Ask most apartment developers to identify their biggest challenges, and “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) opposition to new apartments will rate high on everyone's list. NIMBYism is not just a problem for affordable housing developers. Even developers of upscale apartments encounter community resistance to proposed properties. Armed with widely held myths about apartments and the people who live in them, citizen groups band together to oppose new apartment construction, and local governments erect barriers to higher-density developments and apartments.
Unfortunately, few people know that many of these myths have no basis in fact. For that reason, NMHC has initiated a national effort to help build local community support for apartments.
Separating fact from fiction
Most recently, we have used data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Housing Survey (AHS) to disprove the conventional wisdom that new apartment construction disproportionately burdens local school systems. According to the AHS, single-family owners are significantly more likely to have school-age children than apartment renters. In fact, newer single-family homes average three times as many school-age children as apartment renters. For properties built since 1990, there are, on average, 64 school-age children for every 100 new owner-occupied single-family houses, but just 21 children for every 100 new apartments. Furthermore, for properties built since 1990, there is just an average of 12 children for every 100 apartments in buildings taller than four stories.
On a unit-by-unit comparison, single-family houses are home to more school children than apartments. This finding is significant because it shows there is no empirical support for the common strategy of barring or limiting apartment construction to relieve pressure on local school systems.
Misinformed activists often claim that apartment residents overly burden public services without paying their fair share, because they do not pay property taxes. But the truth is that renters do pay property taxes. They just do so indirectly. Property owners pay the taxes and pass on the cost to residents via their rent. Moreover, apartments are typically taxed at a higher effective tax rate.
When you consider that apartment households have significantly fewer school-age children, but indirectly pay higher property taxes, it appears that in many cases, apartment residents are actually subsidizing their single-family neighbors.
Seldom discussed benefits of apartments
By refuting the myths about apartments, we can help localities grow smarter and create more livable communities. In addition to placing fewer demands on public services, apartments make other valuable contributions to communities. Their high-density nature can accommodate population growth and still preserve open space. Apartments can help create the pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods many citizens want and provide life to downtowns. They can revitalize deteriorating neighborhoods.
Most importantly, communities that preclude or limit renters limit their own economic prosperity because they push much-needed employees and customers for local businesses into other areas. Areas that offer a diversified work force and a wide range of housing are more likely to attract top employers and retain expanding local businesses.
Through printed materials, grassroots campaigns and federal advocacy efforts, NMHC is helping to spread the word about the positive contributions apartments make to communities across the country. When one considers that 33% of the U.S. population rents its housing, these efforts are appropriate and necessary. For more information on our anti-NIMBY initiative, see www.nmhc.org/smart.
Leonard W. Wood is the chairman of the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC). Based in Washington, D.C., NMHC represents the nation's leading apartment firms.