingly, a non-poor African American is more likely to live in a high-poverty tract than a white American with a family income below poverty.
The conclusion of the Manhattan Institute report is worth repeating for its insidious misdirection: “During [the 1960s], the fight against housing segregation seemed to offer the possibility that once the races mixed more readily, all would be well....Yet we now know that eliminating segregation was not a magic bullet.” The report suggests that, having won the fight, we can now shift our attention to “closing achievement and employment gaps between blacks and whites.”
But we haven’t won the fight against racial residential segregation and we’ve scarcely begun a serious fight against the concentrated poverty that remains the most toxic legacy of American apartheid. Racially exclusionary zoning practices persist. Public housing authorities perpetuated segregation well into the 1990s; such practices have not ended just because they are illegal. Illegal discrimination against black and Hispanic renters and owners goes on, as ample Urban Institute research has shown. And whites still seek out and are steered to predominantly white neighborhoods.
Addressing racial segregation in the nation’s most populous metropolitan areas isn’t a historic victory yet. Residential segregation continues, and discrimination and exclusionary practices still must be countered, so that someday it can honestly be American history.
Filed under: People, Urban Culture 4 Comments »
| Posted: January 3rd, 2012
For decades, urban policy wonks in the United States and Europe have focused on how cities and metropolitan areas can govern themselves to adapt, innovate, and thrive—or at least survive—in the face of challenges. The MacArthur Foundation’s research network on “building resilient regions,” of which I’m a member, offers one example. By contrasting metropolitan areas with similar challenges (industrial restructuring, immigration, foreclosure, fast growth, and economic inequality), the researchers are building evidence about how decision-makers in metropolitan areas help their regions succeed in the face of short-term shocks and long-term stresses.
But American metropolitan areas face unequal challenges, not entirely of their own making, that their decision-makers will be hard-pressed to solve on their own. Economic restructuring has hammered the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, Texas has grown rapidly, increasing its need for new infrastructure and K-20 education. National policies on energy, defense, and immigration have contributed to Texas’ rise just as surely as trade policies have strained the Great Lakes. In none of these cases have national policymakers explicitly picked metropolitan winners and losers. Even so, that’s what we live with.
Houston and Detroit suggest the magnitude of the emergent but very different challenges confronting U.S. metro areas (and by extension, the nation). Today’s kids, many of whom are immigrants and their children, will be the young workforce that replaces retiring Baby Boomers. But while Boomers are retiring all over the country, kids and young adults have been fleeing the Great Lakes states. Metro Detroit is the extreme but not only example. Compare Detroit’s age profile in 2000 and 2010 to Houston’s in the graphic.
Population By Age Group In Houston And Detroit, 2000 and 2010
Source: U.S. Census of Population & Housing, SF1, 2000 and 2010 Metro areas in-year 2008 boundaries
- About 1.4 million people aged 45 to 64 (i.e., Baby Boomers) lived in metropolitan Houston in 2010, compared with about 1.8 million people under 20.
- Detroit, by contrast, had just over 1.2 million Baby Boomers and just under 1.2 million people under 20.
- More stark still is the difference in the number of 20-somethings: 11.8 percent of Detroit’s total, 14.4 percent of Houston’s.
Detroit has offered too few prospects for young people in the past 10 years, so many have left for better opportunities. Houston, on the other hand, has attracted tens of thousands.
What would resilience look like in each case? Would it be simply bouncing back to the old normal? For fewer people to flock to Houston and more to Detroit? If so, it’s unlikely that either Houston or Detroit is going to be resilient. They’re both headed toward new situations, though perhaps unstable ones. If, on the other hand, resilience is more about protecting vulnerable people from harm and delivering benefits equitably, then maybe both regions can be resilient in the face of coming demographic and economic changes. Local and state leaders will respond creatively, assertively, and tirelessly to the challenges of educating young people in Houston, caring for those left behind in Detroit, and avoiding or repairing damage in both cities’ built and natural environments. But since these challenges are partly a consequence of policies adopted to benefit the nation, the nation also needs to maintain its commitment to these and other metro areas so that local responses really do protect the vulnerable and deliver equitable benefits.
Filed under: Built Environment, Urban Culture Add a Comment »
| Posted: November 30th, 2011
A New York Times op-ed by Christopher Leinberger (November 25, 2011) proclaims that the end is nigh for the “fringe suburb” because Baby Boomers and Echo Boomers prefer compact walkable urban neighborhoods to car-dependent single-family subdivisions. But I can think of at least three reasons to doubt this sweeping claim.
Filed under: Built Environment, Urban Culture 3 Comments »
First, the U.S. is expected to grow by another 50 million people by 2030 even if immigration stays constant at just below a million per year. These new Americans will form new households and businesses that will need space somewhere—often, places we now call “fringe suburbs.” Subdivided and endowed with infrastructure but still lightly built-on, these places will eventually prove attractive to residents and businesses in most American metro areas.
Second, 40 to 50 percent of all population growth will almost certainly be concentrated in California, Texas, and Florida. Coastal California remains expensive and more densely populated than most of the rest of the U.S., so many future Californians will find living space in the heavily foreclosed fringe suburbs of the “Inland Empire” (Riverside-San Bernardino) and Central Valley, just as they did in the 1990s and 2000s. With the Texas economy humming on high energy prices well into the foreseeable future, fringe development there will continue thanks to relaxed development regulations, low land costs, a spiderweb of rural roads, and well-oiled institutions for toll-road building. Florida will still attract retirees from the Northeast and Midwest and immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. Some will occupy today’s vacant condo towers, but many will gravitate toward single-family houses. In all three immigration magnet states, the modest suburbs and city neighborhoods of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s may experience more stress than fringe areas in the next 20 years as their housing stock and infrastructure age and their tax bases strain to keep up.
Third, the slow-growing parts of the U.S.—especially Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Upstate New York—have much higher concentrations of foreclosed and abandoned houses in their city centers than at their fringes. All these areas suffer from “sprawl without growth,” thanks to planning rules that accommodate faster growth in housing than in households—a recipe for rapid depreciation of urban and inner suburban housing stock and low prices for fairly new homes in the fringe suburbs. Most Baby Boomers in the Great Lakes states want to “age in place,” either in or close to their suburban homes. Many who do move will head not for their regions’ increasingly impoverished urban centers but for warmer clime of suburban and even exurban Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, where total tax burdens are lower than in Michigan, Ohio, or Pennsylvania and foreclosures have depressed housing prices. Baby Boomers’ houses will come onto the market in ever larger waves over the next 20 years, but buyer interest will be lower than elsewhere in the U.S. because too few Echo Boomers move to and stay in these places. The hardest-to-sell houses are likely to be older dwellings in financially strapped cities and first- and second-tier suburbs, not those at today’s fringe.
Since demographics will drive housing markets in the next 20 years (as they have for the past 100), it’s premature and probably wrong to presume that demographic trends will cause sprawl to wither. On the contrary: only continued patient policy and investment will help shift the nation more decisively away from sprawl and toward vital urban centers.