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New Data on the Shift to Cities

It's no secret that urban centers are doing better today than they were 30 years ago. New FHFA data on housing prices confirms the trend and suggests that a changing environment (as opposed to changing preferences) account for it.
July 6, 2016, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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La Citta Vita

Chances are you already know about the "urban renaissance" currently sweeping the United States. "Downtown boosters and academics have argued that we're witnessing an urban revival in the United States. But there remains deep debate over how widespread the pattern really is and whether it points to a fundamental shift in where and how Americans live." 

Emily Badger and Darla Cameron cover a new home price index from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, "based on unprecedented mortgage data covering 18,000 zip codes and nearly 100 million transactions between 1975 and 2015" that gauges how homes appreciate and depreciate in value. 

The index confirms that central areas have indeed become more desirable and expensive. The researchers also point to patterns suggesting that consumer preferences (such as a supposed millennial proclivity for the city) do not account for the change. "'Data suggests that you don't need changing preferences in order to arrive at the patterns we see,' [senior economist William D. Larson] says."

"The traffic got worse. The crime lessened. The amenities improved. And at least some people have accrued more wealth to spend on high-end restaurants. In many ways, it's the environment that has changed, not us, Larson argues." 

The data also shows that alongside an urban price renaissance, suburbs and exurbs are still growing even faster. The demographics, however, are shifting: wealthier and whiter in the cities, more people of color in the suburbs.  

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Published on Monday, June 27, 2016 in The Washington Post
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