As the Housing Market Rebounds, Sprawl is Poised to Come With It

A new report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies released this week claims that sprawl is poised to make a comeback after a pause driven by the recession, and not lasting changes in lifestyle choice, reports Robbie Whelan.
June 15, 2012, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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We've already seen the stirrings of the moribund housing market's revival causing an increase in home sizes. So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that, rejecting optimism about a new normal of shrinking home sizes, the crux of the annual "State of the Nation's Housing" [PDF] report states that, "The current pause in exurban housing development has more to do with cooling demand caused by the downturn than with a major change in lifestyle choices."

"What drives people to buy those homes is a combination of price and the type of house they're looking for," says Chris Herbert, the center's director of research. "This is not a fundamental shift in trends. It's more a reflection of how the recession has shifted people's behavior."

People that are now "frozen in place" by the effects of the recession, "will likely continue to move to where the space is: the suburbs, and even more so, the exurbs," once the market returns to "normal" strength, says the report.

"How much new housing will we need when household growth gets back to normal and vacancies start to clear? About 1.6 million units a year," Mr. Herbert says. "That's a lot of housing to squeeze into the existing urban and suburban infrastructure."

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Published on Thursday, June 14, 2012 in The Wall Street Journal
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