Condominium v. House Redux

Here is a quick summary and clarification of my recent post which I decided was necessary given that piece’s length. I’m going to rely on that analysis in future posts so I want a quick reference to my conclusions:

  1. Generally, people prefer to live in a house, but will live in condominiums.
  2. Traditionally, people who buy a condominium rather than a house are choosing to trade living space for proximity to urban amenities (work, library, museums, galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, theaters). The essential determination is which you prefer: an urban environment or personal space. That urban environment’s desirability goes only as far as the desirability of the urban amenities which comprise it. (Parking is a red herring: people will deal with difficult parking if the trip is worth it—look at the mall during December or Seattle 365 days a year.)
  3. In a big city, overall living expenses including commute time, fuel expenses, and higher cost of living for shopping in urban grocery stores are probably close to similar in a suburban house or urban condominium, depending on the valuation of each factor. This is a negligible consideration in Olympia because it’s a relatively small geographic area.
  4. Convenience is in the eye of the beholder: some prefer free and abundant parking that facilitates driving while others would prefer to walk.
  5. Thad Curtz brought up children yesterday, but I think that is simply one—but perhaps the major—aspect of point #2: as you have children you don’t have as much time for urban amenities and want more space.
  6. Condominiums may be more affordable than houses, but I don’t believe price is determinative in Olympia because the difference between the cost of living options is not extreme.

Therefore, a full range of housing options in any given community requires distinct and obvious trade-offs among the above mentioned factors. A condominium without urban amenities is as attractive as a house without living space and a yard. Olympia reverses the traditional paradigm: its current urban conception has many urban amenities, but most houses are closer to them than most condominiums. Until that changes, condominiums will not be an attractive housing option, and it is unlikely that developers will build them, citing a market demand issue.

Percival Landing, a re-conceptualized artesian well, and a few more consumer businesses reducing the empty retail spaces in the core could modify our collective mental conceptions quickly. If the PPS presentation is any indicator, the city has internalized the deficient urban amenity issue and recognized the need for more. The ODA is also working on this idea. As a more attractive urban scape develops, so will demand for housing and hence, the viability of residential development projects to those who fund and build them.[i] Except for our love affair with our cars, I cannot think of another reason why this will not happen.[ii]


[i] This is precisely why I was against the Larida Passage project—views are an urban amenity that will foment desire to live downtown, (and the same goes for preservation of, and access to, our shorelines). By itself, I imagined Larida Passage would have become an albatross–like its would be neighbor–and would have resulted in one less reason for other people to move downtown. Of course that is me entertaining a disingenuous argument in the first place. Developers, like most of us, work for their own benefit, not for the attainment of the goals in the comprehensive plan.

[ii] I said this flippantly: I can’t name a single community that has overcome this problem successfully. Seattle has been at this for 30 years and it is only in the initial phase of getting people out of their cars. On the other hand, Olympia is soooo much wiser than Seattle. 😉

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