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Of the 358,000 new multifamily housing units delivered in the U.S. in 2017, 187,000 units are located in buildings of 50 or more units – the highest number recorded since the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking this data in 1972. In contrast, only 27,000 new multifamily units are located in buildings with two to nine residential units – down from a peak of 288,000 in 1973.

In an opinion piece for Bloomberg, columnist Justin Fox attributes this shift to a number of factors – first and foremost the rise of NIMBY politics in homeowner-dominated suburban areas. It is overall easier and more acceptable for new multifamily to rise near urban cores, where large apartment complexes make better economic sense.

According to BuildZoom chief economist Issi Romem, low-density apartment development in sprawling urban areas could increase the supply of new housing around employment areas. “The dormant suburban sea is so vast that if the taboo on densification there were broken, even modest gradual redevelopment — tearing down one single-family home at a time and replacing it with a duplex or a small apartment building — could grow the housing stock immensely.”

Seattle and Minneapolis are currently pursuing policy plans geared toward incentivizing small multifamily development. However, according to Fox, there is no “great wave of suburban upzoning in the offing.”

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