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Multi-family housing gains in popularity

Multi-family housing gains in popularity

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Thirty years ago, building permits for multi-family housing in the region were a mere 18 percent of all residential permits issued. Last year, multi-family permits were a whopping 49 percent of the total.

And they’ve averaged close to 50-50 with single-family permits annually since we came out of the Great Recession, new data from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission show.

But rest assured that single-family homes are still in demand. It’s just that the more even split may be the “new normal,” says Dan Harp, senior planner at the commission, who keeps an eye on building activity.

The commission released 2017 residential permit numbers last month, noting that new housing construction “continues a relatively stable period” versus the lows seen in 2009 and 2010.
However, we still haven’t reached pre-recession residential building levels, according to the commission, which provides regional data and planning services in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties.

Multi-family construction has pushed much of the recovery, while single-family building has been slower. Harp speculated that attitudes toward homeownership may be changing, with apartments, townhouses and condos becoming popular alternatives.

Harp told me he wasn’t concerned that total permits in 2017 drifted down a bit from 2016 and 2015, calling those two years outliers because permits spiked then. At 2,300 residential permits last year, 2017 was on par with 2012, 2013 and 2014, he said.

Harp also wasn’t concerned that the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, which takes an in-depth look every two years at the country’s rental market, indicated in December that new rental construction appeared to be leveling off.

“It’s really difficult to extrapolate how national trends will be reflected locally,” he wrote in response to an emailed question. He pointed out that Troy was in the midst of an apartment boom that could keep 2018 multi-family permits high.

The new data show that permits were issued for large complexes in the cities of Albany, Saratoga Springs and Schenectady in 2017. But permits for so-called “five-or-more family buildings” also were issued beyond the usual suburbs – in the towns of Milton and Ballston in Saratoga County, for instance, and in the town of Rotterdam in Schenectady County.

Harp said available land and access to jobs “definitely share in the responsibility for development further away from the urban core.”

Unfortunately, that also contributes to the well-known local phenomenon of sprawl without growth – building farther and farther out for an overall population that is barely increasing.
Harp noted in a commission newsletter last summer that the agency had warned the region’s growth patterns were “haphazard” and “disorderly” back in 1967.

He said this week that because New York is a home-rule state – municipalities can pass laws to govern themselves – “this makes any sort of regional planning very challenging” since communities benefiting from new construction aren’t likely to give it up.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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