More than a year of living with the pandemic has, among so many other things, seen a significant shift in public support for real estate development, depending to some degree on who's moving in.
A survey by coUrbanize, a proptech company that facilitates community engagement in planning and development, said that 58% of respondents in a May-June 2021 survey identified themselves as "pro-real estate development," compared with 49% polled in March 2020 as the plague of COVID-19 was just taking hold.
Respondents who described their community as "urban" or "diverse" were even more likely to support development -- nearly 62% in both cases -- but overcrowding and affordable housing remain concerns, coUrbanize said.
To wit, only 40% of respondents said they support added density through new apartments or taller buildings. That rose to 54% among respondents who identified themselves as "pro-development."
coUrbanize said it collected responses from 1,087 U.S. residents during a two-week period in May and June across a range of demographic categories, compared with 1,073 responses to its first survey, taken during a two-week period in early March 2020.
The company said its platform has been used in 453 projects that have generated 43,568 comments by 22,515 users. Clients include major commercial real estate firms such as real estate investment trusts (REITs) Alexandria Real Estate Equities and Boston Properties.
Affordable housing and economic development
Rising housing costs apparently were on the minds of the respondents, as 46% identified affordable housing as a benefit of real estate development, compared with 32% in the year-ago survey. Economic growth topped the list of benefits in both surveys, at 58% this year and nearly 48% last year, coUrbanize said.
The company also said that more that 57% of the respondents said a virtual format would make them more likely to attend a community meeting, but only 36% said they have attended one since the pandemic began.
And a large majority -- 87% -- of the respondents said they'd rather not attend a public meeting -- virtual or in-person -- to offer their feedback about development projects.
Support for affordable housing varies by who's getting it
"Support for affordable housing varied according to its beneficiaries," coUrbanize said in a blog post about this year's survey, adding that only 38% characterized their own communities as affordable.
Nearly 71% said they would welcome affordable housing for veterans, and 70% felt the same way about senior citizens. "Low-income housing" was far less popular, welcomed by only 52% of respondents.
"Despite the general positivity… the survey shows that NIMBYism around affordable housing and density exist even among proponents of developments and indicates that public meetings are not the best way to address these concerns," said coUrbanize founder and CEO Karin Brandt.
Feelings about development changed during the pandemic
"Like so many things, people's feelings about development clearly changed during the pandemic, and I view many of these changes as positive," said CEO Brandt. "For example, more respondents recognize the economic impact and improved quality of life that development can bring to a neighborhood when done thoughtfully."
coUrbanize gives people a way to share their feedback and have a voice in a development or public planning process without having to go to a meeting -- by instead posting a comment online or texting in their ideas -- and having a two-way dialogue with the project team.
The Millionacres bottom line
Brandt said she recommends developers explore less traditional methods of educating local communities while allaying concerns about issues like overcrowding and traffic, adding: "Technology empowers more people than ever before to participate in the process. The greater the participation, the greater the benefits to developers, municipalities, and the communities they serve."
Of course, that's what her company does -- facilitate that kind of participation. But the idea does resonate. Public resistance or support can hinder or help real estate investors see the benefits of their individual and corporate stakes in projects, ranging from simply changing the exterior paint color of a house in an historic district to vast, multi-billion-dollar projects.
Engaging with citizens in ways they're comfortable with can help smooth the process and build support. Transparency and ensuring people feel listened to and responded to -- well, that can only help.