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March 30, 2020

“That’s Going to Leave a Mark” – Potential Changes in Housing from the Latest Pandemic

The response to this pandemic has hit the American way of life so hard that we will see bruises for some time to come. Yes, we will recover (take a deep breath). What it takes for us to recover is for others to discuss.

Instead, I want to talk about the possible changes we will see in our built environment from social distancing, sheltering in place, working and schooling from home. The areas I believe affected will be:

  • Mass migration to the suburbs
  • Single family over multi-family
  • Single family rentals
  • The Home Office – or two
  • A Zoom Room?
  • Kitchens
  • Home gyms
  • Touchless devices
  • Aging in place vs Senior living facilities

Mass Migration to the Suburbs

As we all adapt to working remotely, one begins to question how often they really need to be in the office? Let’s say on average, you only must be in the office once a week – or once a month? Would you continue living within the confines of the city? Or would you expand your search radius with the commute playing less of a role in the decision?

Those in the housing industry know that the “sleepy suburbs” are anything but and have been evolving and attracting city-dwellers for some time. What if you could work in a completely different city or state? When I last checked, Clemson, SC and Oxford, MS had but one case of the virus (subject to change). Both beautiful, idyllic places to live and raise a family. New York City has thousands of cases, largely due to the proximity of city living. There once was a movie called Escape from New York. We might see its real-life sequel coming soon! (My family members in NY are rolling their eyes right now)

Single Family over Multi-Family

If you live in a multi-story building with an elevator, will you think twice before getting in? What if someone coughs or sneezes while confined to the tiny box? God forbid the thing should stop! You can probably take the stairs if its only a four-story building but probably not if it’s taller. Then there’s the groceries. Even a two-story walk-up becomes arduous when carrying all your groceries upstairs (because two trips to the car is out of the question). Advantage: Single Family!

 

Single family rentals

Single Family for Rent might start playing a larger role for a variety of reasons. First, renting becomes more popular in uncertain times. Second, we are likely to see a lot of job relocations. Lastly, we might see those elevator-averse renters make the move to single family rentals. Currently, their options are limited. But we can change that!

Home Office

Many of us have worked from home from time to time. No big deal, right? What about when couples are working from home together? Who gets the office? Sure, your laptop makes anywhere the home office, but phone calls? Yes, you can walk to a different room if you’re on the phone unless you must be on your computer and your phone at the same time. Should there be two flex offices? Maybe. You might want to invest in a good headset as well.

Zoom Room?

Ah, and then there’s Zoom. What a wonderful tool to connect with people and see their faces and expressions. Wildly more personal than just a phone call. But thought needs to go into where you conduct your Zoom meetings. If I had a camera in front of me at this very moment, the cluttered mess behind me would be distracting. I could invest in a blank screen to shield the view. But inevitably, my dog will start a barking competition with the neighbor’s dog passing my house during a presentation. It’s difficult to drive home a point when a child cuts into the picture – though as the interview below demonstrates, some comic relief is appreciated!

Kitchens

With all the restaurants closed to dining in, Americans have had to cook in their kitchens! Will the older, dated kitchens hold up to the pressure? The first area of contention is having only one refrigerator. A separate drink refrigerator might have been a luxury before the pandemic, but I’m sure there are families out there who are starting to see the benefits. Hey – we need our adult beverages to help deal with the stress! And forget those tiny pantries that I still see in new construction (!) since everyone has a three-month (or year in some cases) supply of paper towels, toilet paper (please stop this) and canned goods.

Home gyms

Now that many gyms are closed, the sale of Pelotons and home gym equipment has soared. So much so that many are on back order. My friend Susan was excited hers would be delivered in less than a week! But where does it go?

Touchless devices

Suddenly, we have become hyper-aware of the fact that we touch a lot of gadgets throughout the day. I certainly wish I had stock in a company that made touchless devices like toilet handles, facets, light switches, etc. One restaurant had a touchless door opener in their restrooms (I guess they got tired of picking up the paper towels folks used to open the door while exiting). A New York hotel has no buttons inside their elevators. You wave your key card on a central pad and it tells you which car to take you to your floor. Sweet. That was for security. Now it has a new purpose. What else would you like to avoid touching?

Aging in place vs Senior living facilities

Sadly, the hardest hit group of people have been the inhabitants of senior living facilities. The independent senior apartments just down the street have at least 12 cases. I believe this pandemic will give millions of seniors pause before making the move to a congregate-care facility. Instead I believe we will see more seniors choosing to age in place with the help of Uber and Lift, grocery store deliveries and on demand home health care services. Is our current housing stock up to the challenge? While this may help keep our seniors exposed to fewer infectious diseases, it doesn’t address the potential for social isolation.

In short, there will be a plethora of new challenges in our built environment as a result of this pandemic. What do you think is the most pressing issue we face in housing and how should we go about solving it? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Remember, we’re in this together!

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This post was written by Housing Design Matters