Housing is only affordable if it also suits the community’s needs, including size, type, and location. Along with minimizing development barriers, matching housing to needs forms the foundation for housing affordability – while it does not alone ensure that housing will be affordable, it is a necessary minimum condition. Needs can vary by both lifestyle and other factors, including accommodating people with disabilities. There are special considerations for elderly people as well. This page will provide an overview of this topic area, with links to expanded information on specific tools and other resources at the bottom.
In 2014, the national average new single family home was 2,649 square feet in size, compared to 983 square feet in 1950. (National Association of Home Builders) While this is still in line with many families’ preferences, households today are becoming smaller, and more likely to be composed of singles and/or seniors – both of these groups are less likely to be well-served by standard single family detached housing. Further, while these homes may be preferred by families while their children are growing up, parents may not be able to maintain their quality of life in that same home as they age and children have moved on. In addition, many households today prefer smaller homes in walkable neighborhoods with good access to transit and services over larger homes in areas that require cars. Under existing building codes, however, infill can be difficult in popular, built-out neighborhoods, limiting opportunities to increase supply in these areas. This blog post from the NRDC, called “Ten things planners need to know about demographics and the future real estate market”, provides a nice overview of the demographic changes we are seeing and what they mean for our housing stock.
Given these realities, code should allow for a diverse array of types of housing to support a diverse array of lifestyles. Further, it should be flexible enough to adapt to future changes and promote infill development. This should include the “missing middle” – types of housing that fall on the gradient between detached single family homes and larger apartment complexes. These types of housing are more likely to be affordable compared to single family housing, and allow for increased density in a manner that is compatible with single family neighborhoods. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are another important tool related to this area – additional dwelling units can be injected into the existing neighborhood fabric without significant impact. The diagram below illustrates some of the variety in this category. Several of these housing types are explored in further detail on this website, linked below, and the Missing Middle Housing website provides a guide to these types, including a guide to adopting form-based code to facilitate missing middle housing. (More resources on form-based zoning can be found here)
Special concern should be applied to maximizing housing opportunities in areas with good access to transit, services, and employment. The PSRC’s Growing Transit Communities program provides an overview of planning for transit.
Extremely Low Income Households and Households with Special Needs
This section is focused on expanding the type, location, and quantity of housing units to better serve the largest portion of the population possible. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that these tools will not necessarily be enough to serve our county’s most vulnerable citizens – most commonly those with incomes below 30% AMI, people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, and seniors. Additionally, while these groups are often mentioned in the same breath, their needs are wildly diverse, both compared to each other and within each group. Additional specific strategies for serving these groups are explored in Expanding Assisted Housing Supply.
Assessing Needs and Performance in this Area
- Citizen surveys on quality of life
- Permits issued by housing type
- Percent of new housing units located in areas with access to transit and services
- Percent of commuters driving alone
- Location Affordability Index
- Percent of seniors spending more than 30% of income on housing
- Percent of residents with disabilities
- Percent of households with children
- Comparison of household size distribution and housing unit size distribution
- Homeless “Point in Time” count
- PSRC: Growing Transit Communities
- Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University: Housing America’s Older Adults
- City of Portland: Infill Housing Toolkit
- Missing Middle Housing
- City of Everett: Potential Residential Infill Measures
- Washington Tracking Network Mapping Tool: An easy to use online mapping tool that displays data at the census tract level. While intended for public health, the data offerings span a range of areas including housing, transportation, and socioeconomic factors.
- Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
- Cottage Housing
- Microhousing/Single Room Occupancy Housing
- Mixed-Use Development
- Manufactured and Modular Housing
- Small Lot Development
- Transit-Oriented Development
Areas for Further Research
- How to accurately assess senior affordability challenges – many seniors have assets not captured in census data, which may overstate senior cost burden in some communities
- What portion of our affordable market rate housing is substandard in condition?