Editor’s note: Developers want to build new apartments throughout Reporter Newspapers communities and residents regularly push back against the plans. Architect Jack Honderd, who has lived in Brookhaven since 1982, recently published an essay defending development of new apartments in his community. Here is a version of his article, edited for space. To see a longer version of this essay and other essays by Honderd, go to abetterbrookhaven.org.
Single-family homeowners tend to be skeptical of apartments. The perception is that 1) apartments will be a drag on property values, 2) apartment renters will not be vested in the well-being of the community, and 3) apartment renters will create traffic congestion on streets such as Peachtree Road and Dresden Drive.
Are these ideas supported by urban studies and economics? Let’s look at each perception more carefully.
1) Apartments will be a drag on property values
You’ve probably heard the old adage that real estate value is determined by “location, location, location,” and therefore we want to be cautious in generalizing from studies. However, in 2007, a Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ research paper looked at this question in detail by reviewing a number of previous studies. Many of the reviewed studies focused on the question, “Do lower-income or workforce-income focused apartment developments lower the property value of surrounding single-family houses?” Eleven studies concluded that this was not the case.
While individual results would be neighborhood-specific, the overriding conclusion was captured by the statement, “We find that large, dense, multi-family rental developments … do not negatively impact the sales price of nearby single-family homes.”
Interestingly, the inverse was often true—homes located near dense multi-family developments appreciated about 0.5 percent faster than homes located further away.
2) Apartment renters will not be vested in the well-being of the community
This perception often takes the form of two subsidiary assumptions: 1) apartment dwellers do not engage in local social and civic activity, and 2) the presence of apartments increases crime.
It seems self-evident that if you don’t own, you care less. After all, you can leave at any time (almost). The Harvard study referenced above looked at this question and found the evidence less clear.
Yes, apartment dwellers are less likely to vote in elections than homeowners — 47 percent vs. 78 percent. This supports the “care less” argument. On the other hand, apartment dwellers were more likely to socialize with their neighbors (33 percent vs. 17 percent), just as likely to engage with local social groups (book clubs, recreational sports leagues, dinner clubs), almost as likely to identify closely with their city, and only moderately less likely to identify closely with their neighborhood. While it may be true to say that homeowners are generally more invested in the community, it would be inaccurate to characterize apartment occupants as “uninvested.”
Do apartments correspond with higher local crime rates? The Harvard report reviewed three studies, all of which found “no connection between crime and housing density.”
3) Apartment renters will create traffic congestion
New apartments bring greater density and therefore more cars. Do more cars equal more congestion?
This is not as simple an answer as it would seem since it depends on frequency and timing of car trips, unused road capacity, and traffic engineering, but let’s assume that more cars will create at least some more congestion.
Will this make Peachtree Road and Dresden Drive impossible to navigate?
To answer this question, Brookhaven’s new Comprehensive Traffic Plan uses traffic engineering protocols to study Peachtree and Dresden. The pertinent descriptor is “Level of Service” (LOS) of each road, and the Comp Plan analyzes today’s LOS and that of 2034, based on development and growth projections. Peachtree is currently rated a “C” and Dresden a “D,”
In 2034, Peachtree is projected to have an LOS of “D,” and Dresden is projected to remain a “D.”
Despite our intuitive assumptions that “things will get much worse with more cars,” the traffic engineering analysis suggests that Dresden has the capacity to handle the additional cars without more congestion, while Peachtree will experience more congestion — at least by 2034, when sites alongPeachtree are built out.
In summary, there’s no documented reason to think apartments are bad … If anything, higher density housing — whether apartments or condominiums — bring a greater variety of housing stock to Brookhaven and some other nearby communities.
In addition, more households in a compact area will support more shops and restaurants, which in turn give all Brookhaven residents more eating/shopping/service choices.
The Harvard study goes on to note, “Experience suggests that opponents who live near apartment developments are often hard to convince. For some, opposition to apartments may be more emotional than analytical. Anecdotes trump statistics.”
Jack Honderd is a Brookhaven architect, a former member of the city’s planning commission and an advocate for environmentally friendly design, “smart growth” in planning and mass transit. He participates regularly in community discussions.