Consumers Favor Growth, Oppose Density

One of the main tools in builders' efforts to create the best possible residential environment is higher-density housing, including townhouses and apartments as well as detached houses.
By Dan McLeister | June 30, 1999
One of the main tools in builders’ efforts to create the best possible residential environment is higher-density housing, including townhouses and apartments as well as detached homes.

A nationwide survey by NAHB reveals that a majority of consumers, however, oppose the use of that tool. Opposition was over 70% against both higher-density detached houses and multifamily apartment buildings. For townhouses, the figure dropped to 54%. (See charts with this story for more detailed figures). Builders have always been aware of some opposition to density, but these large numbers may surprise many people in residential construction.

In contrast to the negative feelings about density are the positive responses about growth generally. A pleasant surprise for all involved housing is that only 12% of survey respondents suggested passing laws to restrict growth. Builders should also be pleased that 70% agreed with the statement, "Managed properly, growth is good for the community." Also on the positive side is that about half agreed with the statement, "Growth is necessary because it creates jobs."

Furthermore, most respondents wanted that growth to take place in the suburbs. Eighty-three percent preferred a $150,000 detached unit in a suburban area, compared to a $150,000 townhouse in a urban setting close to public transportation, work and shopping.

Opinion was more divided about the pace of growth, with 42% saying it was too fast, 32% about right and 15% too slow. Others answered "not concerned" (6%) or "not sure/do not know" (5%).

These responses came from a written survey of 2000 households nationwide and 3000 households in 10 metro areas (300 households in each of the selected metro areas). Participants were randomly selected from a panel of households maintained by National Family Opinion Organization (NFO), a nationally-known research firm. Responses were received earlier this year from 1205 households in the national sample and 1831 households in the 10 metro areas. The survey results were consistent across regions and metro markets included in the survey (Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Orlando, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Phoenix, Sacramento and Seattle).

NAHB developed the questionnaire from feedback gained during focus groups held in Fairfax, Va., Columbus, Ohio, Dallas and Ventura, Calif.

One interesting contradiction is that even though respondents cited traffic as a major concern, the majority drive to work alone and want to continue to do so. Although 47% have access to a bus or trolley for commuting to work, only 3% said they used this type of public transportation. Light rail is available to 16%, but only 2% reported using it.

Under the heading of either contradiction or naivete comes the response as to who is responsible for growth. Only 24% indicated that home buyers are responsible for growth in their area. Fifty-eight percent named the local government. Other answers were builder/developers (52%), elected officials (42%) and community leaders (37%).