Myths & Facts About Housing Density

Myth #1 – People don’t like living in ‘dense’ housing.

Fact: In a recent study by the National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America, six in ten prospective homebuyers, when asked to choose between two communities, chose the neighborhood that offered a shorter commute, sidewalks, and amenities like shops, restaurants, libraries, schools and public transportation within walking distance. They preferred this option over the one with longer commutes and larger lots but limited options for walking. The 2001 American Housing Survey further reveals that respondents cited proximity to work more often than unit type as the leading factor in housing choice. Such contradictions point to widespread misconceptions about the nature of higher-density development and sprawl.

Myth #2 – Higher-density development overburdens public schools and public services and requires more infrastructure support systems.

Fact: The nature of who lives in higher-density housing –fewer families with children – puts less demand on schools and other public services than low-density housing. Moreover, the compact nature of higher-density housing development requires less extensive infrastructure to support.

Myth #3 – Higher density housing only creates more regional traffic and parking congestion.

Fact: A 2004 report by the Federal Transportation Administration looked at several urban areas practicing what’s known as ‘Transit Oriented Development and found: “More recent research has confirmed that those living in compact, transit-accessible locations tend to own fewer automobiles and log fewer vehicle miles travel per year…A doubling of residential density was found to reduce household automobile ownership and VMT per capita in the 32% to 43% range.” Higher-density development makes walking and public transit more feasible and creates opportunities for shared parking.

Myth #4 – Higher density housing lowers the value of surrounding properties.

Fact: No discernible difference exists in the appreciation rate of properties located near higher-density development and those that are not. Some research even shows that higher-density development can increase property values.

Myth #5 – Higher-density development leads to higher crime rates.

Fact: The crime rates at higher density developments and not significantly different from those at lower-density developments. There are many instances where crime rates in mixed-use higher-density development actually fall, compared to non-residential commercial developments, because there are “eyes on the streets” potentially around the clock.

Myth # 6 – Higher-density development is environmentally more destructive than lower-density development.

Fact: Low density development increases air and water pollution and destroys more natural areas by paving and urbanizing greater swaths of land.

Myth # 7 – Higher-density development is unattractive and does not fit in a low-density community.

Fact: Attractive, well-designed, and well-maintained higher-density development attracts good residents and tenants and fits into existing communities. There are already many good examples of higher-density housing in Santa Barbara and other local communities, built as long as 50 or more years ago, in the same neighborhoods with lower-density housing.

Myth # 8 – Higher-density housing is only for lower-income households.

Fact: People of all income groups are choosing higher-density housing in increasing numbers, especially in areas with higher than average real estate.

Myth # 9 – The South Coast does not have a jobs/housing imbalance.

Fact: Wrong. From 1980 through 2000, while the South Coast jobs increased by 18,568, housing stock only increased by 8,100. An accepted figure used in such calculations is that every 1.5 jobs require one additional residence. An increase of 18,568 jobs, if those workers would have been housed regionally, should have produced 12,378 dwellings – therefore, the South Coast housing deficit over that 20 year period is 4,278 homes. The imbalance has only grown since 2000.