What does Stockton want? Walkable housing! How much of it do we want? Enough to satisfy market demand!

Last week, The Record’s Alex Breitler brought up a very important question on his blog. While participating in an SJCOG survey on the future of growth in the region (which you can access here), Breitler noticed that while a strong majority of participants felt that new development should be built “within existing cities,” an equally strong majority preferred to live in either a “rural ranchette” or a “conventional family home.” Naturally, this begs the question: If a majority of people prefer suburban style housing, should we bother with infill, such as apartments, condos or townhomes?

Most people prefer single family houses, and that’s to be expected. But this is not an either/or argument; while not a majority, there is a significant section of the population that does want townhomes, apartments and condos, especially in walkable areas. Unfortunately, the preferences of these consumers have been woefully ignored in Stockton and the Central Valley, while we have already built enough suburban-style single family houses to last us until 2050. Moreover, not all infill need be attached housing. Single-family homes can be built (or rehabbed) within existing cities, too. So to answer the question: Yes, if we build apartments, lofts, and townhomes in walkable areas, people will live in them. Let me explain why we should be encouraging and supporting infill and walkable neighborhoods, and explain why this is not a zero-sum decision.

There is already enough single-family housing to meet demand through 2050, according to recent market research

There is already enough single-family housing to meet demand through 2050, according to recent market research

Supply of single-family homes already equals the demand

Breitler notes that 63% of people surveyed in his group preferred suburban style housing, which is actually right on par with other data regarding housing preferences of valley residents. As I have written before, most people in the Central Valley say they would live in a “detached, single-family house.” 63%, to be exact, which is nearly identical to the national percentage (62%).

While it is absolutely true that nearly two thirds of Central Valley residents say they want a single-family house, concluding that all new construction should be of the suburban variety and none of it should be infill would be foolhardy. When you look at the housing that is already available, it turns out that the Central Valley already has enough single-family housing to meet demand far into the future (not to mention the tens of thousands of single family units the city approved before the real estate crash that are still on the drawing board). As I have pointed out before, analysis on existing housing stock and market demand projections indicate that the region’s current supply of single-family homes is already sufficient to meet demand until 2050. In other words, if we didn’t build a single single-family home in the next 40 years, there would technically be enough single-family housing already in existence to meet future demand. Does this mean we shouldn’t build more single-family housing? Not necessarily. People will certainly buy new homes if they are built (and they can afford them). Instead, I bring up this analysis to show how lopsided development has been in recent decades.

On the other end of the spectrum, the smaller (but growing) proportion of residents wanting more infill-type development have been woefully underserved. Today, 35% of valley residents prefer some sort of attached housing, though these housing types make up just 29% of the market. Moreover, this 29% includes duplexes and triplexes in areas of high poverty (as they were designed to be), meaning the actual stock of desirable, market rate attached housing is dramatically lower than 29%. The main takeaway here is that development in the Central Valley is incredibly disproportionate to market demands, and just because a majority of people prefer larger homes doesn’t mean that there is no demand for attached housing in walkable neighborhoods.

Source: 2008-2009 Waterfront and Fremont Park Neighborhood Master Plan

There’s no market for attached housing in walkable communities, like this one? Are you sure? (Source: 2008-2009 Waterfront and Fremont Park Neighborhood Master Plan)

On a more qualitative note, I have the privilege of seeing how people are refereed to this blog and what search terms they are using. I can tell you that one of the main searches that brings people to SCL are phrases such as “Downtown Stockton condos” or “Stockton lofts” or “University Lofts housing.” Clearly, there are people out there who are looking for a different lifestyle than what most new development provides in Stockton. (sidenote: I also get a lot of traffic from people searching for the operating hours of the Trinity Parkway Wal-Mart)

People want communities, not just homes

The questions regarding housing types in the SJCOG survey are asked in a vacuum, when in reality, we are never just buying a house or renting an apartment, we are moving into a whole community. If a townhome, apartment, or condo is just as car-dependent as a single family house, people will invariably choose the single family house. Case in point, If I was asked to live in either a Spanos home in Glen Oaks– a subdivision comprised entirely of townhome-type houses– or a home across the street in a conventional Spanos neighborhood, I would probably pick the bigger house across the street. What’s the point of a townhome if I still have to drive everywhere? The point behind a “townhome” is that it’s supposed to be in the “town” where you can easily access goods and services. A townhome in a sprawling subdivision is not nearly as enticing as a townhome within walking distance to shops, restaurants, bars, parks and jobs. When we query consumers on their housing preferences, we also need to take into consideration the surrounding neighborhoods and what they provide, which brings me to my next point.

You can have single family homes in walkable areas, too

My last point is that just because someone wants a single-family house doesn’t mean they automatically want sprawl. Single family homes can be built within existing city limits, too (or better yet, rehabbed!), and can be just as walkable as apartments. In fact, I would say that I would prefer a single family house in Stockton over any condo that is currently available. Why? Because there are areas in Stockton where you can have a beautiful, unique single-family home in a walkable area, such as near the Miracle Mile. As people grow older and start having families, life in apartments and townhomes becomes cramped, and larger accommodations are necessary. But a need for

Single-family homes don’t have to be bland and car-dependent. Like this stately home within walking distance to shops, restaurants and stores (via stocktonmiraclemile.com)

more space does not necessarily translate into a move to the suburbs. In fact, 56% of home buyers prefer homes in smart growth neighborhoods, according to the National Association of Realtors. Even in car-dependent Stockton, buyers are willing to pay more for homes that are in walkable areas. Still not convinced? Simply Google “walkable housing” and you’ll be inundated by articles from all over the country explaining how walkability is driving the housing market. When I have kids, I probably wouldn’t want to live in a condo, but I certainly wouldn’t raise my family in a car-dependent development, either. There is a place for all housing types, but we can all agree that everyone should have the option of living in a walkable community, no matter their housing preference.

In conclusion: Yes, there is a significant portion of the population that would take advantage of well-designed attached housing in desirable, walkable neighborhoods. And just because more people want single-family housing, we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the only way to meet this demand is to rely exclusively on greenfield, car-dependent development. Also, what’s a rural ranchette, anyways?

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Categories: Smart Growth

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

5 Comments on “What does Stockton want? Walkable housing! How much of it do we want? Enough to satisfy market demand!”

  1. Jon Seisa
    August 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    If I were to design a community, 75% of the cul-de-sac street surface could be dramatically eliminated by merely deleting all garages from the single-family housing designs and a central neighborhood subterranean security parking garage designed with a park, community recreational center, pool and plaza on top, and that extra 75% land formerly used for streets, gutters and sidewalks could be earmarked and allotted for more open useable recreational greenbelts, putting greens, picnic groves and aesthetical landscaping and gardens, having integrated biking, jogging and strolling trails, and right of way access for a community electric Smartcar-type taxi or small golf-cart-type tram between homes and the central parking garage.

    • David Garcia
      August 9, 2013 at 7:02 am #

      Interesting concept, has this been done elsewhere? Underground parking is expensive, but it would be great to save as much ground-level space as possible. A parking lot is really not an economically efficient use of land, but if it is below ground, then you can build things above that generate real revenue or add value (such as a park, as you suggest).

      • Jon Seisa
        August 10, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

        Well, conceptually, indeed, these concepts have been around since the 1970’s and explored theoretically. Here is a sample of “carfree cities” from J.H. Crawford’s site “Carfree Cities”. He is a multi-talented design disciple of architect Christopher Alexander, author of “A Pattern Language” who first explored the theoretical basis for understanding the popularity of partially carfree communities such as Harbour Town. He began thinking about the urban form in the context of Alexander’s patterns and soon realized that high-quality urban life was impossible while cars still ruled the streets and occupied so much land.

        The reality is people’s lifestyle paradigms needs to be adjusted to make this possible, and also the paradigms of all involved in building communities and cities and perceptions on all facets of city structure and mobility, including movement of cargo and goods. Aspects of Alexander’s principles were adopted and put into practice by Oregon. I think the process needs to start small, via districts and what I call “cloisturbs” of self contained efficient communities, like a molecular cell within a larger collective body and amongst other molecular cells (cloisturbs).

        To some extent some singular developments have explored aspects of this, like the designs of the Leisure World retirement communities, where cars are left at central parking locations and lush greenbelts with pathways lead to the various residential units.

        IMAGE OF CARFREE CITY: http://www.carfree.com/draw/lobe97_big.html

        MAIN CARFREE CITIES SITE: http://www.carfree.com/

        Click on the following topics on the site, Topology, Districts and Blocks.

        “A PATTERN LANGUAGE: Towns, Buildings, Construction” (1977) by Christopher Alexander: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Pattern_Language

  2. August 19, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    sorry but if market demands were true then people would be movinginto the cities willingly and this itself would determine how many of these communities are built, but there are many who would circumvent free will and force people to have to live there by economic means (increased taxes, heavy private property regulation, easements and the like) if people truly wanted to live there, there would be no need for forcing the building of such places the free open market would take care of it, demands based on this free market determine what is built and developed the minute gov is involved (local in this case) in creating the demand by stealth (hence regulations, penalities permits and the like) the free market is gone, if people want a community living more then just a house they will take it upon themselves to rent or live in those places (where naturally others of the same mind set will eventually go)and make their own way without outside help. And what do you mean about people’s lifestyle paradigm needs to be adjusted? do you mean forcing people to change it via economic or regulatory means? so do you agree people have a right to force other people with different opinions into a position that would circumvent their free will? would you want someone to do that to you? then why would you want it done to someone else?


  1. Not an ‘either-or’ - August 8, 2013

    […] a new post today, Stockton City Limits addresses the “infill paradox” that I brought up last week. That is, the concept that […]

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