Baby Boomer Time Warps

Feb 24, 2014

Columbus, Ohio is a convenient microcosm of the United States as a whole. Demographically, Columbus closely resembles America. Thus, the city has a lot to teach us about where the average American city is headed. Urban affairs researcher Arthur C. Nelson recently took a look at Columbus as part of a report for the National Resources Defense Council. He found that the city is on course for “sweeping demographic changes” that could transform the housing market.

He says that new households will look a lot different than today’s in that new households will be older and much more likely to be childless than current households.

There will be important changes between 2010 and 2040, and the next generation of demand for homes may be driven by different and emerging preferences. Analysis of the National Association of Realtors’ 2013 state-preference survey indicates that:

  • The next wave of demand will be households with residents 65 and older. These householders have mostly empty-nested and are in the downsizing phase of their life cycle. Between 2010 and 2030, their number will grow by more than 120,000 households.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, households in their peak housing demand years (with residents between 35 and 64 who want larger homes on larger lots) accounted for 78 percent of the growth in housing demand. But from 2010 to 2030, that same group will account for just 22 percent of the growth in housing demand.
  • From 1990 to 2010, downsizing households (with residents 65 and older who want smaller homes on smaller lots or attached options) made up 19 percent of new housing demand, but over the next 20 years they will account for 56 percent of the demand share.
  • Between 2010 and 2040, households with children will make up about one-fourth of the total household change.
  • About 56 percent of respondents would prefer to live in a mixed-use community offering a variety of housing choices, walkable destinations, and other features. No more than one in five households in Ohio has this option now.

Unfortunately, planning in the Columbus region suffers from what Nelson calls a “baby boom time warp.”

“For the past half-century, housing demands in the Columbus MSA (the Metropolitan Statistical Area located in the geographic center of Ohio and home to nearly 2 million people) was driven by baby boomers’ parents who wanted to raise their children in suburban, single-family, detached homes on larger lots, and then boomers themselves as they became parents,” he writes.

In order to be prepared for the changes expected in the next 30 years, Nelson recommends that Columbus “rethinks its transportation investments” and “invest in a modern regional transit system.”

While Columbus may be stuck in a baby boomer time warp, Denver is showing sure signs that urbanized suburbs are the future. Urbanized suburbs are the growing trend for suburbs to be redesigned and redeveloped to be more people oriented than automobile dependent, offering more options for walking, cycling, or using public transit to get from one place to another. Denver is responding to this trend not only with the FasTracks project, but also through spreading revitalization into older ring suburbs, with areas such as Golden, Arvada, Lakewood, and Wheat Ridge focusing on creating more walkable and higher-density neighborhoods. Be sure to check out and follow us on Tumblr where we blog about these kinds of topics and others that affect our real estate market.

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