Suburbs Still the Choice for Housing Consumers

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

Let me hear it again.  What’s wrong with the suburbs?  Nothing, says the latest report of the Urban Land Institute (ULI).  While urban centers are experiencing a revival, suburban areas are thriving, too, according to the recently published report, Evolving U.S. Suburbs Continue to Shape Residential Demand and Development 

Indeed, the white-picket fence enclosing a large backyard is still the preferred choice of families and individuals.  The report reveals that outward migration is alive and well and builders are showing up to meet the need.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • America remains a largely suburban nation.In the 50 largest (and most urbanized) metropolitan areas in the United States, suburbs account for 79 percent of the population and 75 percent of adults aged 25 to 35.
  • Suburban growth has driven recent metropolitan growth.  From 2000 to 2015, suburban areas accounted for 91 percent of the population growth and 84 percent of the household growth in the nation’s top 50 metropolitan areas.
  • Most Americans work in suburbs (although job growth has been more balanced recently).As of 2014, 67.5 percent of the employment in the 50 largest metropolitan areas was in the suburbs.
  • American suburbs as a whole are racially and ethnically diverse.Seventy-six percent of the minority population  in the top 50 metropolitan areas lives in the suburbs.

Moreover, incomes are substantially higher in suburban communities than in urban areas – $71,000 in the suburbs compared to $49,200 in urban neighborhoods.  And, despite popular perceptions, over 75 percent of people aged 25 to 34 live not in urban areas but in the suburbs.

The report does show home values vary markedly from region to region.  The one pattern that does emerge, however, is how prices and rents in major job centers are substantially higher in the contiguous urban areas than they are in suburban areas – substantiating the long-held belief that the more affordable housing in the major metropolitan areas is in the suburbs.

Surely, not all affordable housing is found in “greenfield” development.  But, as the report highlights the market is now offering a wide variety of housing types – in both urban and suburban areas.  As the report says:  healthy regions and fully functioning housing markets require a range of housing choices for households of different backgrounds, means, desires and stages of life.

Is it possible?  The suburbs offer individuals more housing choice?  Doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with the suburbs.  Not a thing.

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