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Housing Update

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by Shell-Marie Hill

Important changes are under way in the apartment industry, changes which increase the desirability of apartments as homes for many Americans and make apartment properties a stronger, more integral part of local communities.

In addition to serving the housing needs of our citizens, apartments also enrich our communities through economic growth and their promotion of efficient land use and urban revitalization.

The National Apartment Association, National Multi Housing Council and American Seniors Housing Association have documented the evolution of the apartment industry, and the contributions apartments make to our economy and communities in a new brochure, "Why Apartments are Vital to America."

Some of the associations' findings may surprise readers and will challenge the stereotypical perception of who lives in apartments.

In contrast to the image of apartments as housing for the young, the lower-income or the transient, the groups found that one in 10 apartment-renter households makes more than $50,000, and 30 percent of all apartment households have incomes that put them in the top half of the national income distribution.

More than a third of all apartment households are headed by someone 45 years old or older and another 33 percent are ages 30 to 44.

The economic contributions of apartment communities are also often overlooked or not fully understood. Did you know that the construction of 100 new apartment units in the average city creates 121 local jobs and provides more than $5.2 million in local taxes, fees, wages and business receipts?

The ongoing, annual effect of these 100 new apartment homes produces 35 local jobs and $1.4 million in local taxes, fees, wages and business receipts.

Apartments are also ideally suited for assisting local efforts to combat suburban sprawl, because apartments promote efficient land use and smart growth. As higher-density housing, apartment communities conserve land and preserve greenspace.

More importantly, apartments make fewer claims on the environment and urban infrastructure than do other housing types.

Despite misperceptions to the contrary, apartment homes place less burden on local schools, because apartment homes, on average, have fewer children than do single-family homes.

Apartments, whose residents are less likely to drive cars, lead to fewer demands for new road construction and help reduce congestion and air pollution.

Many Americans of all ages and incomes now realize that renting can make economic sense and prefer apartment living to traditional single-family, detached housing.

According to the new brochure, when all the costs of owning and renting housing are considered, a majority of households that bought a home in the mid-1980s would have saved money by renting comparable housing.

Costs of owning are particularly high for short-term owners. For example, home buyers in 1985 who sold within four years of purchase paid, on average, 19 percent more as owners than they would have paid as renters.

In fact, many renters acknowledge that the stock market has been a better place to find an investment return than homeownership.

Between 1980 and 1995, the Standard and Poor's 500 gained 350 percent, while the median price of a home rose only 82 percent.

Apartment community design has also changed and now addresses the residents' diverse economic, social and educational interests.

New apartment properties focus on encouraging community as much as providing shelter. New features include on-site day care, on-line job training, after-school programs, gardening areas and nature trails.

A new age in residential housing has arrived, and for many citizens, apartments represent the new American home.

From new resident profiles to new community designs, changes in the apartment industry have led to a major new movement within the American housing system.

Apartments provide local jobs, are a source of local, state and federal government tax revenues, and stand as a residential alternative for today's hectic lifestyles. As America renews its focus on strong, healthy communities, the apartment industry is poised to play an enhanced role in those communities.

(Shell-Marie Hill is association executive for the Springfield Apartment & Housing Association.)

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