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Old 01-02-2014, 09:32 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
12,447 posts, read 11,951,877 times
Reputation: 10561

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While in general I'm a fan of "densification" arguments, I sort of have two minds regarding the subdivision of single-family homes into apartments. I'm mostly referring here to large (2,000+ square feet) urban houses of historic quality (urban mansions or slightly smaller "gentry housing") but it can also apply to more recent houses.

Pros:

1. It directly alleviates demand in the immediate area for rentals
2. It is much cheaper in terms of providing new units than construction of new apartments.

Cons:

1. The subdivision often eliminates historic architectural features (both inside and outside).
2. Once subdivided, the house generally becomes rental property, not condos. This increases the likelihood it will fall into disrepair - particularly if the rental market is either lower-income folks or students.
3. Coupled with this, movement to a more rental-heavy neighborhood increases the chances of problem tenants, which further pushes out homeowners, creating a vicious cycle which either causes a general decline of a neighborhood (although it might not be severe), or a "student slum."
4. In neighborhoods where there is significant developable land (vacant lots, old industrial structures, etc) the subdivision of houses will reduce incentives for new development unless demand grows very high.

In my mind, it seems there are some cities (or even neighborhoods) where subdivision is a good idea, and others where it is not.

In high-cost areas with little developable land, few of the drawbacks listed above are a major concern. The subdivided units are likely to be done with less "remuddling" and will rent at a premium to professionals. Arguably they are less damaging to the overall fabric of the neighborhood than the trend in some western cities of building small apartment buildings directly inside residential detached housing areas.

In contrast, in cities where recovery is still building, and land is cheap, there seems ample reason to block subdivision of houses in many contexts. Subdivision may increase the number of units, but it doesn't necessarily do much to improve the urban fabric or desirability of the neighborhood. It also increases the chances that if a neighborhood "bounces back" it will become a fashionable area again.

Anyway, thoughts?
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Old 01-02-2014, 11:02 AM
 
Location: Philaburbia
32,405 posts, read 59,910,649 times
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I think you answered your own question by listing two pros and four cons.

Another con is parking - in my neighborhood, where few people have driveways and few houses are fully detached, street parking is at a premium. Dividing houses into apartments would intensify a bad situation.
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Old 01-02-2014, 11:21 AM
 
Location: Vallejo
14,079 posts, read 16,109,257 times
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1) Not really. If a neighborhood is desireable, you'll just get unconvential housing situations, aka roommates. The total number of occupants won't increase that much, really. Maybe you rent two units to single professionals instead of four individuals and decrease the density.

It should be done when it's more profitable to do so. For example, much of San Francisco's housing has been turned into two to three unit apartments or TICs. Normally those houses in the neighborhoods we're talking about go for $8,000 to $10,000 a month in rent, which up until recently there wasn't much of a market for. They might be five or six bedrooms, so you could potentially get six people in there for $1,000 a month, but much more than that is difficult to find roommate renters. Plus the layout was wrong. They had big dining rooms, big living rooms.

By gutting the interior you could create two nice two bedroom apartments and a studio or 1bd on the ground floor. Rent out the two nice apartments for $4,000/month and the 1bd for $2,000. As long as that's easier to do, and it often is, than finding someone to rent the whole thing for $8k, it should be done. It's actually no swinging back the other direction a bit. People are buying up TICs/apartments and converting them back into single family homes.

Parking and that is a zoning consideration. Just charge an appropriate fee for a monthly parking permit so there isn't a shortage.
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Old 01-02-2014, 01:20 PM
 
2,553 posts, read 2,007,618 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ohiogirl81 View Post
Another con is parking - in my neighborhood, where few people have driveways and few houses are fully detached, street parking is at a premium. Dividing houses into apartments would intensify a bad situation.
That argument is not without problems.
  • If demand has become high enough and buildable land scarce enough that duplexing is a reasonable alternative
  • then it reasonable to assume that the area is built out
  • thus it is reasonable to assume that the utility is the car is at or near its peak--roadways are near peak capacity and expansion would require costly land acquisition--and alternatives should be considered.

What those alternatives are is irrelevant in this particular moment, though alternatives would need to be discussed separately.

Subdividing housing before the need arises would, yes, increase roadway and parking congestion. But, because the need isn't there for such subdivisions, the subdivision doesn't make sense in the first place, mooting the parking problem.
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Old 01-02-2014, 01:54 PM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
12,447 posts, read 11,951,877 times
Reputation: 10561
Quote:
Originally Posted by Malloric View Post
1) Not really. If a neighborhood is desireable, you'll just get unconvential housing situations, aka roommates. The total number of occupants won't increase that much, really. Maybe you rent two units to single professionals instead of four individuals and decrease the density.

It should be done when it's more profitable to do so. For example, much of San Francisco's housing has been turned into two to three unit apartments or TICs. Normally those houses in the neighborhoods we're talking about go for $8,000 to $10,000 a month in rent, which up until recently there wasn't much of a market for. They might be five or six bedrooms, so you could potentially get six people in there for $1,000 a month, but much more than that is difficult to find roommate renters. Plus the layout was wrong. They had big dining rooms, big living rooms.

By gutting the interior you could create two nice two bedroom apartments and a studio or 1bd on the ground floor. Rent out the two nice apartments for $4,000/month and the 1bd for $2,000. As long as that's easier to do, and it often is, than finding someone to rent the whole thing for $8k, it should be done. It's actually no swinging back the other direction a bit. People are buying up TICs/apartments and converting them back into single family homes.
I do find it interesting the varied pressures regarding gentrification, homeownership, and rentals. In general in Pittsburgh subdivision of houses only happens these days in declining neighborhoods, although most of the student ghetto area (Oakland) has long since been remuddled and chopped up to oblivion. It seems like most neighborhoods go through a period where homeownership initially drops, as firms which cater to young renters snap up and update houses which were held by old-timers. Eventually though, the costs no longer justify property management firms keeping hold of rentals, and homeowners crowd the market out. That is unless it's an area which "locked down" into a student-ghetto, in which case too few properties are ever on the open market for people to buy at any price, no matter how desirable the neighborhood is.
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