Coronavirus Crisis Threatens Push for Denser Housing

Coronavirus Crisis Threatens Push for Denser Housing

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Katie and Timothy Carney were searching for a larger home to accommodate their growing family. But equally important to them was finding a place within easy distance of Washington’s Metro light rail line. They finally pounced when they saw a 2,500-square-foot colonial-style house in a mixed-use development less than a mile from the nearest rail stop in Silver Spring.

“He can leave his office downtown and be home in 50 minutes,” Mrs. Carney said of her husband, who works as a journalist at The Washington Examiner. He can walk to the transit stop in less than 15 minutes.

That’s music to the ears of planners and housing advocates trying to address the housing crisis ravaging cities like San Francisco and Seattle. But some developers worry that the coronavirus pandemic will stop the momentum as social distancing and telecommuting become the norm.

Transportation and denser housing have been the two focal points of urban residential development for the last decade, as cities try to combat a severe shortage of affordable housing. In areas where car commute times continue to climb, and freeways are at capacity, building denser communities along transit lines is seen as a panacea.

These projects, known as live-leave developments or more formally as transit-oriented developments, can be no-frills projects that focus on housing and getting people in and out fast. Or they can be more centered on amenities, meant to attract not only residents but commercial developers who find the density attractive for restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques. As an added benefit, developers can usually forgo expensive surface parking lots on prime real estate, as most residents use public transportation.

In California, legislation has been proposed to change zoning restrictions to make building transit-oriented developments near light rail lines easier. The bill was narrowly voted down in January because of concerns that it would strip local communities of too much control.

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