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Toward more multi-family housing

This recent article by Brookings is a good reminder of the all too important link between land use policies/patterns and GHG emissions. Because electric vehicles are cool and all, but they’re still not as efficient as just walking around and/or taking transit.

As has been argued before on this blog, we need to not only electrify our transport network, but we also need to change how we get around. And probably the best way to encourage a modal shift, is to plan and build our cities differently. Something that is simple, but not easy.

It also turns out that people who live in multi-family buildings tend to consume less energy (on a per capita basis) than those in single-family houses. So there are numerous benefits to encouraging denser housing on top of transit and within mixed-used communities.

With all of this in mind, here are some interesting charts from the above Brookings article.

This first one shows new housing permits in the metro areas of Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington DC, according to their urban, suburban, or exurban status. Here, Chicago is an outlier, with the “urban core” (defined as Cook County) now making up about half of all new housing.

If you look at the entire study period, the number is less. The urban core accounted for about one-third of new housing permits in Chicago, and only 15% of permits in Atlanta and DC. But in all cases, housing permits in the urban core have been increasing since the 2008 financial crisis.

But here’s the other thing. Looking at these next two charts, there appears to be a clear trendline toward more urban housing typologies. The first of these next two is showing single-family housing permits as a percentage of all new housing. And the second is structure type over time.

Atlanta is still building mostly single-family housing, but less of it. And based on these charts, Chicago has already passed its inflection point. DC is not far off. Every city region is of course going to be different, but it does look like there is some kind of broader housing shift underway.


  1. Michael Gordon

    Thanks Brandon.

    One has to be careful with the use of the word ‘single-family’ when considering the data. The definition of single-family in the US Census includes a number of different types of buildings. It took some digging on the US Census site but I found the definition of single-family here:

    “Single-family structures include fully detached, semi-detached (semi-attached, side-by-side), row houses, duplexes, quadruplexes, and townhouses. In order for attached units to be classified as single-family structures, each unit must:

    Be separated by a ground-to roof wall,
    Have a separate heating system,
    Have individual meters for public utilities, and
    Have no units located above or below.
    If each unit within the building does not meet the conditions above, the building is considered multifamily”

    Similarly in Canada when you dig into the statistics what looks like a single-family house may be a multiple dwelling or duplex etc. For example in Vancouver, only 19% of the City’s housing stock was in 2006, single-detached ie one house one household. The regional figure is 29%. So what looks like a sea of houses in Vancouver is actually in some areas primarily duplexes or multiple dwellings….in a sense they are house districts, single-family districts.

    Liked by 1 person

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