Hazard Zone: The Slow Move Toward Multifamily-Friendly Rules

The shift may seem glacial, but market forces are pushing denser housing.

Rarely has the phrase “push comes to shove” been more appropriate. Steady population growth in America’s most attractive metro areas is starting to push aside long-held notions in some cities about the sanctity of single-family homes. But so far that movement hasn’t been wide or deep enough. A necessary shoving phase could come soon.

Multifamily developers can welcome zoning changes in Minnesota, Oregon, and other places that make it possible to put multiple dwelling units in neighborhoods previously designated solely for single-family homes. Those benefits are limited mainly to the creation of duplexes and triplexes, however. For developers who think bigger, it’s going to take a lot of creative thinking and patient adjustments by all involved before they can fully do their part to lessen the affordable housing crisis.

Take California, for instance. According to Forest Economic Advisors, California accounts for 17% of all new jobs created in the past five years but only 6.8% of the single-family housing starts and 11.8% of the nation’s multifamily starts. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder that the Golden State has sky-high housing costs that are forcing people onto the streets: According to Rolling Stone magazine, California’s homeless rate has increased to the point where 25% of the nation’s homeless live in the state, even though it accounts for only 12% of the U.S. population.

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