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The Beat Report

Hey suburbanites! Apartment dwellers are people too As a cub reporter for a suburban Atlanta newspaper, I had the thankless job of attending virtually every mundane public meeting in Cobb County, one of nation's fastest growing areas. Zoning meetings were usually the most grueling - hour after hour of lifeless debate about topics such as how trees can make better buffers or why Ms. Jane Q. Public should not be allowed to run a beauty parlor from her garage.

But one thing a reporter could always count on for entertainment and good copy was a multifamily zoning request for a parcel near a middle-class or upper-middle-class neighborhood. The very thought of freshly graduated professionals or lower-income families living near these homeowners' suburban kingdoms causes enough fear to rouse a near torch-and-pitchfork rally at zoning meetings. Most often, homeowners would argue against a multifamily zoning for the following reasons: apartment renters add too much traffic to the infrastructure, apartment renters do not pay their fair share of taxes, apartment renters are boisterous or apartment renters do not involve themselves in the community.

Although most already know these misconceptions are just untrue, University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center has complied survey information that can be used to back up the multifamily real estate sector's position. The survey confirms that the differences between homeowners and renters is relatively small, and that apartment residents are actually more socially engaged, equally involved in community groups and active in local politics.

The survey revealed 32.7% of apartment dwellers reported spending a social evening at least weekly with someone in their neighborhood, compared to 16.5% of homeowners. Equal percentages of homeowners and apartment residents are members of sports groups and almost equal percentages of both are members of literary, art, discussion, or study groups.

The National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) is using this information, and its own research, to fight misconceptions and educate industry players. For example, NMHC has reported that, compared to home owners, apartment renters face a higher property tax rate even thought they make fewer claims on schools, roads, and other infrastructure.

So, is the mantra "home ownership is good for communities" true? Yes. But is the typical suburban homeowner battle cry that apartments are "not good for communities" true? Absolutely not.

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