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Quality of Life

Study: Single-Family Homes May Be History

A new study from the Urban Land Institute suggests single-family homes, the largest contributor to urban sprawl, may be a thing of the past.

The study looked at California’s major metropolitan areas — including San Diego — and found that by 2035 the supply of homes in conventional subdivisions will far exceed demand.

Arthur C. Nelson, the study's author and executive director of the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center, said many people today recognize the downside of the 1950s suburban dream:

“You know, everybody wants their single-family home on their own lot. Not everybody, but 80 percent of us do, according to surveys. But when we trade off transit-accessibility, accessibility to jobs and stores and medical care, family, friends, then maybe we’re not so tied to a large home.”

On the flip side, Nelson's study predicts that demand for town homes, multifamily units and small lots will far exceed the supply of these types of housing over the next 25 years. Demand for housing that's close to public transit will also outstrip demand, according to the study.

"The bottom line is that as many as 9 million households would like the option to live in locations served by public transit," Nelson wrote. "But today, only about 1.2 million California households can claim to have it."

The study relied on demographic, employment and housing trends, and surveys to develop its prediction for the future. Nelson said California is a bellwether for the rest of the country.

"The trends we're seeing in California are going to be the trends we'll see elsewhere," Nelson said, adding that similar trends are already becoming apparent in Georgia and much of Florida and Texas.

But, he said, a shift in public policy, regulations and attitudes are needed to meet these changing housing demands.


"I think all of the major actors get it," Nelson said. "What's in the way, really, are the established neighborhoods who don't want change or are fearful of change — even if it's change that's good for them — until they understand it fully."