Public support for real estate development grew significantly during the pandemic, according to a survey by coUrbanize, a Cambridge, MA-based technology company that powers community engagement in development and planning.
The survey, the second in what coUrbanize intends to be an annual series, revealed notable shifts in sentiment between March 2020, when the pandemic began, and May/June of 2021. Most of the shifts favored development, although many respondents raised concerns about overcrowding and affordable housing, even as they cited a lack of housing affordability.
Among the highlights of the survey were the following:
- 58% of the 2021 respondents identified themselves as “pro-real estate development,” compared to 49% in the 2020 survey.
- Respondents who described their community as “urban” or “diverse” were more likely to support development (nearly 62% in both cases).
- Only 40% of respondents supported added density through new apartments or taller buildings, although that percentage rose to 54% among the respondents who identified themselves as “pro-development.”
- Many more respondents identified affordable housing as a benefit of real estate development in this year’s survey, bringing it from the fifth-most named benefit in 2020 (at 32%) to the second-most named benefit (at 46%). The most commonly named benefit in both surveys was economic growth, selected by nearly 58% of 2021 respondents and nearly 48% of 2020 respondents.
- Support for affordable housing varied according to its beneficiaries. Respondents were most welcoming of affordable housing for veterans in their neighborhood (nearly 71%) followed by senior citizens (nearly 70%). Conversely, “low-income housing” was far less popular, welcomed by only 52% of respondents. Meanwhile, only 38% characterized their community as affordable.
- More than 60% of respondents agreed that virtual community meetings are more convenient than traditional, in-person meetings, and 57.17% said the virtual format would make them more likely to attend. However, only 36.22% of respondents have actually attended a virtual community meeting since the pandemic began.
- 87% of respondents said they’d prefer to offer their feedback about development projects without having to attend a public meeting, whether virtual or in-person.
- When respondents were asked about where they obtain information about community developments in their neighborhood, the most selected response (over 30%) was social media.
“Like so many things, people’s feelings about development clearly changed during the pandemic, and I view many of these changes as positive,” said Karin Brandt, CEO and founder of coUrbanize. “For example, more respondents recognize the economic impact and improved quality of life that development can bring to a neighborhood when done thoughtfully.”
She added, “Despite the general positivity, though, the survey shows that NIMBYism around affordable housing and density exists even among proponents of developments, and indicates that public meetings are not the best way to address these concerns. I recommend that developers explore less-traditional methods of educating local communities while allaying concerns about issues like overcrowding and traffic.
“Technology empowers more people than ever before to participate in the process,” she concluded. “The greater the participation, the greater the benefits to developers, municipalities, and the communities they serve.”