Survey: More Than Half of Homebuyers and Sellers Oppose Housing Density, Only a Quarter Support It.

Updated on August 16th, 2019
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African American respondents and those under age 25 were the most likely to support policies that encourage dense housing to be built in their neighborhood.

Homebuyers and sellers are nearly twice as likely to oppose the building of dense housing in their neighborhood than they are to support it. Fifty-three percent of them support zoning policies that limit housing density near where they live; 27 percent support policies that enable it. This is according to a June survey commissioned by Redfin of over 3,000 U.S. residents who bought or sold a primary residence in the last year, or plan to in the next 12 months.

When the responses are broken down by race, some interesting differences come to light. African American homebuyers and sellers are equally as likely to support dense housing in their area as they are to oppose it, with 39 percent supporting policies that encourage density and 39 percent supporting those that limit it. By contrast, white homebuyers and sellers’ responses fall in line with the overall results, with 56 percent in opposing housing density in their neighborhood and 23 percent supporting dense housing nearby.

The findings in this report are based on the nearly 3,000 respondents to the survey who answered the question “Which of the following best reflects your opinion of policies that either reduce or enhance zoning restrictions on the density of housing that can be built near where you live?” There were 2,095 respondents who identified as white or Caucasian, 345 who identified as black or African American, 206 who identified as East Asian or Asian American and 283 who identified as Latinx or Hispanic American.

The answer choices in the survey were:

  • “I don’t know.”
  • “I support zoning policies that limit the number of dense housing units, such as multi-family homes, that can be built near where I live.”
  • “I support zoning policies that make it possible for more dense housing units, such as multi-family homes, to be built near where I live.”

Black respondents were more likely than those of any other racial group we tracked to support policies encouraging density in their neighborhood; Latinx and Asian Americans were also more likely than white respondents to support density.

White Homebuyers and Sellers Are Most Likely to be Against Density

“People who don’t want dense housing in their neighborhood often reason that they don’t want to see the character of their neighborhood change,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “Minorities, however, may be less likely to have sentimental feelings about the types of housing that characterize their neighborhoods because zoning policies have often contributed to racial inequality through segregation. However, the minorities who do oppose dense zoning may be opposed to the gentrification that accompanies dense luxury condos and apartments.”

“In places like Minneapolis and Oregon that have already banned single-family zoning, we may see white-flight to areas where single-family homes remain segregated from multi-family homes,” Fairweather continued. “Even though pro-density zoning is unpopular among most homebuyers, Presidential candidates from both sides of the political spectrum recognize it as a necessary policy for addressing housing affordability. Democrats, such as Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have policies that aim to undo damage racist zoning policies like redlining. President Trump also wants to redesign zoning laws to allow for more dense housing, but with a more free-market approach.”

You might suspect that it’s just wealthier people who want to limit density and that the difference in sentiment between the racial groups is due to the income inequality between black and white families. However, income does not explain most of the difference in density sentiment across racial groups. When you break down the results by income, homebuyers and sellers in every income bracket were far more likely to oppose density than to support it.

High-Income Homebuyers and Sellers Only Slightly More Likely to Oppose Density in Their Neighborhood

We also broke down the survey responses further by both household income and race–comparing density sentiment among white and black respondents by income level, to find one group of outliers. The highest-earning African American respondents (those earning $200,000 or more) were more likely to oppose density than to favor it, with 54 percent opposing and 34 percent supporting density in their neighborhood. Other African American respondents were more likely to support density than oppose it. The breakdowns for those with incomes under $100,000 were 39 percent supported density to 36 percent opposed, and for those with incomes from $100,000 to $200,000 it was 42 percent supported to 36 percent opposed.

In addition to the differences in sentiment about housing density by race and income level, respondents’ ages also correlated with their opinions on housing density. The oldest group of respondents—those aged 65 and up—were more than four times as likely to be against density in their neighborhood (64%) than they were to support it (15%). The only age group that had more people in favor of supporting density than opposing it was those under 25, of which 41 percent favored density and 36 percent opposed it.

Younger Homebuyers and Sellers Are Most Likely to Support Density

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tim-ellisredfin-com

Senior Data Journalist / Real Estate Analyst

Tim Ellis has been analyzing the real estate market since 2005, and worked at Redfin as a housing market analyst from 2010 through 2013 and again starting in 2018. In his free time, he runs the independently-operated Seattle-area real estate website Seattle Bubble, and produces the "Dispatches from the Multiverse" improv comedy sci-fi podcast.

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