Rarely are the evils of McMansions and apartment complexes joined together but one observer in Charlotte suggests this is exactly the case:
As a 20-year resident of Charlotte, I’ve long observed that shoehorning apartment complexes and oversized homes in and around uptown does not prevent sprawl. Apartment complexes and McMansions are popping up like mushrooms in our historic uptown neighborhoods, yet sprawl has accelerated.
I strongly suspect we’re being sold a bill of goods by elected officials who are firmly under the thumbs of developers. Developers need us to believe they’re doing something for the greater good so we’ll allow them to destroy the character and design of our historic neighborhoods.
At first glance, these are two very different kinds of development. Apartments bring density and certain kinds of residents (whether lower-status residents in the eyes of neighbors or wealthy renters who are gentrifying places). They may include tall buildings or a lot of buildings. In contrast, McMansions are large ostentatious homes that may be teardowns (replacing smaller, older homes). They may not loom over surrounding area like apartments and generally McMansion residents are well off but the change in housing unit may be just as stark.
What appears to be the common thread of concern from this one resident is that both kinds of development are different than what is currently there. If I had to guess, these “historic uptown neighborhoods” are filled with well-kept, single-family homes with decent sized lots built decades ago. Both the McMansions and apartments, in their own ways, present very different kinds of structures. The same concerns might be leveled against an ultra-modernist home or a block of row houses: they are not like what is already in the neighborhood.
Often, McMansions or apartments are restricted to areas of similar structures. This is typically the purpose of zoning: keeping single-family homes away from land uses that residents fear might disturb the neighborhood’s character, and, ultimately, their property values. When developers or local officials start mixing uses, particularly in established areas, this may not go well at the beginning.
The pace of apartment construction is at the highest in the Chicago region since 2004:
Rental construction reached its highest level in more than a decade last year in the Chicago suburbs, and 2018 is shaping up as another busy year. More than 4,200 units were completed in 2017, and about 3,900 more units are projected for this year, according to data from Marcus & Millichap and MPF Research…
The rental resurgence is the result of several factors, including a rising disparity between suburban and downtown rents, pent-up demand after little new construction over the past decade, and declining home ownership, industry experts say…
Unlike downtown Chicago, where much of the development is clustered together, many suburban projects are miles from another new development, meaning they face minimal competition for new renters…
“Now, with condo development just about going away, you’re seeing towns and cities giving building permits to apartment projects they wouldn’t have considered a few years ago. Also, I think apartments have lost some of their stigma because now they’re so damn nice.”
Three quick thoughts:
- While this may be an increase in apartment units, this is still behind the construction of single-family homes. For example, the Chicago region had 6,000+ new housing starts for single-family homes in 2016.
- It is interesting to note where the apartments are being built: probably in desirable communities (relatively wealthy, close to jobs and amenities) and often in downtown areas (this is cited in this same article). To flip this around, apartments are not desired everywhere or by all suburban communities.
- Will the trend toward apartments in the suburbs continue to increase? This might be a correction to a lack of apartment construction in the last decade or it might represent an enduring change as suburban residents desire more rental units.
Overall, apartments in the suburbs are relatively unique compared to the overwhelming preference for owner-occupied units. Thus, the numbers regarding apartment construction in the suburbs bears watching.
If you have the resources, you have some options in shopping for a nice new apartment including a building musician:
Amenities for high rise buildings are generally culled from a well-honed list of known popular offerings—a lounge, gym, a pool, an outdoor deck, and grilling stations wouldn’t really lead anyone to blink an eyelash. Being LEED certified is often expected.
At the 34-story, 298-unit Exhibit on Superior, amenities for the studio, convertible, and 1 to 3-bedroom units include those, as well as keyless entry with smartphone integration, stainless steel appliances, in-unit washer and dryer and more. Quite nice—but the downtown luxury apartment market glut has led to an arms race to attract new residents and keep rents from being slashed.
And even though the price point is comparably lower (and the floor plans are comparably smaller) than other neighborhood offerings to attract a younger demographic, developer Magellan Development Group and MAC Management wanted to bring some artistry and magic to their building (and to their other properties, if this catches on). Here’s the idea.
A contest is open for the best acoustic guitarist and vocalist to live and play for one year at Exhibit on Superior. The winning musician gets free rent at an unfurnished studio for a year, the title of Musician in Residence, and the chance to hone their skills while playing against any number of cool nooks and spaces in the bKL Architecture-designed building. The residents get in-house live entertainment and bragging rights to live in a building with the first so-called Exhibit A-Lister.
My first thought was that sounds like the arms race among colleges to provide amenities for prospective students ranging from excellent food, state of the art gyms, and private and luxurious dorms. Then it hit me: these luxury apartment buildings may be going after that same demographic: college graduates who want the excitement of the city. If we could narrow it even more, perhaps they are employed in a creative industry or field.
After thinking this through a bit, it is clever to pair residential real estate with music. We might expect something like this in commercial spaces or privately-owned property that is trying to operate like public space (perhaps a park like area outside a major office building). But, this continues the trend of some of the other “weapons” in this residential arms race: providing building amenities that encourage sociability while simultaneously offering well-appointed private units. Let’s hope all the residents like the acoustic guitar scene…
The construction of apartments in the Chicago suburbs reached some high marks in 2016:
Meanwhile, in the suburbs, more apartments were opened last year than in any time in the past 20 years and demand for those units meant suburban rents grew more than the increases downtown, according to research by Appraisal Research Counselors…
The rents in new or almost-new units in the suburbs increased 6.7 percent in 2016, while they increased just 2.85 percent downtown, according to Appraisal Research. The median rent was just $1.39 per square foot in the suburbs in 2016, while downtown it was $2.89 a square foot for space in a newer building. In other words, for 1,000 square feet a renter would pay on average $1,390 in the suburbs and $2,890 for one of the new downtown apartments. An older but well-kept Class B building downtown would be $2.52 a square foot, or $2,520 for 1,000 square feet…
The strongest occupancy in 2016 was in DuPage County, with 95.7 percent of the apartments full and the median price of a two-bedroom apartment at $1,315. Northwest Cook County was 95.4 percent full with a two-bedroom apartment averaging $1,390. The weakest area was the North Shore at 93.8 percent occupancy and a two-bedroom apartment at $2,446…
“From Schaumburg to Naperville, you are starting to see new construction,” said Stephen Rappin, president of the Chicagoland Apartment Association. It’s a trend that’s occurring nationally after the surge of construction in downtown areas.
This is where the debate between whether cities are growing or suburbs will win the day breaks down. What if the American future is denser suburban development and a shift away from single-family home ownership even as people stay in the suburbs? This would represent a change from “typical” suburban life – single-family home, lawn, lots of private space – while better mimicking some urban conditions such as denser housing, renting, and giving up a home to be near certain amenities.
As this article suggests, it is not surprising that the suburban apartment demand would be high in places with more economic and quality of life opportunities, places like Schaumburg and Naperville that have little greenfield space but where people would still want to live. Just like Chicago where apartment construction has boomed in the Loop but lagged elsewhere, a similar process will likely take place in the suburbs. This may be good for developers since there will be high demand for certain places but isn’t necessarily good for aiding issues of affordable housing.
A new study finds there are too many parking spots for Chicago apartments:
A single underground parking space can cost $37,000 or more to build, Smith said. Developers in Chicago are generally required to build one parking space for every apartment unit, which has led to a gap between supply and demand, and a fixed cost that is passed on to renters, he said…
As part of its yearlong study, Smith and two colleagues visited 40 residential parking facilities in the middle of the night last summer to survey occupancy. The properties ran the gamut from affordable to luxury rental apartments in Chicago and suburban Cook County and included some older buildings that predated the parking requirements ordinance. The research team discovered lots of open spaces.
On average, the buildings supplied .61 parking spaces for every unit, but used only .34 spaces per unit. Adjusted for occupancy — vacant apartments that don’t need parking — the lots were about two-thirds full, according to the report…
In the suburbs, where public transit is less accessible and car travel is a way of life, municipalities often require developers to provide more than one parking space per apartment unit. The study found the parking oversupply extends to the suburbs as well.
As Americans drove more – even in cities – local officials tried to keep up by building roads and highways, planning communities around automobiles, and writing regulations that provided plenty of parking. All those giant parking lots outside of big box stores or shopping malls are the result of planning for once-a-year parking needs while the rest of the year those lots sit empty, look ugly, and contribute to water runoff issues.
But, what happens if driving habits change? Or, planning as a field changes from emphasizing cars to greener options? As the article notes, Chicago has changed regulations for new apartment developments near mass transit. This seems like a win-win for developers: they have to devote less space for parking which can then go toward units and this may even drive up the price of the parking they do build because there is a tighter supply. At the same time, I wonder if this appeals to certain urban homeowners – particularly younger residents rather than all those Baby Boomers supposedly moving to cities – and not others.
A new study of the 11 biggest American cities finds that an increasing number of suburbanites rent:
About 29 percent of suburbanites living outside the nation’s 11 most populous cities were renters in 2014, up from 23 percent in 2006, according to a report released Tuesday by New York University’s Furman Center real estate think tank and the bank Capital One.
The finances of home ownership since the mortgage meltdown might be a lead reason for the change, but the cost of renting also is rising in most of the biggest metropolitan areas, the study found…
Traditionally, suburbs have not been very open to renters, particularly when it comes to apartments. The stereotypes of renters are that they care less about the community, they are more transient, and that their dwellings drive down housing values. But, two major things changed that could contribute to the effects of the economic crisis:
- What if more new renters are renting single-family homes rather than apartments? The same stereotypes regarding renters might still apply but these renters are not as easy to spot and look like they are living the suburban dream of homeownership. Plus, isn’t having renters in single-family home preferable to all the vacant homes due to foreclosures?
- There are more suburbs than people often think that don’t look like wealthy bedroom communities. In other words, these renters might be clustered in particular communities where housing is cheaper and apartments are more plentiful but renting in wealthier suburbs may not have changed much.
It will be interesting to see how suburban communities respond to the uptick in renters. New regulations? Reconsideration of how renters should be viewed?
See what happens when peregrine falcons take over an city apartment balcony:
It all started four years ago, when the birds began dropping by the building’s balconies early each spring. In April 2014, the couple got pretty cozy on Dacey Arashiba’s terrace. Arashiba, an I.T. consultant, was delighted, but his neighbors, put off by the birds’ loud noises and poop, complained. “My building manager told me the birds had to go. Maintenance staff shooed them off the balcony,” Arashiba says. “And that was it. For a while.”
But in June, the birds came back. A week later, the pair had laid three eggs in Arashiba’s flowerbox (“I am an occasional, lazy gardener and hadn’t replenished the dirt in a few years,” he admits.)
Now on the offensive, Arashiba called Mary Hennen, director of the Chicago Peregrine Program, who told him that falcons are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (and had previously been on the state and federal endangered species lists). It’s highly illegal to harass them (building management complied)…
Arashiba let Massey crash in his condo for a full month so the 23-year-old photographer could get close-up pictures of the birds as their chicks grew from tiny fluff balls to sleek (but spotted) youngsters. Massey’s assistant, Katie Stacey, was also there to help out with parts of the shoot, which required some precarious balancing of equipment to fully capture the birds’ vertigo-inducing existance.
There are some great pictures here. I wonder how many city apartment dwellers would have had a similar reaction to the Arashiba’s as their balcony became a lot more difficult to use. Would many have sided with the neighbors who complained? And if the birds had been chased away, could they have easily found a nesting site elsewhere in the city?
See an earlier post regarding a book about the birds of suburbia (“suburdia”).