Rather than becoming a vestigial organ from the past, American single family residences (SFRs) have experienced an increase in relevance, per New Geography’s analysis of an American Community Survey. According to this information, SFRs constituted almost 80% of all new households within the last decade, with vacancy rates in multi-unit housing reaching 17.1% in 2010.

Extending this analysis to include demographic trends, members of Generation Y (Gen Y) and immigrant communities are driving the expansion of SFRs within the suburbs, increasing diversity amongst its sprawl. Many developers are choosing to invest in suburban areas through the construction of multi-generational housing development in order to cater specifically to these groups.

According to Pew Research Center, a record 51.4 million Americans are living with more than one generation under one roof. Thus, companies are betting on multi-generational living in the suburbs to shape the future of the housing market, rather than considering these developments to be short-term market trends.

first tuesday take: Don’t be fooled by this analysis. The data contrasts two arbitrary calendar dates of no importance to the future of housing. The current trend is one that commenced in 2006, not 2000.  While an increase in SFRs did contribute to suburban population expansion through 2006, this generalization is ignorant of the disparities between California’s distinct and hugely influential economies.

California’s human resources are simply not distributed evenly, as in any society. Urban areas close to the city core are increasingly affluent, populated by more educated groups who are inclined to rent, and thus demand and fill rental units. By contrast, suburban neighborhoods are more likely to be supported by agriculture, farming and industry, remaining heavily dependent on SFRs.

Now, the suburbs are home to the majority of the nation’s poor, a product of lesser education. Providing homes for more lower-income tenants, suburbia imposes lower overall standards of living upon its residents. As the costs of schooling and other public services become further problematic, the unsustainable nature of the suburban cultural habitat will continue to decline, with society’s elite relocating to increasingly gentrified cities. In large part, this decline is due to the low density of these communities and the lack of agglomeration.

As a result of gentrification, the nature of urban cores has grown more culturally homogeneous, while suburban areas are now increasingly diverse. While it is true that some members of Gen Y will still choose to occupy suburbia, the majority of this demographic will gravitate towards cities in order to receive higher levels of compensation than their Baby Boomer parents. Meanwhile, a growing number of immigrants are settling in suburbia, driving the demand for an increase in the sprawl of SFRs.

As cultural preferences and economic motives cause more families to live together under one roof, the demand for multi-generational housing is at an all-time high. Developers are responding to this trend with an increase in multi-generational home building. Such a response is short-sighted, however, as this type of housing is largely a temporary remedy for families still responding to the effects of the Lesser Depression, effects which will not last for perpetuity.

Once commonly associated with its sprawl, suburbia’s constructed image of affluence and efficiency is no more. Going forward, look to California’s urban cores for economic growth.

Related content:

The distribution of California’s human resources

Poverty hits home with suburban poor

Suburban demographics refute city growth

Multi-generational housing is a temporary fix for economic woes

Loosen the noose on urban density

Re: “Don’t bet against the (single-family) house” from New Geography