The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to hasten a housing trend already taking place across the nation--residential construction activity that is expanding at a more rapid rate in lower density markets such as smaller cities and rural areas. Multifamily development is also proceeding at a brisk pace in areas where education and health services dominate. These are among the findings of the latest quarterly National Association of Home Builders Home Building Geography Index.
"We expect the virus could affect future housing preferences for those currently living in the hardest-hit, high-density environments like central cities and that housing demand will continue to increase in medium- and low-density communities," says Dean Mon, NAHB chairman Dean Mon.
"The first quarter HBGI data reveals that construction growth expanded over the last year more quickly in low population density areas than high-density regions," says Robert Dietz, NAHB chief economist. "This trend will continue as households seek out single-family homes further from urban cores, particularly as telecommuting continues in greater numbers."
The HBGI found that even before the pandemic hit, home construction activity was increasing at a higher rate in inner and outer suburbs than in high-density markets.
First quarter HBGI findings show:
- Single-family construction expanded across all seven economic geographies, posting the strongest growth (9.1 percent) in outlying suburbs (exurbs) of small metro areas, as measured on a one-year moving average.
- Over the past year, apartment construction growth in less dense markets has outpaced expansion in larger metropolitan areas.
- All economic geographies reported net growth over the past year for single-family and multifamily construction, a reminder of the momentum home building possessed before the current recession.
The first quarter HBGI also features a new economic geography class based on local employment in the education and health services sector (EHS). The HBGI designates EHS-focused regional markets as the top quartile of counties based on this employment share (25.7 percent or above of total employment). These counties also make up 23.2 percent of the U.S. population. This analysis finds:
- 12.4 percent of single-family construction occurs in EHS markets;
- 18.4 percent of multifamily construction occurs in these markets;
- Single-family construction was growing in EHS markets, but the rate was slower than the rest of the nation.