Covid could change where people choose to live, reshaping housing demand in cities and suburbs, according to research by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS).
While a hybrid work schedule may be an option – and preference-for many workers, it isn’t feasible for all, prompting a senior research associate at JCHS to remark, “While increased mobility may open up new neighborhoods and opportunities to some, it could also further neighborhood inequality between amenity-rich and distressed neighborhoods and household inequalities between those who can work from home and those who can’t.”
Neighborhood amenities could play a larger role in housing choices in a future “less tethered by the job-housing link,” according to JCHS.
Surveys show a majority of office workers – and a significant share of employers – expect to work from home at least once a week post-pandemic. Avoiding commutes, even if only one or two days a week, could prompt changes in where people choose to live. Workers and employers will continue to value links to transportation and communications networks.
“Supercharged residential sprawl becomes an initial concern, as larger houses in more affordable neighborhoods farther from employment centers could become a viable alternative for millions of metro area workers,” stated Daniel McCue, senior research associate at JCHS. As the changes are anticipated, he referred to earlier research suggesting the suburbs may not only be the only place that would see increased demand from remote workers.
JCHS research indicates some urban neighborhoods may even see more demand as highly desirable neighborhoods. While once convenient to a subset or communities, such areas may become more accessible to a larger set of potential new residents. On the downside, it could be a problem for distressed urban neighborhoods “where proximity to employment centers may have been their best asset,” suggested McCue.
Outlying suburbs and rural areas, with fewer amenities and poorer access to broadband and/or transportation networks may also be further disadvantaged. As these areas see less demand, it could affect the ability of existing residents to move.
With increased expectations for working remotely, JCHS believes “we must be sure to consider both the areas in which to expect newfound growth and demand, but also the neighborhoods and households at risk of being left behind.”