Survey Says: Accomodate Growth, Don't Limit It
"We are very encouraged by the results of this survey, which we conducted in high-growth metropolitan areas where we knew growth issues would be a concern," said NAHB Vice Presi-dent/Secretary Gary Garczynski, a home builder from Newington, Va. "Clearly, Americans rec-ognize the need for new homes to accommodate the nation's rapidly growing population, and they prefer smart, practical approaches to dealing with growth."
The telephone survey of 500 registered voters in each of five major metropolitan areas also found strong support for broad-based funding of infrastructure to ease congestion and accommo-date future growth. Further, it revealed that most people do not attribute traffic congestion to growth. Instead, they believe a combination of poor government planning and people driving more for personal reasons is to blame.
Significantly, the results were consistent across four of the five metropolitan areas surveyed: Denver, Atlanta, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Results varied somewhat in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where residents tended to be less concerned over growth-related issues.
"Many people are concerned about growth, but as yet there is no broad consensus on how to handle it or even on its effects," Garczynski added. "These survey results bring clarity to the is-sue and help define public preferences and expectations. We want to take the survey data to local governments and work with them to solve growth issues," he said.
Pace of Growth
Commenting on the specifics of the survey, Garczynski noted that in order to get an accurate reading of how people view growth and its effects, NAHB selected markets that have experi-enced sustained, above average growth during the current economic expansion, which is now in its ninth year.
Residents in three of the five markets were concerned with the pace of residential growth; 59.2% in Denver, 58.2% in Atlanta and 49.8% in Washington indicated that their area is growing too fast. Opinion was split in San Diego, where 45.4% said the pace of residential growth is too fast and 44.0% said growth is occurring at the right pace. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the majority, 61.5%, said housing growth is occurring at the right pace.
Ironically, given the relationship between business growth and the need for new housing, the majority in every market except Atlanta felt that business growth is occurring at the right pace. More than 59% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 50.3% in Denver, 49.6% in Washington and 58.8% in San Diego said that new businesses are being built at the right pace. In Atlanta, opinion was split, with 39.3% saying business development is too fast and the same percentage indicating that business growth is occurring at the right pace.
Growth and Housing Choice
Although concerned with the rate of growth, a clear majority of those surveyed preferred that government policy be designed to accommodate growth by ensuring that critical services and improvements are available rather than directing where growth occurs through regulations. More than 61% in Atlanta, 58.9% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 57.8% in San Diego, 56.1% in Washington and 52.1% in Denver said government should make sure that roads, schools and other services are available where people want to live rather than regulating where growth occurs.
Likewise, when asked to choose between two options for revitalizing downtowns and older suburbs, poll participants preferred encouraging people to live in existing neighborhoods closer to work and public transportation rather than limiting new home construction in an effort to force growth into areas that are already developed. At least 70% of those surveyed in San Diego, Min-neapolis-St. Paul and Washington said government should invest resources in older existing neighborhoods to encourage people to live there. In Atlanta and Denver, 65.9% and 64.0% con-curred, respectively.
Builders throughout the country routinely include open spaces such as parks and recreation areas in the communities that they build, and the survey showed that most people strongly sup-port the effort. In San Diego, Denver and Washington, 74% of the people surveyed said that in-cluding open spaces in new developments should have a somewhat high to very high priority. Opinion was similar in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta where 69.4% and 65.9%, respectively, said that there should be a somewhat high to very high priority on ensuring that new housing de-velopments include open spaces.
Improving Funding for Roads and Schools
The survey also showed that people believe strongly that funding for infrastructure improve-ments such as schools and roads should be broad-based, with the cost spread throughout the en-tire community rather than borne by a single segment of the population. Generally, the survey respondents said, government does not spend enough on schools and roads.
Almost 73% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 69.8% in Washington, 64.7% in Atlanta, 64.2% in San Diego and 64% in Denver said that everyone should pay for new schools rather than imposing impact fees on new homes.
The majority in every metropolitan area except Minneapolis-St. Paul said that the federal and state governments do not spend enough on renovating and expanding schools and constructing new ones. In San Diego, 58.2% said state and federal governments don’t spend enough, and in Atlanta, 46.9% indicated the same. In Washington, 47.6% said that government does not spend enough on schools, and in Denver virtually the same percentage concurred. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, 43.7% said that the state and federal government spend about the right amount, and 10.9% said they spend too much.
Local government spending was viewed somewhat more favorably by those who were polled. Almost 45% in Denver said that local government does not spend enough on schools and 35.6% said it spends about the right amount. In Washington, 44.3% said local government does not spend enough, and 38.6% said it spends about the right amount. Opinion was almost equally split in Atlanta, with 41.4% indicating that local government does not spend enough on schools and 42.8% saying it spends about the right amount. In Minneapolis, more than half said local gov-ernment spends about the right amount on schools and 29.8% said that it doesn’t spend enough. Only in San Diego, with 53.8%, did the majority think that local government does not spend enough on schools; 31.2% in San Diego said spending on schools is about right.
Opinions were similar for traffic improvements and spending. The majority in each market supported broad-based funding of transportation system improvements rather than having smaller market segments -- such as new home buyers -- bear the entire cost. More than 56% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 57.3% in Washington, 50.3% in Denver, 52.9% in Atlanta and 54.0% in San Diego said that all taxpayers should share improvement costs. And only in San Diego, with 17.4%, did more than 15% say that new residents should pay for improvements through impact fees on new homes.
Government does not spend enough on building new roads and improving existing ones ac-cording to the majority in three of the five markets. Forty-five percent of voters in San Diego said that government does not spend enough, and 35.8% said it spends about the right amount. In Atlanta, 42.8% indicated that government spending is inadequate and 38.7% said it is about right. In the Washington area, 46.7% said that government does not spend enough on roads and 33.3% said it spends about the right amount. Less than a third of the poll participants in Minnea-polis, 31.4%, said government doesn't spend enough on roads. Almost half said that it spends about the right amount.
The preference for improving and expanding roads was also clear in the way that those polled advocated spending money to improve traffic conditions. The majority in every market said that most or all money should be spent on road improvements or that money should be split evenly between road improvements and public transportation. Fewer than 25% in each market said that all or most money should be spent on public transportation. In Atlanta, 69.8% said that most or all money should be spent on roads or that spending should be split evenly. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, 72.7% concurred, and in Denver, 72.8% indicated the same preferences. In Washington, 70.8% preferred splitting the money evenly or spending most or all on roads.
Although concerned about traffic, the people surveyed overwhelmingly preferred improving existing roads and building new ones to limiting construction of new homes to areas close to public transportation as a way to control sprawl. They also attributed traffic congestion primarily to poor planning and more driving for personal reasons rather than to growth.
The majority in four of the five markets indicated that traffic congestion is a major concern, with 48.2% in San Diego, 53.5% in Atlanta, 55.5% in Washington and 58.6% in Denver charac-terizing it as a "very big problem." Residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul had fewer concerns about traffic congestion, with 28.7% rating it as a "very big problem" and 39.3% indicating that it is "somewhat of a problem."
In every market except Minneapolis-St. Paul, the majority said that daily driving has a nega-tive effect on the quality of their life. Almost 51% in San Diego, 49.9% in Atlanta, 51.2% in Washington and 56.8% in Denver indicated that driving in their market is very difficult and has a very negative effect on their quality of life. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, 38.3% said driving has a negative impact, 39.3% said it has no impact, and 18.4% said it has a positive impact.
While the people surveyed are concerned about growth, most do not blame it for traffic con-gestion. Instead, the majority attributed traffic congestion to poor government planning and peo-ple driving more for personal reasons. In San Diego, 37.4% attributed traffic congestion to growth while 53.0% said it is due to poor planning and more driving for personal reasons. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, 36.0% said that traffic problems stem from growth and 53.9% said they are due to poor planning and more personal driving. In Washington, 57.4% attributed traffic congestion to poor planning and more personal driving and 30.4% said it is due to growth; in Atlanta, 50.7% said that poor planning and personal driving are responsible for traffic congestion and 38.7% attributed it to growth. Only in Denver was traffic congestion attributed primarily to growth, with 50.7% citing more cars from new growth as the cause. Almost 40 percent in Denver cited poor government planning and more personal driving.
To solve traffic problems, residents in every metropolitan area overwhelmingly preferred im-proving roads to requiring that new homes be constructed near public transportation. Almost 67% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 62.0% in Denver, 58.8% in San Diego, 57.3% in Washington and 53.5% in Atlanta said that roads should be improved and expanded in preference to adopting planning regulations requiring that all new housing be built near existing roads and public trans-portation centers.
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