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Will boomers pack up and leave?

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Posted: 3 pm ET

Part of retirement planning is figuring out where you're going to live. Two housing experts writing in Washington Monthly this month call for a federal housing policy that emphasizes urban living and public transit.

Patrick Doherty, director of the Smart Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation, and Christopher Leinberger, a professor at the University of Michigan, argue that neither baby boomers nor their children -- together comprising half the U.S. population -- want to live in suburbia.

In the article they write, "Demand for standard-issue suburban housing is going down, not up, a trend that was apparent even before the crash. In 2006, Arthur C. Nelson, now at the University of Utah, estimated in the Journal of the American Planning Association that there would be 22 million unwanted large-lot suburban homes by 2025."

Instead, the authors urge federal support for development of urban, walkable and transit-friendly neighborhoods. "All this rebuilding could spur millions of new construction jobs," they write.

Their report predicts that unless suburban neighborhoods are rebuilt to better suit the way potential residents want to live, there will be decay and abandonment.

I'm not seeing much evidence of their theory here in my suburban Detroit neighborhood. The housing meltdown has had surprisingly little effect where I live. When the government was handing out money last spring to encourage home sales, there was a flurry of buying and selling at prices that were about equal to what homes were selling for here 10 years ago. The buyers were mostly young couples with children who saw this as an opportunity to own a comfortable home in a good school district at a reasonable price.

Many of the residents of this neighborhood are boomers who raised their children here and who have decided that this is home for the long haul. Some have changed their retirement living plans because their savings took a hit. A couple down the block had hoped to build a home on Lake Huron, but now have decided to stay; and the couple on the corner had considered moving to Florida, but now plan to continue to live here, but rent a winter getaway someplace warm for a couple of months each year.

To me, this doesn't sound much like the Washington Monthly scenario, but you never can tell. Things do change.

I think the guy who lives a couple of streets over from me has a better theory. When I was walking the dog the other day, I saw him outside supervising the repaving of his driveway. He said he was getting the house ready for his retirement. "After I retire, I don't intend to have time to do these things," he said.

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November 05, 2010 at 9:52 pm

"Jill" wrote:
October 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm

The authors of the article are incorrect. As child-free baby boomers, born in NYC, we chose to live in a rural area yet only two hours drive to Washington DC. We can easily drive to Phillie or New York and we do not have to deal with daily aggravation of life in the big cities ....

Exactly the point, Jill. You are not a suburban resident. Large numbers of "baby boomers" and their children have chosen to live either in big cities or in rural areas. Keep in mind, also, that many towns and areas classified as suburban are in fact exurban or rural. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, think Napa and Sonoma counties, along with many other supposed suburban communities. I can only think that there are more examples of the same nationwide. Perhaps other readers would care to add their own reports.

End the Ponzi Scheme
October 29, 2010 at 9:24 am

This report is the result of needing to pretend the stated results are what people want, regardless of reality. Here in Austin, we have a "mobility" bond package on the ballot. Of the following which qualify as being able to get you from a house to the business core downtown: A boardwalk along the lake, removal of traffic lanes and re-painting in bike lanes, removing traffic lanes and making 20-30foot wide sidewalks, adding lane obstacles that cars must drive around conveniently called traffic calming.

The invented study that prioritized this garbage over actually adding a lane to the most congested road in the area is likely the same source for the study reported here.

Remember it's easier to herd sheep when they are tightly contained in small areas.

October 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm

The authors of the article are incorrect. As child-free baby boomers, born in NYC, we chose to live in a rural area yet only two hours drive to Washington DC. We can easily drive to Phillie or New York and we do not have to deal with daily aggravation of life in the big cities: traffic, crime etc. We have observed our baby boomer friends with grandchildren staying in their old homes. They want to be helpful to children and accept weekly baby-sitting duties if needed. Out of nine long-time friends, only one couple is considering moving, due to cost-of-living, but is limiting the drive to two and a half hours from children. This is the change from our parents generation many of whom moved to a warmer climate.

October 28, 2010 at 10:00 am

I think the Washington Mothly article is way off. Although I think you will see continued interest in those without children in urban areas, suburbia still affords those with kids the best lifestyle. Young families, or newly married, are the ones moving up into home ownership, from rentals, and by far they choose to live in suburbia. I live in suburban Houston and make a 30 mile trek in everyday, with all my neighbors. Average sale time in my neighborhood is about 30 days, the inner core is about 6 months.