Increasing home sizes on Chicago’s north shore due to little lower end construction?

A North Shore real estate agent finds that new homes of 2013 in North Shore suburbs are bigger than the new homes of 2003:

She continued to say that buyers still basically want everything to be large:  the master bedroom, the garage, mud room, laundry, kitchen, and outdoor spaces.  I decided to do a little checking on newly-built homes in Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Glencoe, and Northfield.

I compared all new homes built in 2003 versus those built in 2013.  Those built ten years ago averaged 4,753 sq. ft and those built last year averaged 5,784.  That is an 18% increase in overall home size.  McMansions rule.

I went a little further and checked living room sizes.  They seem to be shrinking every time I walk into a new home and surely those numbers would be down.  Nope.  The average living room was 187 sq. ft in 2003 and 236 sq. ft in 2013.  That’s an increase of 21% – so much for the long heralded extinction of  living room space.

As for the overall  square footage of North Shore houses, the 5,784 is just an average.  The largest built home had 11,000 square feet and the smallest was 2,300.  So there is still plenty of variety if you are looking for new construction in Winnetka and other North Shore villages.

My guess is that while there is still some range of housing in these suburbs (though 2,300 square feet is not far below the average new home size of around 2,500 square feet), there was less range in 2003 versus 2013. In other words, the lower ends of the housing market haven’t recovered while large homes are still being built. Does this mean McMansions rule? Maybe – if there are enough of them in a concentrated area to be noticeable. But, McMansions can’t be attained by as many people today and they are less in number overall.

Continued lack of affordable housing in Chicago’s northern suburbs

Affordable housing is a problem throughout the Chicago region but here is a closer look at the current state of affordable housing in Chicago’s North Shore suburbs:

Under the law, the Illinois Housing Development Authority in 2004 identified 49 communities where less than 10 percent of the housing was deemed affordable. At least nine of them are on the North Shore, including Winnetka, Wilmette, Highland Park, Deerfield, Northbrook, and Lake Forest.

Reactions to the law varied in those communities. Highland Park aggressively pursued ways to make affordable housing available. Northbrook took a more casual approach and set general goals. In Winnetka, after years of heated debate, officials voted in 2011 to just stop talking about the issue…

But over the last ten years, the affordable housing that has been added “is a drop in a bucket,” she said.

“The economy is bouncing back, but a lot of these communities are still catering to the rich,” said Schechter.

A significant barrier for affordable housing in the North Shore is the lack of undeveloped land and the high price of properties, said Richard Koenig, executive director of the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation.

It doesn’t look to me like much has changed. The 2004 Illinois law hasn’t done much as many communities already met the requirements (based on a formula that may then be too lax), it has little ability to enforce anything, and there are still continuing issues of affordable housing. I think there is also some disconnect about who the affordable housing is supposed to serve. In my experience, when suburbs like those on the North Shore talk about affordable housing, they are more willing to do something when they are talking about public servants, like teachers, police officers, and firefighters, or people who have been in the community before, like kids who grew up in the suburb or retired residents, who have difficulty living there on limited incomes. These suburbs are not thinking as much about the retail or service industry or laborers that might work in their communities.

This shouldn’t be too surprising: given the opportunity, most wealthier suburbs will zone land in such a way that the housing prices and options cater to a wealthier crowd. Affordable housing is an issue that should be taken care of by other suburbs, such as more working- or lower-class communities.