Nationally, infill development qualifies as a widespread trend that many housing and planning experts love to discuss. But a new study by the EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities shows that the presence of infill varies significantly in housing markets across the country, with infill accounting for just 2% of new-home construction in Prescott, Ariz., and 80% in San Jose, Calif. 

“The biggest surprise was the wide range of outcomes across metropolitan areas,” says Kevin Ramsey, a policy research fellow with the EPA and author of “Residential Construction Trends in America’s Metropolitan Regions.” He and others examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and also analyzed changes in land cover between 2000 and 2009 to estimate just how much new residential infill development was happening in large- and medium-sized metropolitan housing markets.

Overall, Ramsey and his colleagues found that the share of infill construction is growing, particularly in the biggest metro areas such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose, Calif., where infill accounted for more than 50% of all new construction.  Additionally, 36 of 51 large metros of 1 million people or more, or 71% of those major housing markets, saw infill’s share of new housing grow in the four-year period of 2005–2009 compared to the previous period of 2000–2004. 

Nationally, infill represents approximately 21% of new homes and is still outstripped by greenfield development in 205 of the 209 metro housing markets evaluated in the report.

What makes an area more attractive for infill development? The EPA researchers confirmed what many builders and developers already know: that infill typically happens in areas where home prices (and, by extension, land costs) are high. Mass transportation also makes a difference. Metropolitan areas with more transit ridership and miles of rail transit also tend to have higher rates of infill, compared to those cities and suburbs without a big investment in mass transit. 

Unfortunately, the researchers were unable to determine the impact of the housing crash on the desirability or viability of infill development, due to timing and data limitations. “The housing market decline happened midway through the second period of analysis (2005-2009), preventing a clear comparison of trends before and after the housing market decline,” the report says. 

Click here to read the full report and previous year’s studies.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Jose, CA, New York, NY, San Francisco, CA, Prescott, AZ, Los Angeles, CA.