CAPITAL DESTINATION: The Reserve at Rokeby Farm, a Centex Corp. community in the suburbs of Washington, features large cluster homesites averaging ¾ to 1 acre and estate homes ranging from 3,759 to 5,849 square feet. Photo: Centex Corp.

In the midst of an affordable housing crisis, it may be fair to ask why so many Americans are living in opulence while others are increasingly becoming homeless. How did we arrive at this point and is there a corrective measure?

The United States is facing a housing crisis: Affordable housing is inadequate, while luxury homes abound. Homelessness remains a persistent problem in many areas of the country.

Despite this, popular culture has often focused on housing as an opportunity for upward mobility: the American Dream wrapped within four walls and a roof. The housing industry has contributed to this belief as it has promoted ideals of “living better.” Happiness is marketed as living with both more space and more amenities.

As an architect and scholar who examines how we shape buildings and how they shape us, I’ve examined the trend toward “more is better” in housing. Opulent housing is promoted as a reward for hard work and diligence, turning housing from a basic necessity into an aspirational product.

Yet what are the ethical consequences of such aspirational dreams? Is there a point where “more is better” creates an ethical dilemma?

The better housing craze
The average single-family home built in the United States in the 1960s or before was less than 1,500 square feet in size. By 2016, the median size of a new, single-family home sold in the United States was 2,422 square feet, almost twice as large.

A new single-family home in 2016.
Single-family homes built in the 1980s had a median of six rooms. By 2000, the median number of rooms was seven. What’s more, homes built in the 2000s were more likely than earlier models to have more of all types of spaces: bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, family rooms, dining rooms, dens, recreation rooms, utility rooms and, as the number of cars per family increased, garages.

Today, homebuilding companies promote these expanding spaces – large yards, spaces for entertainment, private swimming pools, or even home theaters – as needed for recreation and social events.

Read More