City housing should be family, roommate, and polygamist-friendly

by drewnilsen

Having recently relocated to Washington, DC, I’ve been grappling not only with the stratopheric rents here, but also with the difficulty of renting a place. I actually wanted to live in one of DC’s larger, beautiful rowhouses — I’m 33, but I still enjoy living in a big house with roommates. However, as the process unfolded, I discovered how aggravating it was — I was competing for every 3-4 bedroom house — even those off the Metro in “transitional” neighborhoods — with 20+ other groups. The fact that I lack an income (I’m still job-hunting! Anyone? Bueller?) — though I have a great credit score and enough savings to pony up an extra-big deposit — and one of my roommates is tromping around the West African nation of Guinea, while my other is from Italy and lacks a social security number, made us untouchables to every individual landlord in town.In desperation, we went to a newer, modern condo, where we figured a larger entity might be more flexible on the financial angle. And, pending my criminal background check (DON’T LOOK IN SOUTH DAKOTA!), they were. Yet, I initially inquired about three bedrooms apartments, and I was surprised that they only had one 3 BR unit in a complex of, perhaps, 100 units.I found this odd, because plenty of 20- and 30-somethings want to live in groups — out of financial necessity or because they want to (I’m sure there’s some theory of Millennials in here somewhere). Or, if you’re doing well, you might want an extra room (or two), and still live in the city. The fierce competition for every large house in DC backs me up on that.

I hadn’t even considered the impact on families, though. Atlantic Cities — my catnip — wrote about the Toronto* Deputy Mayor opposing a requirement that at least ten percent of a new, large development be at least three bedrooms, to accommodate families.

My former colleague and neighbor in DC helpfully pointed out that it’s all about profit; you can command more per square foot from a studio or one bedroom than a 3 BR. His 60s-era urban renewal building, which I can see from my window in SW DC, is in the process of ripping out its 3 BRs to convert to smaller units.

Families and children — like all forms of diversity — are vital to the thriving energy of cities. Plenty of parents still want to live in the suburbs, but many parents my age want to raise their kids in an urban environment. Schools are usually the biggest hurdle (besides expense and space), but city policy and developer short-sightedness shouldn’t also be conspiring against them.

Yet, my own anecdotal house-hunting experience in the last month underscores that there is demand for larger housing units (not to mention the architectural tragedy of chopping up rowhouses and brownstones).

Hopefully, developers will realize this is find a way to not force everyone who wants to live in cities to live in the most little boxes, little boxes. But, cities have the leverage to force developers to build family (and group house) friendly accommodations, to ensure that cities retain a true diversity of residents and options.

*As I’ve learned from the Toronto-native boyfriend of my cousin (both of whom are moving to the thrilling urban environment of Ottawa next month), it’s pronounced “Toronno,” not “ToronTO.” Impress the next Canadian you meet!

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