Real estate developers and urban planners have been advised by a sociologist to veer away from single-family homes. It is an outdated housing model that needs to be replaced with the changing times, Nathan Lauster, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, said.

The free-standing house with a yard is still the benchmark of many developers. But to address the affordability crisis, more housing is needed. However, more reforms are needed because, in many cities like Vancouver in Canada's British Columbia province, almost 80 percent of Metro Vancouver is still zoned for single-family homes, CBC reported.

Lauster, the author of "The Death and Life of the Single Family Home," pointed out that when it comes to densification, attitudes have not always caught up with the changing reality. He observed that while options such as secondary suites and laneway houses are now more easily accepted, people still balk at townhouses and low-rise apartments. High-rise apartments are even viewed as the big demon.

Gary London, the senior principal of London Moeder Advisors, real estate analysts, said that a survey found that 75 percent of millennials prefer a single-family home, 13 percent a townhouse, and 12 percent a condo.

Open house concept

One good alternative to the single-family home is the open house concept, Fast Company reported. It is a flexible unit designed by architect Pierluigi Colombo in response to the shifting demographics in the US. It also aims to accommodate the current unconventional co-living situations prevalent in urban areas such as unrelated roommates and multigenerational family members that have displaced the typical nuclear family as the most prevalent type of household.

The open house is on display at an ongoing exhibit titled "Making Room: Housing For A Changing America," until September at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. The aim of the exhibit is to drive home the message that the current housing stock is not as diverse as people are.

For instance, single people comprise 28 percent of the US population, but only 0.877 percent of the housing stock is studio apartments and 11.36 percent are one-bedroom homes. But the most prevalent form of housing, the three-bedroom house, comprises 39.82 percent.

However, households made up of two parents, children, and a dog – which is the image conjured of a typical family – comprise only 20 percent of all households throughout the whole country, Chrysanthe Broikos, the curator of NBM, said.

More rigorous thinking about demographics

But Broikos said that Making Room is advocating for housing designs that start with demographics, not preconceptions. Instead of developers building more single-family homes on a new lot, the exhibit creators hope that it would encourage more rigorous thinking about demographics. Specifically, Broikos wants a focus on how people are living and the needs of people housing.

With the flexible design of the open house, designers and developers can incorporate features such as adjustable walls and furniture to create units that shift to meet the needs of a household over time. For instance, at one point in her life, a single person will be living with roommates. But if later she decides to start a family, the unit can be tweaked to have a master bedroom and a nursery if she will have a partner and a child. The unit can be adjusted again years later when she and her partner grow older and decide to rent out a spare room for extra income.

Radical design

Fast Company said that the open house concept may feel radical in the current housing landscape. However, it is the sort of thinking that housing advocates and developers have been pushing for several years. It started with the New York City-based Citizen Housing and Planning Council, a housing research nonprofit.

In 2009, the CHPC convened a group of international architects, designers, and planners to discuss how housing design can and should evolve to meet the needs of growing cities and single people who live in these urban centers.

It became the basis for the first Making Room exhibit that the Museum hosted in 2013 after the CHPC sourced innovative designs in 2011 for single dwellers, multigenerational families, roommates, and other non-normative households.

Besides the open house, the Making Room exhibit also features several accessory dwelling unit projects from around the US. One such project is the Alley Flat Initiative in Austin that provides homeowners who need certain space and zoning requirements with a prefabricated microunit that they can lease to low-income tenants.

To show the shifting demographics, WPRI noted that the median sales price of a single-family home in Rhode Island went up by 9 percent in January compared to a year ago to $244,900. It was driven by the diminishing supply of homes on the market, Joe Luca, the president of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, said.

In comparison, the increase in the median price of a multi-family home went up by 20 percent. For a condo, the increase was by almost 16 percent.

[researchpaper 리서치페이퍼=​Vittorio Hernandez 기자]

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