What are the Evolving Priorities for Deciding Where to Live?

Many factors influence how people think about and decide where to live. Traditional considerations include job opportunities, cost of living, the housing market itself, climate, educational quality, family ties and more.

However, some of these traditional factors are shifting and residential developers, designers and others involved in the industry need to focus more on the actual needs and expectations of residents.

Gensler Research Institute recently released an investigation into the residential experience that examined the experiences of more than 13,000 residents in nine diverse markets, and worked to determine their needs, preference and priorities.

One major conclusion was that major decisions in many residential projects—from unit size and mix to amenity offerings—too often “reinforce the status quo”. The focus on existing and standardized practices has resulted in a growing “sameness” of new residential development, and the lack of contextual and innovative solutions only spurs more resistance to new development by local communities. At some point, housing stock in many markets will begin to catch up, and new competitiveness will be needed to remain competitive.

As might be expected, affordability is at the top of the list. Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist reports that the “U.S. had a housing supply deficit of 3.8 million units” in late 2020. However, the Gensler research suggests that residents within all income groups are wary of new development, because they value neighborhood character and community cohesion.

So, what can be done to help provide a great living experience? Here’s a summary of what the research found.

  1. Focus more on the individual living space

Individual unit factors contribute a lot to overall satisfaction and can’t be taken for granted by touting common space amenities. Make sure you have stellar layouts, plenty of storage and have taken steps to eliminate noise issues as much as possible. Also realize that with many people working from home, thus creating even more importance to focus on the units being stellar.

  1. Keep building amenities in perspective

They may get people through the door, but people would give them up, if necessary, in lieu of enhanced individual units. That means things developers value which add a lot to cost, may be the ones that can be eliminated or stepped back. Across all those surveyed, fitness centers and on-site parking ranked the highest.

Keep any other common spaces flexible as needs and desires change. And In terms of neighborhood offerings, surveyed residents would most prioritize living in walkable proximity to grocery stores, restaurants, and green space.

  1. Can your project support aging in place?

Nearly 30% of older adults surveyed are afraid they can’t stay in their current home as they age. And parents often move because their location doesn’t support their young children’s needs. Almost half of all respondents with younger children intend to move by 2025. In pursuit of more diverse, inclusive, and longevity-ready communities, new residential projects need to recognize this desire.

  1. Redefine strategies to entitlement to help address multifamily resistance

Gensler’s research suggests that the “Not in my Backyard” attitude is similar across all demographics. Owners, long-term residents, and those with higher incomes are the most adamant in resisting new development, but members of other groups also hold anti-housing sentiments. Half of respondents with lower incomes feel that neighborhood character is more important to them than building new housing, and nearly one in three feel that the new housing being built around them doesn’t appeal to them.

Design can help but it must be paired with finding ways to better engage communities. While the approval timelines keep getting longer, the process doesn’t always give owners and developers productive, objective, or representative feedback. New, streamlined strategies to entitlement would benefit municipalities, developers, and residents.

  1. Is it possible to foster community cohesion?

Community cohesion includes trust, respect, and shared purpose among neighbors. This leads to recommendation, satisfaction, and perceptions of safety. More than 80% of those surveyed want this sense of community in their building. And the built environment plays a significant role. The creation of more affordable, unsubsidized housing does not need to be at odds with these interests. The conversation needs to be around providing positive, supportive living experiences at the unit, building, and neighborhood level to help create a sustainable path to more housing for all types of residents.