Pride of place—How builders shape their communities

Many Americans find themselves forced to make big sacrifices to own a home. What can builders and developers do to make more homes affordable for more people?
Creating more affordable single-family homes requires some creative solutions. (Photo: Liderina,

Over 82% of owner-occupied homes in 2017 were single-family detached homes, according to the American Community Survey. The National Association of Realtors found that 60% of families with school-age children and 63% of millennials with school-age children prefer “conventional suburban communities” with large yards.

We know that Americans want to live in single-family homes, but as housing affordability has strained buyers’ bank accounts, some consumers have been forced to consider other options. Some have turned to renting instead of buying (see our feature, The Rise of the Renter,” in the Winter 2019 issue or on, but those who want to own their home may be frustrated by what feels like slim pickings. 

“There’s tremendous pent-up demand in that lower- and mid-income range. There’s kind of a double whammy because rents have been so high that people have struggled to save for down payments, but so many people [are] looking to move from renting to owning,” according to Willa Williford, a land use and affordable housing consultant based in Crested Butte.

“When we survey local employees and residents and we ask about preferences, single-family homes are almost always people’s first choice,” Williford continued. “Where I think there’s a lot of struggle in the affordable [housing] environment right now are high construction and labor costs.”

[Related: Green homes can be affordable homes]

Multifamily is the most common construction for affordable housing, and it’s easy to see why. With a relatively small footprint, communities can create a lot of inventory while minimizing one of the most expensive elements of new construction: land.

Creating more affordable single-family homes requires some creative solutions.

“Sometimes I’m seeing builders responding with trying to do more townhouse or duplex product, where it can still be described as single-family, but some of the costs are reduced,” she noted. Other approaches involve public-private partnerships to bring down the costs of land or infrastructure.

“I see a lot of communities doing land inventory work around our municipal, county or school districts, institutions like hospitals or the water and sanitation district, or even the large public and quasi-public players who may have resources that can support housing, but who haven’t traditionally been in the housing business,” she said.

Danielle Andrus

Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.

Danielle Andrus has 343 posts and counting. See all posts by Danielle Andrus

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