In the midst of a housing shortage, the American household is shrinking, but the share of larger new homes is growing.
Home building has barely kept pace with the number of new households — a household “consists of all the people who occupy a housing unit,” according to the U.S. Census — in the United States over the last eight years, and much of what is being built is aimed at the higher end of the market, according to a report released this week by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Housing construction bottomed out in 2011, with just 633,000 new units built in the U.S. It has improved since then, with 1.2 million new units built in 2018, but to find a year before the recession when fewer than 1.2 million homes were produced, you would have to look all the way back to 1982.
Aside from the general lag in construction, the report stressed that smaller, affordable new housing has been in especially short supply, as rising costs and regulatory restrictions have made building it less profitable.
A recent study by the Urban Land Institute, a research-driven think tank, reached similar conclusions, showing that creation of new “attainable housing” has dried up in recent decades, replaced by the construction of larger, more expensive homes. (The organization defines “attainable housing” as unsubsidized, for-sale housing affordable to households with incomes that fall between 80 and 120 percent of the median income in a given area.)
The gap between what is being built and what is needed is particularly evident if you compare the size of households in the country and the bedroom counts in new construction. While households with fewer members have been on the rise over the last 30 years — between 1987 and 2017, one-person households quintupled and two-person households tripled — the share of new one- and two-bedroom homes has been cut nearly in half.