Opinion: Let’s Quit Fetishizing the Single-Family Home
The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo outlines what SB 50’s defeat in California could mean for housing affordability in the state.
In an era constrained by sustainability and affordability, a big house with a backyard should be a rarity. Much of California is straining under its own success: We have too many people and too few places for them to live, offered at too-high prices, in too many areas touched-by-climate-change-related menaces, like wildfires, all too far from where people work. And the solution is so painfully obvious it feels almost reductive to point it out: Make it legal to build more housing that houses more people.
Increasing density by replacing single-family homes with multifamily ones would be a boon to our efforts to address climate change, and it would help with affordability. But if that is too practical a selling point, let me offer a couple more politically salient ones.
First, there is nothing especially admirable about the development of single-family zoning in America. Though the policy is now defended as a way to maintain the ineffable “local character” of neighborhoods, single-family zoning has a history in segregation. As the historian Richard Rothstein has documented, single-family zoning was one of the many ways white homeowners and politicians kept African-Americans out of suburbs.
And second: We can move on from single-family housing to something better for everyone. A few years ago, shut out of the skyrocketing market for single-family homes in our Northern California suburb, my wife and I bought a townhouse. At first we thought of it as a starter home — we’d just had our second child, and it felt like we could slum it in a townhouse for a bit before we could move into the dream of a place with a backyard.
That dream now looks prohibitive: Houses with backyards in my neck of the woods require tech-I.P.O. levels of insane wealth. But you know what? I don’t feel so bad. Our attached townhouse, on a piece of land a small fraction of the size of a single-family home, is less of a burden on the environment, and it is just the right size for the four of us. It’s also just as loving and pleasant a place for my kids to grow up in as my own suburban manse was for me.
At some point, recently, I realized that I no longer fantasized about ever having a backyard — my dream home is now a townhouse, and if it’s good enough for me, perhaps it could be good enough for others in my state, too.
Read more here.