Tag Archives: suburbia

Aging in Suburbia- Southern Style


Where Boomers live….and drive!

There’s a small table in Chapter 1 of Aging in Suburbia with the  dull title, “Baby Boomer Population by Region”.  The numbers  are from the 2006 US Census,  and would appear, at first glance, to be just another  compilation.

But what pops out is the percentage of Baby Boomers who have settled in the South- The Census counted nearly 37%, a far high percentage than in the Midwest, West, or Northeast. Even with Texas  included, 37% is a remarkably high rate.  Back in the 1990s when the Boomers were nesting (Chapter Two) house prices were lower in the South in the early 1990s than in much of California and the Northeast. Over time, that price gap has only widened.

This has implications down the line for Boomers who plan to retire, and for Millenials who may need to drive them too:

(1) Atlanta and other large Southern cities have fewer transportation options, and many residents in the South are more dependent on their cars.

(2) Neighborhoods in the South are newer and are more spread out, e.g., more suburban sprawl and less ability to walk or bike to the stores and for errands.

(3) If incomes are not growing, and the cost of living is cheaper in the South, staying put makes economic sense

…especially for retirees on fixed incomes.

Horace Greeley said “Go West, Young Man.” The new refrain, “Stay South, Southern Man?”

Make a Headline- Make it Walkable


The SFO headline of 6/15/14  is optimistic:  “Renzo Piano drafts a model for walkable suburbs.” In  San Ramon, Contra Costa County (Ca.)  they have proclaimed a grand architectural vision. The architectural plans call for 70 retail spaces and a cineplex,  682,000 square feet of office space, and let’s not forget, 1,300 parking spaces! The parking spaces, per the architect, are “tucked within” one of the buildings (a.k.a, parking garage!).  There is also a plaza which is intended to be a multigenerational gathering place (a.k.a,  mall) A few blocks away, the architect has sketched plans for a  168 room  hotel and  488 residential units. That, one supposes, is the basis for the walkable city. But, in a city of 75,000 residents,  will 500 new downtown residences and 1,300 parking spaces truly “reinvent” suburbia or simply be another empty headline?


Headline Reversal

Figure 2 City and Suburb Growth Reversals

source: Brookings Institution/William Frey/May, 2014

Navigating through  a headline!

Goosing the housing recovery? A Wall St. Journal story with a big headline  and an even bigger arial picture of a housing development observed  that pronouned “Suburbs Regain their Appeal”.

The numbers in the story are not compelling; overall cities are still growing slightly faster that the suburbs- and suburbs grew at a rate of .96%, roughly on par with the .95% growth a year earlier. Not much change.

Bloggers were quick to note that the definition of suburb is key- after all, infill and higher density are taking place- particularly if the suburbs are near mass transportation.  The validity is questioned by “Bacon” the blogger.

Why not go to the source though. Note census data compiled by William Frey at the Brookings Inst itiute. The suburban growth is flat and the cities are recovering the ground they lost over the last 30 years as the Baby Boomers fled the cities.

Location Efficient Mortgage


source: Victoria Transposrtation Policy Institute, 2006


While we are spotlighting the H+T index developed by the Center for Technology, we should also return to a more “homely” instrument used by a few Boomers to buy their first home.

The L.E. M., or location efficient mortgage, was introduced by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the National Resources Defense Council, and backed  by Fannie Mae (FNMA),circa 1999. One article called it the “Bus-Riders Mortgage”  (Wikipedia). The goal was to let borrowers who lived in an area close to jobs centers and shopping opportunities qualify for a larger mortgage. The intuition was that they could cut down on their transportation costs, which are typically 1/3 of more of the household expense. There were offered in SF, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles.

During the housing recession, “exurb” homes did fall in value more than urban properties. The  L.E.M. mortages, although few in number, are thought to have had a lower default rate.

The chart, presented by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, is from 2006 data. It would be timely to look at the current affordability index.


Home to the Car

Donald Shoup of UCLA has made planners everywhere aware of the hidden costs and consequences of  vehicle parking. The extensions to housing and real-esate are obvious. When we build homes and carports, we reduce the need for on-street parking. However, the cost of building increases, and for suburban tract homes, 20 to 25% of the overall square footage may be relegated for vehicles. The design and physical layout of a home are also impacted by the garage. While no one wants to give up their parking space, think of design in a future city where ShareCars are the norm, and taxi services like Uber or Lyft are more common. Meanwhile, in  the chart, you can see that the Northeast is the least likely area  of the country to have garages and carports, and the West is the most likely. One is older and one is new…but neither are contemporary.

Measuring House Sales of 55+

This is an interesting idea, excerpted below, from the National Association of Home Builders Site. They are beginning a new index of home sales for the  55+ market.

P.S. What is wrong with this picture?!!



“We are seeing continued improvement in the 55+ housing market because consumers have gained confidence in the economy and are able to sell their current homes and move into a new home or an apartment that fits the lifestyle they desire,” said Robert Karen, chairman of NAHB’s 50+ Housing Council and managing member of the Symphony Development Group. “We expect this optimism from builders and developers to carry on into 2014.”

There are separate 55+ HMIs for two segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums. Each 55+ HMI measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair or poor (high, average or low for traffic). An index number below 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as poor than good.