July 9, 2005

Some Cities Seek Families; Some Discourage Them

In Massachusetts, there's a boom in housing for 55+ year old residents. In many revitalized U.S. urban centers, childless young professionals or empty-nesters are moving to city neighborhoods, and the number of children is dwindling. But Vancouver, where the downtown population doubled over the past 15 years, is seeing a baby boom.


In the case of the rise in 55+ housing here, one reason is demographics - the huge post-World War II generation is aging, and developers are seeking to meet the demands of this affluent consumer market. However, there's another reason for the popularity of such developments. In Mass., many local budgets are stretched to the breaking point after decades of an artificial cap on property taxes. No matter what the rate of inflation, total revenues raised via property taxes can't increase more than 2.5%/year without voter approval - unless there's new development. That makes 55-and-over housing extremely attractive, because it generates property taxes without incurring the cost of educating schoolchildren. But does it make it more difficult for families to find housing in a market that's already overpriced?

"Age-restricted developments have raised concerns among state officials and some housing activists that towns are intentionally welcoming older residents instead of younger families that include school-age children who strain municipal budgets. In many communities, the cost of educating a child exceeds the taxes collected from the average homeowner," notes the Boston Globe. At least one town, Dracut, has been warned by state officials not to approve more adult-only developments, the Globe says.

In Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego, urban centers are attracting the so-called "creative class" - many of whom don't have children. Such neighborhoods may not be kid-friendly - or they may be too expensive for most people with kids. I don't know what the public schools are like out there, but certainly in some East Coast cities, parents are reluctant to send their children to city schools because they feel the education is superior in the suburbs.

In Vancouver, though, according to the Oregonian, the city "made children a top priority in its planning decisions, a route that surprisingly satisfied both families and developers. ... In 1992, the city adopted mandates for new parks, community centers and day-care facilities along with minimum requirements for the number of two-bedroom units in every new building, all with the goal of making downtown Vancouver more family-friendly."

Some young professionals or empty-nesters don't necessarily want to live around a lot of kids. But "Vancouver appears to have built a hybrid city," the Oregonian says, "attractive to new-economy professionals such as software designers and film producers who are also parents."

Says one resident: "I can walk to work and to day care. Plus my wife and I have a night life."

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