People want urban housing, but many cannot afford it, study shows

February 2, 2024

The demand for walkable urban real estate in the United States far exceeds supply, and high prices are making it accessible only to those with substantial housing budgets, according to a recent study that confirms what most people who have recently shopped for housing already know.

Foot Traffic Ahead 2023, a report released by non-profit Smart Growth America and Places Platform LLC, ranked the top metro areas by their walkable urbanism, considering factors such as commercial rent premiums, multifamily rental rates and for-sale home prices.

Smart Growth America, a nonprofit organization that focuses on climate change, racial equity and creating healthy communities, said the housing was available for those who could afford it, but not necessarily for those who most needed it.

“Foot Traffic Ahead demonstrates that people want to live in walkable urban places, but there’s often not enough housing where folks need it, making it unaffordable and inaccessible to low- and moderate-income people, and to many communities of color,” said President and CEO Calvin Gladney. “As the market continues to choose walkable urbanism, it is critical for policymakers to protect existing affordability, promote new affordable housing and remove barriers to increasing the supply of housing overall. All people deserve access to the quality-of-life and economic benefits that walkable urbanism can provide.”

The report found that 19.1% of the total U.S. real Gross Domestic Population (GDP) and 6.8% of the U.S. population are in walkable urban places that represent just 1.2% of total landmass of the top 35 U.S. metros.

“This is notable as it is illegal to build walkable urban densities and mixed-use development on much of the 98.8% of land that is car-dependent due to restrictive zoning policies in most metropolitan areas,” Smart Growth America said.

Tools to address high prices and short supply include zoning reform to increase walkable urban land supply and expansion and investment in affordable housing, Smart Growth America said.

Foot Traffic Ahead was the first major study analyzing the real estate market in walkable urban places after Covid-19, Smart Growth America said.

According to the report, the pandemic negatively impacted office-dominated downtowns, but found that downtown-adjacent walkable urban places surrounding downtowns, urban bedroom neighborhoods, urban universities and urbanizing suburbs grew during the pandemic, demonstrating a preference for walkable places beyond the traditional downtown.

The top 20 cities according to the study are:

1. New York

2. Boston

3. Washington, D.C.

4. Seattle

5. Portland

6. San Francisco

7. Chicago

8. Los Angeles

9. Pittsburgh

10. Philadelphia

11. Minneapolis-St. Paul

12. Miami

13. Charlotte

14. Austin

15. Atlanta

16. Denver

17. Cleveland

18. Houston

19. Columbus

20. Baltimore

All news and information on this site is provided by the team at Strategic Partnerships, Inc. Check out this short 1-minute video that provides a quick overview of how we work with clients.

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

Miles Smith

Miles Smith has more than two decades of communications experience in the public and private sectors, including several years of covering local governments for various daily and weekly print publications. His scope of work includes handling public relations for large private-sector corporations and managing public-facing communications for local governments.

Smith has recently joined the team as a content writer for SPI’s news publications, which include Texas Government Insider, Government Contracting Pipeline and its newest digital product, Government Market News, which launched in September 2023. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s in journalism.

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