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Can America End Its Love Affair With The Big Box?

by Chris Poindexter

Along with American waistlines, American homes have gotten fatter. Even back in 2014, the size of the average American home ballooned to nearly 2,600 square feet and that average means many buyers are signing up for homes over 3,000 square feet. Nearly half of all homes built had at least four bedrooms and nearly a third had three or more bathrooms. Even garages are bigger, with one in five homes havimg a garage built for at least three cars. Compare that to the 1950s when homes averaged 1,000 square feet, by the 1970s when the average home reached 1,500 square feet and today we’re pushing 3,000. When it comes to their homes, Americans are addicted to size.

But our addiction for big homes is running smack into economic and demographic realities. Our addiction to home space is incompatible with our desire to live in the city. America is overwhelmingly urban. As of 2010, nearly eighty-one percent of Americans live in urban areas, that’s up from seventy-nine percent in 2000. Our cities are simply becoming more crowded and we don’t have 3,000 square feet to spare for everyone who wants to live in town. A significant percentage of Americans can’t even afford a home that size.

Downsized Demand

The preoccupation with space has triggered a push-back from those in society who can neither afford nor want expansive living quarters. The question that begs is just how low are people willing to go on square footage?

Some developments are now offering apartments as small as 225 square feet. One might imagine that renters would scoff at an apartment that’s smaller than most upscale hotel rooms but that is not the case. With micro-apartments available for as little as $850 a month in popular downtown urban centers, micro-apartment complexes have waiting lists so long it’s unlikely the paper printout would fit in one of their own apartments.

Perfect For Young Urbanites

You don’t even need furniture for most micro-apartments as it’s built-in to many of the smaller units. Few of the units even have a stove, with most boasting few kitchen appliances beyond a small refrigerator and microwave. With the micro-lofts being located in urban centers with restaurants, shopping and theaters all within walking distance, it cuts down on the need to own a car. When you add in the transportation savings, $850 a month for 225 square feet is a smart financial move.

The Push For Alternate Housing

The quest to keep an inexpensive roof over your head is manifesting in many ways as, like the rest of our society, housing quickly devolves into the haves and have nots. Beside micro-apartments and micro-lofts, Americans are turning to campers, RVs, tiny houses, boats and van living to combat the ever-escalating cost of housing.

The trend toward RVs and tiny houses as permanent residences is not going unchallenged by the government, with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wading in with rules as to what qualifies as a house. To phrase it as kindly as a family-oriented publication will allow, the new proposed rules by HUD have not been well received. HUD’s view of housing points out the obvious problem that housing regulations are drafted by people who live in big houses.

It wasn’t that many years ago only the well-heeled could afford houses with more than one room. As many try to get back to that simpler lifestyle it’s ironic that the government is their greatest impediment. It’s another case where the problem is trying to dictate the solution.

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