Transit oriented development at 4th & King Streets, SOMA, San Francisco
TOD in San Francisco's SOMA, photo by flickr user LA Wad

On my way home from work the other day I caught this Marketplace program about the increased demand for housing near transit. As may seem obvious to the audience of this blog, but there’s a massive sea-change afoot in consumer demand for housing near transit, but this is likely news to the typical Marketplace listener.

I got to thinking about the numbers. Exactly, how much does transit availability specifically effect real estate prices? Is there a similar effect for walkable neighborhoods? Are we doing enough to keep supply in pace with this increased demand? What second-order effects does transit construction and the demand emanating therefrom have?

Rather than write 4000 words on the economic data around TOD, I’ll focus on just the first two questions today, and I’ll visit the others in future posts. I apologize in advance for all of the links and quotes.

How much does transit availability effect real estate prices?

The story, as has been told and told, is that Americans are increasing interested in living near transit. The story quotes Chris Leinberger – whom I’ve mentioned here before and will come back to repeatedly in these posts – on a home in Dupont Circle near the DC metro

LEINBERGER Within walking distance of transit, we’re seeing anywhere from a 40 to 200 percent price premium. The market is willing to pay 40 percent more to three times more.

Next they visit a home in the exurbs far past the last Metro stop:

LEINBERGER: This is a car-dependent house. You cannot live here without taking your car to literally every trip from your home… As Americans increasingly choose to live near transit, the value of homes like this has plummeted — 60 percent since the year 2000.

I’m convinced there’s an increase, but I want more details. A forty percent premium seems reasonable but a 200% premium seems fairly astronomical, I wonder if there isn’t a combination of effects at work in Leinberger’s numbers making the comparison seem more dramatic than it is.

First, from a study by Roderick Diaz from Booz-Allen:

A separate study of the impacts of the BART system examined the impact on home values. Statistical models developed to analyze the impact of proximity to rail on property values showed that for every meter a house in Alameda County was located closer to the nearest BART station, its sales price in 1990 increased by $2.29. For every meter a house was closer to the nearest BART station in Contra Costa County, the sales price increased $1.96. According to the models, a house immediately adjacent to BART would sell for close to 38% more than an identical house not near any BART service (35 kilometers away). Effectively, this comparison may represent the difference between the sales price of the home near a station of a mature rail system and the sales price of a home in a region without a mature rail system.

Emphasis Added. The last line is the money quote. These are all suburbs, so Diaz is not comparing  San Francisco to Tracey. Simply building rail can increase property values in a region that hasn’t got rail to start with. But 35 kilometers is a very long distance, BART is an old, large system, and San Francisco is a huge city. What happens to newer systems in smaller cities? From the same study, this time about Portland:

Within the 2 years after the 1986 beginning of operation of the rail line, residential properties in the East Burnside area within 500 meters of the transit were, on average, 10.6% greater in value than homes outside of 500 meters.

If you’re really into numbers, here’s a Parsons Brinckerhoff summary of studies from about ten years ago with lots of data.

Is there a price premium  for walkable environments in general?

The answer here is a resounding yes. According to this study from CEOs for Cities, a single Walkscore point increases the price of a home by $1413 in Seattle, and an astonishing $5260 in Chicago. In the Seattle case, very little of that housing supply is served by rail transit – though most of it is served by a lot of bus transit. The correlation in the article controlled for home amenities, transportation access and other factors. Even the people out to prove the study wrong show it clearly indicates at minimum a supply problem in the stock of walkable housing. Interestingly, there are even people who want walkable housing without transit.

If we take for granted the fact that there has been a continual increase in demand for housing in walkable, transit-accessable areas in the past ten years, it should be the case that these difference in prices have become magnified in the time since these studies were conducted. It does seem that housing near transit has increased in value during a time of falling housing prices in  Denver, and they have fallen far less in the Pheonix area where the bottom has fallen completely out of the housing market. If you are interested in more detailed data, the best source is the Center for Neighborhood Techonlogy, which has a nice database and some interactive tools where you can compare access to transit to home prices and rents among others.

Real and Nominal Price of Oil

It’s not hard to see why housing near transit is more expensive. Going back to Leinberger:

The average American household spends 17 percent of their pre-tax income on transportation, 94 percent of this amount is for ownership and maintenance of cars. However when the data are disaggregated, drivable sub-urban households spend about 25 percent on transportation while walkable urban households only spend about 9 percent. This 16 percent difference represents well over a trillion dollars in households spending each year. If this spending was redeployed from cars to housing, education, and savings, it would be a major economic driver (excuse the pun).

This chart says more than I need to in words (from this data), and you can see a lot more statistics just like it here.

So there’s a pretty clear trend, though I’m not sure the 200% premium is justified on an apples-to-apples comparison. There are a number of here via VTPI that suggest the premium is somewhere in the 20~50% range, which is still significant. Curiosity satisfied. Next I’m going to try to look at the size of the demand and whether transit oriented housing supply is keeping pace.

101 Replies to “Demand for Housing Near Transit”

  1. You have to be a bit careful with the Phoenix comparison, and I say that as someone who left Phoenix for Seattle precisely for the walkability and transit (especially rail transit) that we have here. Phoenix doesn’t really have a lot of industry other than homebuilding, plus it has a regulatory environment that subsidizes sprawl even more egregiously than most other parts of the country.

    These two things came together to create a bizarre market dynamic where people moved to Phoenix to work in the construction industry, made heaps of money doing so, then bought cheap houses at 100% financing with their wages. They’ve also spent the last two years hounding the illegal immigrant labor force their middle-class prosperity was built on out of the state.

    I absolutely believe there is a transit/walkability premium (certainly among young people), just be careful comparing Phoenix’s numbers too closely to the rest of the country.

  2. It should be noted that looking at BART in the suburbs is about as conservative of a case that you can look at. Most suburban BART stations have free parking, so there isn’t a huge time/effort savings by living right next to the station. But clearly there’s some advantage.

    Looking at a more urban case where it’s either hop on BART or drive in traffic and pay outrageous parking charges would likely raise that 38% quite a bit.

    1. Sure, but not all suburbs are equal in the Eastbay. Oakland and Berkley are significant;y more dense than Seattle is for example, and those stations don’t all have parking.

      1. Oakland and Berkley are suburbs? I guess under some definition even Capital Hill is a suburb.

        Anyway, if these places are counted in the 38% then it’s not as conservative as I thought.

      2. It says Alameda county, which includes oakland and berkley, though it specifically discusses Hayward, Dublin, etc.

      3. Not even close. Bellevue doesn’t have a regional airport and comparing Oakland to Tacoma… that’s really silly. Seattle is not SF and the Puget Sound is not the Bay Area by any stretch.

      4. You don’t remember the SATs?
        Oakland::San Francisco
        A) Bellevue::Seattle
        B) Tacoma::Seattle
        C) Everett::Seattle
        D) Tukwila::Seattle

        The answer is B.

      5. I don’t think that question was on the SAT in 1976. I do believe that SF is a mirror of what’s going to happen in Seattle a decade or so later (and has been a predictor of WA politics in general for decades). Oakland is very liberal (Berkley) compared to even unionized Tacoma. I would compare San Jose to Bellevue. High tech and auto dominated. It would be a better analogy if Microsoft and the associated high tech jobs had centered around Everett’s Paine Field.

      6. The phrase “there’s no there there” seems to apply pretty well to Bellevue. Perhaps more than Tacoma.

      7. I was thinking of SF Bay = Lake Washington. Geographically if nothing else, Oakland=Bellevue and San Jose=Tacoma. Politically and economically they’re flipped, of course.

      8. Compared to SF Seattle is still just a logging camp :=) But Oakland is in it’s self very similar to Seattle (almost a twin if combined with Berkley). Same urban density, large university, port city, and close in population compared to tiny little Bellevue. It’ll be a long time before we see the Bellevue Police Department as the setting for a network TV show or box office block buster (unless it’s a remake of Mayberry RFD maybe ;-). San Jose has close to a million people. That’s Seattle Tacoma and Bellevue combined.

  3. “BART is an old, large system,”

    Just as old as Seattle’s rail transit system would be had Forward Thrust not been defeated.

    New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and even MUNI would beg to differ.

      1. Cleveland’s Blue and Green lines date back to the first half of last century. The Red line is newer, from the 60’s.

    1. “Just as old as Seattle’s rail transit system would be had Forward Thrust not been defeated.”

      The Forward Thrust rail system would have been awesome for TOD. The route did not go over I-90 (already built up and zones sfd). Instead it went around the south end of Lake Washington. The number of stops in appropriately-zoned areas would have meant literally hundreds of thousands of new units within the walking watershed of the line.

    2. “Just as old as Seattle’s rail transit system would be had Forward Thrust not been defeated.”

      One of the biggest mistakes in this city’s history.

    1. I’m assuming you’re making fun of the typo but isn’t this basically streetcar suburbs without streetcars?

  4. LEINBERGER: … As Americans increasingly choose to live near transit, the value of [a home in the exurbs far past the last Metro stop] has plummeted — 60 percent since the year 2000.

    Sorry, the BS meter pegged on this one. DC real estate has almost doubled over the last ten years even in battered Prince William County (government is a growth industry). The single home market is currently doing much better than condos. But, what the pricing suggests is that a lot of high end condos are still on the market following the bust in 2006 and not selling. I’d submit that proximity to transit is far down on the list of factors affecting the price of a home; behind for example crime rate, quality of schools and location of major employers.

    1. Which post are you talking about on that blog? Presumably not this one:

      Average prices exhibited a split personality. Condo prices increased 16.26%, while home prices were up 8.57%.

      1. I thought I made it abundantly clear that while prices were higher sales were in the toilet.

        At January’s sales rate there’s a 10.75 months supply of condos and 4.71 months supply for houses. In other words, great if you’re selling a house, dire if you’re trying to unload a condo.

      2. And yet sellers raised prices, Bernie. That means sellers believe the market for condos is going UP because they’re holding out for higher prices. Are they right? I have no idea. But you can’t use that as evidence of a lack of demand for condos. If sales were slow and prices were dropping, you’d have a point.

      3. No, it means developers got greedy and built McCondos that they’re now left saddled with because they owe more than they’re worth. Prices on indiviual units are coming down; (-18%) last month on current listings.

    2. Even if the single home market were doing better, that’s not an apples to apples comparison. Are single homes near transit doing better than single homes in the sticks? Are condos near transit doing better than condos in the sticks?

      1. I don’t disagree that access to transit can increase the value of housing. Looking at condos is a generality but I think it’s fair to say that they tend to be in relatively higher density areas and that transit is going to be more available. But this was more of an aside to Leinberger’s numbers and conclusions being ridiculous. Sure he can pull out individual examples of development in the exurbs that have gone bad but there’s plenty of inner city projects that have turned equally sour after the housing bubble burst (Seattle was left with a few craters) and overall people are still migrating from major cities to the boomburbs.

      2. Sorry bernie, but condos vs houses is a crap comparison. I say “cars with satellite navigation sell for more” and then someone comes out and bring nonsense about a Kia subcompact with an satellite navigation is cheaper than a Range Rover without a satellite navigation. Everyone says ‘what is this guy talking about?’. It has nothing to do with the issue at hand (satellite navs cost more or in this case houses near transit sell for more) and nothing but a strawman.

        There are houses near transit, condos near transit, houses not near transit, and condos not near transit (just like there are kias with satellite nav, range rovers with satellite nav, kias without satellite nav and range rovers without satellite nav). Condos are not a proxy for houses near transit.

      3. Exceptions aside condos in general are in areas of greater density than single family homes and in general areas of greater density have better transit access. Read into that what ever you like but you’re absolutely right that what really matters is the price of comparable homes and condos with or lacking access to transit. Leinberger throws out some wacko numbers without ever attempting to do this. Even trying to use the DC area as a proxy for the real world is dubious given the overwhelming effect government employment has vs anywhere else in the country. It’s like looking at housing in Detroit or New Orleans and trying to generalize that across the country.

      4. “Leinberger throws out some wacko numbers without ever attempting to do this.”

        You’re basing this off of one quote? Have you read any of Leinberger’s work? How do you know how much research he’s put in to what he said? Just because your initial instinct is to disagree with him does not mean that he’s “throwing out wacko numbers.” This is his profession after all.

      5. I do generally agree with you (as a I wrote in the post) that the 200% number is not justified.

      6. I did try to read some of his stuff at his website I linked to. I can only come to the conclusion that he’s a Charlatan that just writes whatever babble will sell. It’s rather telling that a Professor at the University of Michigan avoids any examples of cities in his home State or any on the top ten list of fastest growing cities in America.

      7. Christopher Leinberger is the one who wrote “The Option of Urbanism”, which to me is the best analysis of the evolution and effects of density vs non-density I’ve seen. I’m not great at statistics so I’m not going to argue whether 60% or 200% or 30% is more accurate: the fact remains that central transit-oriented neighborhoods hold their value more than suburbs or especially exurbs, at least in the current era.

        Everywhere the 49 and 44 go is more expensive than Rainier Valley, which is more expensive than SeaTac (24th S), which is more expensive than Lakewood (112th SW). Des Moines near 99 is more expensive than Des Moines 1+ mile from a bus stop. One of the best deals in Seattle is 17th SW, a long hilly block from a marginal bus route (125). Some people consciously locate near transit and thus bid up the prices, but house prices overall suggest that everybody values transit even if they don’t. Waterfront homes are an exception, of course. Another example is that lots and houses are smaller in Seattle than in the Eastside or south King County, yet they still cost more per square foot, indicating that somebody thinks they’re more valuable.

        Condos are more complicated because people have mixed feelings about them. The reason condos are vacant in pedestrian neighborhoods is not that people don’t want to live in them, it’s that they’re way overpriced (the owners are pretending the crash was a temporary dip), and many people are now questioning the value of owning over renting. (Apartments are doing well in those same neighborhoods.) Suburbanites buy a house for the house. Urbanites buy a condo for the neighborhood (i.e., in spite of the condo). Condos are so worthless in the exurbs they aren’t even built much, which is the same as saying they have $0 value there.

        By the way, when Leinberger says “driveable sub-urbanism”, the hyphen is not accidental. His model in the book focuses on “walkable urbanism” and “driveable sub-urbanism”, with the implication that the latter is “sub” (lesser). He also says there’s an in-between density that’s even worse, citing the Galleria in north Dallas. This has high-ish density but is not walkable.

      8. The ironic point is that the DC exurb is still on the Metro even if it’s the last stop. To me that’s a great advantage over Auburn or Marysville. At least you can get to the city every fifteen minutes without a car, even if it takes an hour or more. I wonder if it’s even fair to compare DC exurbs to Pugetopolis exurbs, because Pugetopolis exurbs are significantly more isolated.

      9. They are more isolate both from transit and often roads. The roads out to most exurbs here are terrible unless they are on I-5, I-90, etc.

        “Pugetopolis” is a very ugly word.

      10. Bernie, WSJ is no longer a reputable news source. What I’ve read from reputable sources of data is that people are abandoning exurbs and far-far-outer-ring suburbs (first-ring and second-ring suburbs are benefiting most, downtowns are still losing population).

        This means, AFACIT, that people want streetcar suburbs.

  5. There was a recent article in the Seattle times about the area around the Othello Link light rail station. This neighborhood is actully known as Brighton.

    “Light rail is ushering changes into the neighborhood, which features a diversity of housing styles and prices that have dropped more over the past year than the Seattle-area average.

    “The median value of all single-family houses in Brighton, not just those that recently sold, was $248,800 in December, down 14.3 percent year-over-year, the Zillow Home Value Index shows.

    “That compares to a drop of 11.3 percent for single-family houses in the Seattle metro area, according to Zillow.”

    So, according to this article, the value of homes near the Othello light rail station has fallen more in the past year than the value of homes in the entire Seattle metro area.

    1. Hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t say anywhere that the Link was the reason for the 3% difference. Just sayin.

    2. Mt. Baker and Columbia City were down 4.6% and 9.5%, respectively, over the same period, but I’m not going to jump to conclusions from one year of data. Especially since there’s no way to know how those neighborhoods would have fared without light rail, unless you go and do a survey of all new homeowners and ask them what influenced their decision to move there.

      1. It is also useful to look at longer-term price activity. I wonder what that comparison would look like over a 10+ year period. Prices may have increased more (percentage-wise) near Othello/Brighton when the light rail alignment was announced. LINK is not a well-established system – time will tell what it does for development in the Rainier Valley and, consequently, home prices.

        Norman, you have money in Hydrogen. Maybe you should look into some real estate in the Valley?

      2. I think Brett’s probably right. With the decision on Link’s alignment it was a given there would be up zoning. It’s like the old saying “buy on the rumor and sell on the news”. Since Link’s opening came a couple of years after the speculative peak it shouldn’t be a surprise an oversupply of new units would be built in this area.

      3. Zillow’s margin of error is something like 50%, so this is pretty much garbage-in-garbage-out.

  6. Going back to Leinberger: The average American household spends 17 percent of their pre-tax income on transportation… while walkable urban households only spend about 9 percent.

    So if you pay a 25% premium in housing it’s a wash. Higher costs reflect the value of the benefit. Waterfront homes sell for a hefty premium but that doesn’t mean anything needs to be done to “correct” the market.

    1. Who said anything about correcting the market? Of course higher costs reflect the value of the benefit. Moreover the 9% to 17% comparison doesn’t capture much of the value of living in a city, such as not being trapped in a cultural and aesthetic wasteland.

    2. It’s not a wash if your house appreciates. I’d much rather put the extra money in to my house rather than blowing it on transportation. Not a single one of the 7 cars I’ve owned has yet appreciated.

      1. I’m planning to buy a car which I expect to appreciate, but then I expect it to become a collector’s item. Generally it’s hard to predict that in advance, but I think the early-series Teslas probably will. :-)

    3. Another aspect that doesn’t cover is risk. As someone who lives carless in a place that is very walkable and can be served effectively with transit, my non-discretionary spending is rent + utilities + food. I can tell you to within +/- $20 what the first two will be each month, and food cost is something I can minimize and know pretty well too. My use of cars is purely recreational, for hiking and such, and in a pinch could be reduced to zero.

      Compare that to someone who’s car-dependent. Not only are you spending a small but steady fraction of your income every time you drive, you are on the hook for unexpected repairs. What if you lose your job and your car breaks down in the same week? It’s happened to me. Major stress. Of course, you can (must, really) hold liquid savings to offset that risk, which is an economic cost. If I lose my job, I’m walking distance to hundreds of employers, and for less than $3, I’m bussing distance to hundreds more.

      1. Those unexpected car expenses have really hit quite a few people I know really hard. Anyone who doesn’t have a pile of savings, it’s a serious risk.

    4. Somewhere I read suggested considering housing+transportation together. By that measure, the difference in cost between city and suburbs is diminished.

      Of course it also makes a significant difference whether your job is someplace you can take transit to.

  7. One should keep in mind that this is the near the center of SF, and this “TOD” in the picture would have been built there whether there were trains, etc. nearby or not.

    1. No, five blocks away from that are huge swathes of empty lots, without anything built on them. The difference? The N-Judah, T-Third and Caltrain.
      google maps

      That area to the south is filled with parking lots, storage units, etc.

      1. Are all those empty blocks and blocks with parking lots, storage units, etc., zoned the same as the blocks with development on them?

      2. That’s actually a pretty good point. Five blocks shouldn’t be the difference between “TOD” and “wasteland”. Single-family homes, maybe.

    2. The 4th and King area is definitely TOD. But it’s also weird TOD because Caltrain is a uniquely dysfunctional commuter train — it serves a big city but comes nowhere near downtown and it serves suburban downtowns along a very dense corridor, but the suburban downtowns have only a small percentage of the suburban jobs. It’s as if Sounder ran from downtown Redmond to just south of Safeco Field without stopping near Seattle or Bellevue downtown or at the Microsoft campus. You might get TOD near Safeco, but it’s not at all the same thing as the TOD you might expect, say, at the Roosevelt Link station.

      1. There are plans to move that station nearer to market as part of the HSR stuff, and then there’s the central subway, which would provide a fast connection to downtown on muni compared to the N-Judah (which goes along the embarcadero and takes 15 minutes).

      2. Agreed — that area should get better for TOD (assuming Caltrain doesn’t go broke), but the TOD that’s there today was built in the wacky environment that exists now.

  8. The great potential for our TOD is near Northgate. There already are new TOD condos there (Thornton Creek) and there will be more too. Plus there will be two superblocks of 8-story parking garages, to handle the capacity of drivers who will choose to ride LINK instead of driving the final 5 miles downtown. Ridership gains and TOD = a winning combination.

    1. The only problem is families want to buy homes, not a condo in the parking lot of a mall.

      The biggest problem with dense housing in this city is that it is all geared towards SINKs and DINKs.

      1. Naw, families are happy enough to buy condos. They’re really no different from houses subject to HOAs, apart from lawns, and the cult of the lawn is dying. Yes, some of us demand greater control and wouldn’t buy homes subject to a HOA, but we’re rare.

        The difference between condos/owned houses and rental apartments/houses is that you can effectively renovate or redecorate a condo or a owned house; if you do that with a rental, you’re giving the landlord a free gift (and who wants to do that?). People *DO* care about that difference.

    2. Geoff, do you have a passport? Have you ever lived in another country? Somehow — I don’t know how, but they do — people in other places manage to raise families without living in giant McMansions built to the property line with two Suburbans in the driveway.

      Yes, the city needs to be more family-friendly, and I agree that Northgate is not currently the prettiest place in Seattle right now, but please stop forcing your housing preferences onto the rest of us.

      1. Wow Bruce overreact much? Step away from the keyboard for a moment and actually read what I wrote.

        I never once said you had to buy a McMansion and drive two SUVs. Never once did I “force” anything on “the rest of you.” I merely stated that people want to buy homes they can raise kids in. That could mean a multitude of things, including (gasp) dense urban family housing. The only problem is that currently it is VERY rare in Seattle. Offhand, I can’t think of any new development in the city that has more than 2 bedrooms available in a given condo or apartment. Some townhouses have as many as 3 bedrooms, and that is a start, but there are not many of them.

        Now please stop forcing your childless lifestyle on the rest of us……

      2. Again, a parent of a small child chiming in: I don’t want or need a yard and I don’t even have a driver’s license let alone 2 SUVs. All I want is a place big enough that I’m not stepping on my kid’s Duplos every five minutes. The biggest places available at Thornton Creek (the awesome new TOD at Northgate–the only thing missing is a grocery store closer than that QFC way up on Roosevelt & Northgate Way) is a 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath. I don’t need 2.5 baths, I get by fine right now on 1.75, but I absolutely positively need a 3rd bedroom. Tiny bedrooms are fine, that’s what I have now, but I would end up slitting my wrists if I had to cram us into 2 bedrooms. If you want families to live in TOD, and I hope most people on this blog do, you HAVE to build places with more bedrooms, period. It’s just not realistic to think a family of 4 is going to live in a 2-bedroom apartment in this country. And Seattle isn’t currently providing bigger-than-2-bedroom homes in a TOD manner unless you’re buying a luxury condo with a view that makes it way outside the price range of most families. I personally see this as a missed opportunity by developers in this city and huge hole in our city’s housing diversity.

      3. No, Geoff, your comment derides condos generally and refers to “homes.” In the way most people use that word, it refers to single-family homes. I actually agree with you that the city needs more homes that fit in between the 1500+ square foot single-family home and the 800 square foot condo. If that’s what you meant, then I wish you had made that more clear. And once again, I’m not forcing anything on anyone — I’m advocating loosening restrictions on zoning laws so that people can have the homes they want with the transit they want.

      4. It’s just not realistic to think a family of 4 is going to live in a 2-bedroom apartment in this country

        With you on that one. I have a two-year-old and we barely manage with three bedrooms, because we need an office, too. If we had another kid, it’d have to be a four-bedroom place, adn there are very few of those near TOD.

      5. I’m advocating loosening restrictions on zoning laws so that people can have the homes they want with the transit they want.

        No, you’re advocating loosening restrictions so that you can have what you want at a lower price. People generally buy into the type of neighborhood they want to live in and therefore oppose zoning that fundamentally changes the character of that neighborhood. Do try going to a neighborhood community club meeting sometime. The next BTCC General Meeting is at Cherry Crest Elementary School Library, 7 pm Mar. 17th. We’ll be discussing zoning changes to allow detached ADUs and the existing equestrian overlay.

        please [Geoff] stop forcing your housing preferences onto the rest of us. Talk about calling the kettle black! Nobody I know of is asking to tear down multi family housing and put in suburban style subdivisions yet you advocate up zoning established neighborhoods irregardless of what the existing residents want and paid for.

      6. With you on that one. I have a two-year-old and we barely manage with three bedrooms

        @Andrew and the358, certainly it’s nice to have the extra bedrooms but the idea that it’s “not realistic” defies the reality a lot of families are faced with in this country. I just don’t believe the answer is forced rezoning in an attempt to drive down housing values (which usually has the opposite effect anyway, i.e. gentrification). A large percentage of the people with more kids than bedrooms came to this country because the economic opportunity to live their dream (be it penthouse or estate) was better than where they came from. Our system, despite it’s flaws, still provides the best opportunity for this anywhere. Besides, I need the immigrant population to succeed to fund my Social Security :=

      7. OK, I’ll restate that: nobody with a family of 4 WANTS to be crammed into a 2-bedroom house. Some families do it because their income level forces them to, and of course it’s clearly better to live in a 2-bedroom apartment in Federal Way than it is to live in a shack in Bangladesh. But if we’re talking about reorienting people away from the single-family-home long-distance-commute-from-the-suburbs lifestyle, which I thought was your point, then the way to get THAT community to move into TOD is to build bigger condos with more bedrooms. You don’t have to convince that family from Bangladesh that a TOD lifestyle is a good idea, they’re already taking the bus because they can’t afford a gas-guzzling SUV. What you need to do is convince families that are adding to the carbon problem that they can have their cake (a large home in a nice, safe neighborhood) and eat it too (a healthy planet for their children).

      8. No, you’re advocating loosening restrictions so that you can have what you want at a lower price.

        Huh? I couldn’t care less on my own account about townhouses or midrise TOD far from the city center; I personally would never want live further out than Eastlake, or maybe Ballard when it gets light rail. Single-family zoning covers the majority of the residential area of Seattle and forces people like the ones on this thread to live in homes bigger than what they want that cannot be served efficiently by transit. That can be remedied at no cost to the taxpayer by liberalizing those laws a little.

        As usual in these debates, I’m not forcing my lifestyle on anyone; if anything our current laws subsidize lifestyles unlike mine.

      9. In the 1950s, middle-class families with children did live in the 2 BR apartments on Capitol Hill and Queen Anne. And two kids usually shared a room.

      10. Interesting that there’s a shortage of 3-bedrooms and larger in Seattle. This speaks to shortsightedness by developers more than anything else. There’s nothing preventing the construction of 3-bedroom condos or apartments, nothing whatsoever.

      11. There’s nothing preventing the construction of 3-bedroom condos or apartments, nothing whatsoever.

        Yes there is: parking requirements. The zoning rules are more or less:

        1 parking space for each unit with two or fewer bedrooms; 1.5 spaces for each unit with three bedrooms, plus 0.25 space for each bedroom in units with more than three bedrooms

        Build three-bed room units and you start getting on the hook for a LOT more parking spaces.

  9. Unfortunately meeting demand means incredible costs. Seattle is too expensive as it is. If things were more economical people would commute from reasonable distances and public transit might be beneficial to all.

  10. Why does each kid need their own room? Kids in the rest of the world don’t get that, and traditionally in the U.S. kids didn’t get their own room either. That’s what bunk beds are for!

    One room for the parents, and one room for the kids. Get them a bunk bed — it’s way more space efficient since most places have a ceiling high enough to support a bunk. Kids who get an entire room to themselves are spoiled and are not learning the very important skill of coexisting with people.

    Hell, my apartment has a bunk bed for my roommate, and I don’t have any kids.

    1. If you don’t have any kids, what are you doing giving adivice to parents of yound kids? What do you know about being a parent?

      1. There’s no shortage of parents that aren’t fit to raise a child. I think having been a kid gives you a certain perspective of what it’s like to share a room. I had my own room because my only sibling was a sister that was seven years younger but plenty of my friends shared rooms. BTW, Dr. Seuss and apparently Mr. Rodgers never had any children. I’d take their advise over Octo-Mom’s any day :=

      2. We’ve all *been* kids, and I think that gives everyone a little authority on the matter.

        Personally I think sharing a room builds character and teaches you that the world doesn’t revolve around keeping you in a little cocoon, and that you have to learn to share space with people, cooperate with them, and function as a member of society.

        I share a room to this day — with my friend/roommate. I make more than enough money to have the room to myself (roommate actually pays no rent and just takes care of housework), but this works better for everyone (I save time, roomie saves money).

        Only in this country do we seem to find the idea of a kid having their own room a necessity. It probably contributes to the antisocial character of our country.

      3. Sure kids can share rooms–but putting 4 people, including 2 little mess machines, into a 2-bedroom house is a recipe for an ulcer. Toddlers do not make very thoughtful roommates–they are slobs. They leave their toys everywhere and they throw a tantrum when it’s time to pick them up. And they NEVER do the dishes. 4 adults in a 2-bedroom place is doable if everyone is a reasonable human being, but 2 adults and 2 children is not great. Seriously, ask your friends with kids. I doubt any of them says, “Oh, I would NEVER want a bigger space. A room we could use as a play room for the kids, who needs that? I don’t mind their Thomas the Tank Engine set spewed all over the living room, it’s fun to step on their Duplos.”

        Again, the TOD we have no works great for someone who wants a 1 or 2-bedroom apartment. It doesn’t work for people who want/need something bigger. You can’t convince people to get out of a single family home and move into a TOD building unless you build condos for them with more bedrooms. Now, if we don’t care about convincing people to give up their single family homes, OK, keep building tiny apartments as our sole TOD. But I thought the point was to increase density, and to do that you’re going to HAVE to find a way to get people out of their single-family homes.

      4. I’m a parent of a 1-year-old living in a 3 BR apartment. The apartment is actually a little more space than we need, but it’s cheap (’cause it’s in a semi-bad neighborhood) and when my wife and I decide to have a second kid, we’ll be able to stay here if we choose to. Most parents I’ve talked to think the ideal is 1 BR for parents, 1 BR per kid, and some extra space somewhere for quiet work. This can be an extra BR, a large closet that can hold a small desk, a partitioned living room, etc.

        All that said, I’m tired of hearing people claim the market for 3BRs in Seattle is a missed opportunity for developers. 3BRs are a ton of new development in Seattle — they’re just all townhouses. Townhouses are much cheaper per square foot to develop, and buyers seem to be pretty happy with them based on the number that sell. And most of them are getting built in walkable neighborhoods near transit, so it’s not like lack of townhouses is undermining TOD.

      5. Oh, townhouses are filling the 3-bedroom niche in Seattle? Good, except for one thing.

        I bet you very few of those townhouses are wheelchair-accessible. If *any*. The classic design isn’t, and it wastes an awful lot of space on stairs.

        A rearrangement so that instead of three vertical houses you had three horizontal ones three times as wide, one on each floor, with one shared access elevator, would be an improvement. That’s usually done with a condo-style contract, however….

    2. Here’s the thing: suppose you have one room for the parents and one for the kids.

      This leaves no room for a home office and no room for the parents to get away from each other, unless the house or apartment has fairly substantial numbers of “common rooms”.

      Many urban constructions nowadays have a combined kitchen-dining room and no separate living room, meaning that 2 bedrooms equals three rooms TOTAL, not counting bathrooms. In an old-style Victorian with a separate kitchen, dining room, living room, drawing room, a library, etc. etc., you could be quite comfortable with 2 bedrooms. This would likely be advertised as a 4-bedroom or 5-bedroom nowadays.

      In a modern building with very few purpose-built common spaces, you are very likely to need to use one of the bedrooms for a home office, den, playroom, etc. Which means you want more than 2 bedrooms even if you only sleep in 2. I discovered this when house-shopping, though I eventually settled for a 2-bedroom, it would *not* be enough if I had a kid. Of course I am self-employed and *need* that home office.

  11. Even if what you are saying is true (and boy, this one is a real stretch), that proximity to transit increases real estate values, then I ask — why in the world would a taxpayer not near transit, or using transit, want to fund a system that causes a disparity benefiting someone else way away from him, and causing him a loss?!

    1. John, it seems I wasn’t entirely clear. First, I linked to about several serious studies, two of them summaries of other studies, that pretty convincingly demonstrate that based on available data housing near transit is worth more than housing not near transit. So I don’t know how it’s a stretch, unless you think statistics, regression analysis and housing sales data are nonsense.

      Second, increasing someone’s property value doesn’t cause anyone else a loss. If your neighbour puts a pool in his backyard, finishes his basement, puts a solar panel on the roof, etc. his house just went up in value but your house is worth every penny it was worth before, maybe more…

      1. Looking at the two links to Portland’s MAX it points out what has been brought up here before. Too close to the station (200′ – 100m) and prices drop. What isn’t mentioned is how this effect plays out along the length of the line between stations. I’m pretty sure for example living near or under the tracks in Tukwila is a negative for property values. Near stations the increase in property values max just outside the “too close” boundary. In the Parsons Brinckerhoff summary they put this in a real dollar amount of $2,300 (1999) which is in line with other premiums typically associated with real esate (view, corner lot, etc.). I could only find market data back to 2001 when the median home price in Gresham was $159k so say the median was $150k at the time of the study (consistent with the trend line) the increased value percentage wise is 1.5%. 30% is more in line with the premium for waterfront. Fast forward to Seattle, a premium on a $400k home would be about $6k or $35/mo on the mortgage. Double the numbers for an $800k home.

      2. “Too close to the station (200′ – 100m) and prices drop”

        That’s because that should be, by rights, commercial space. How do prices change for *commercial* space that close to the station? Betcha they go up.

  12. @The358

    My wife and I have a 2 year old and 4 year old and they share a bedroom. Yes they’re messy, but we make cleaning up part of the daily routine (for everyone not just us). Before my younger son was born I worried about this but in fact not only is it not a headache, the kids actually enjoy rooming together. My point is the 1 bedroom per kid standard is not actually necessary. In fact, you only have to look back a generation or two to see when it was the exception rather than the rule and people adapted fine.

    I’d actually argue with small kids having enough indoor/outdoor spaces within close proximity to relieve boredom/cabin fever is more important than the bedroom ratio.


  13. It’s well known that housing is more expensive in Seattle than in the suburbs. You either have a smaller house/lot/apartment or you pay more. There are a lot of reasons for living in the City. A big one is usually proximity to employment. But that doesn’t explain upscale choices of people living on Capital Hill and other chic neighborhoods and commuting to Redmond and Bellevue (the “reverse commute” is as bad or worse on 520). For a good number access to transit is important. But only about 18% actually use it even though all of Seattle is pretty well covered. So much so that I couldn’t really find comparables where one had transit access and the other didn’t. I had to pan out to Bothell to do this. Obviously transit as a priority isn’t going to be as big for folks in Bothell as in Seattle (I’d guess maybe similar numbers as Bellevue, 9%?). I pulled up six parcels on the King County website; 3 on 155th served by MT 234 and three on 165th NE (#20003–No stops within walking distance of origin). All lots were between 9,000 and 10,000 sq ft. I looked only at the property assessment since house size, age, condition varied. In every case the parcels on 155th were assessed $12,000 less. Besides the bus (which doesn’t show on the property survey the only difference was that all were flagged under Nuisances as Traffic Noise MODERATE. A block off of 155th on a col du sac the land values were the same as 165th. Now, the reason bus service doesn’t appear to add value may just be because this bus service is so crappy it’s not worth anything (1 hr to downtown including a 15 min wait to transfer to the 522). That would also mean similar service in Seattle would be just about as worthless. There’s plenty wrong with this “study”. Small sample size, property assessments notoriously waffle on value of land vs improvements, etc. But I’m going to make the bold statement that access to transit is not in it’s self sufficient to increase property value. I’m also lead to believe that instead of purely a sales tax Metro should be funded by property taxes that assess the value of the service provided.

    1. But I’m going to make the bold statement that access to transit is not in it’s self sufficient to increase property value.

      It depends (among many other things) on the mode and quality of the transit, the characteristics and culture of the area, and the price of gas both at the present time and in the recent past. Hourly daytime local bus service isn’t worth much to anyone, and ideally I think routes should almost never exist at that frequency; they’re generally not worth the diesel they burn.

      Even at higher frequencies, busses can be rerouted or abolished on short notice. I wouldn’t allow the existence of a bus line to affect my decision to buy a place unless it was a high-ridership arterial route that’s never going to be abolished (unless to make way for an improvement.) Busses like the 1-4, 5, 7, 44, 48 and any of the RapidRide routes are like that. I would definitely consider the presence of a streetcar or nearby light rail station a major asset, because that’s a high-profile investment that the city (or whoever) is not going to walk away from. That factor is fairly unique to rail, and a large part of the basis for my support for that mode.

      Finally, different areas have differing prexisting characters. People looking to buy in Columbia City (even if they’re specifically interested in single-family homes and nothing else) obviously aren’t looking for a multi-acre spread, whereas those in Woodinville might be. The former have presumably made a conscious decision to trade private space for access to public space, which suggests a heightened openness to and interest in transit.

      Many of the barriers to transit use are cultural in my view. I’ve met people from Woodinville who were only dimly aware of the existence of the 522; I knew far more about their bus service than them (even before I started reading STB.) Even though their commute patterns would work with the 522 and probably save them money at minimal cost in time and inconvenience, they (I surmise) just don’t think of themselves as people who might ride a bus.

      I’m going to make my italic statement be that the presence of a rail station at a convenient distance from a given dwelling is an asset to the vast majority of potential buyers in the places were Link or streetcars currently go or are proposed to go. But the general case is, well, too general to generalize about, except for that generality.

      I’m also lead to believe that instead of purely a sales tax Metro should be funded by property taxes that assess the value of the service provided.

      Agree entirely.

      1. Hourly daytime local bus service isn’t worth much to anyone, and ideally I think routes should almost never exist

        That’s a big chunk of the eastside. Perhaps keep the routes but only run during peak hours at no worse than 30 min headway. Greater compression and 15-20 minute headways might be even better on routes that most likely involve a transfer.

        a streetcar or nearby light rail station [is] a major asset, because that’s a high-profile investment that the city (or whoever) is not going to walk away from.

        I add transit centers and major P&R lots. Certainly something like Kingsgate has much more “permanence” than say Wilburton or Houghton. But then you’re tied to a freeway which most people would prefer not to live next to. Although the residential west of Kingsgate is pretty shielded geographically. Woodinville P&R is bordered by a lot of apartments but it seems most of the ridership is from those that drive there. Strange since those apartments are walking distance to two grocery stores, a movie theater, target, restaurants and other shopping. Maybe if Good Time Charlies hadn’t shut down :=

Comments are closed.