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Next big trends? Multi-generational & smaller homes
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Jerry Brown was right.

Small is beautiful.

The 1.0 version of Jerry Brown the Governor made that proclamation over 26 years ago.

It was a philosophy that he had hoped Californians would embrace.

Too bad we didn't.

The housing debacle is a prime example of our insane tendency to super-size everything whether it is a want or an essential. The assumption bigger is better for housing - a trend born in the heady days after World War II that gave birth to tract homes - has definitely overshot the runway.

Environmentalists for years have bemoaned how our seemingly insatiable appetite for bigger free-standing homes and even bigger lots to put them on was excessively consuming valuable farmland, stressing ecological systems and creating more air pollution as we commute farther and farther to work.

If economists had been as vocal about the gigantic financial sinkhole we have been creating, maybe things would be different today.

It's not that some didn't try. A white paper issued in the late 1990s by Bank of America economists warned post-World War II development patterns in California were setting the stage for economic disaster. They pointed out that as we built housing farther away from the center of cities we were planting the seeds for expensive decay and blight At the same time we were stretching our resources from the need to extend everything from freeways to sewer and water lines farther and farther out. Obviously the closer people are to employment, the fewer freeways are needed that run 100 miles out to collect commuters. As far as the five homes per acre development pattern, there is no economy of scale for everything from sewer to water lines or even streets.

Part of the blame obviously went to banks themselves. There weren't very many then - or now - that loan money for new homes without a two-car garage, let alone simply a carport, or homes under 1,100 square feet. There rationale is simple. More people want - although not necessarily need - homes that have four bedrooms plus and a minimum of three baths, three-car garages, a 9,000 square-foot lot and enough living space that would easily accommodate three homes built in the early 1960s. The rationale is simple. If the largest chunk of buyers - although not necessarily the majority - desire a home that fits a certain mold then it would be easier to sell therefore making their investment less risky.

Then if what they underwrite won't sell because of affordability, why wouldn't banks have minimal resistance to pressure to weaken lending standards for mortgages to move the homes they are bank rolling?

Housing trends today based on research by the Pew Institute shows that 16.7 percent of this nation's population lives in multi-generational households. That's up from a low of 12 percent in1981 but down from 1900 to 1940 when the number vacillated between 22 and 25 percent.

Americans who live alone of all ages had been climbing steadily from less than 2 percent in 1990 to roughly 10.3 percent a few years ago before declining to 10.2 percent in 2010.

Those 65 and older living alone has gone from 6 percent in 1900, peaked at almost 29 percent in the late 1980s, and then declined to 27 percent in 2010.

Given the fact that housing is the biggest cost of any household whether families or individuals rent or buy a home it has a big impact on the ability to cover the tab for our other needs as well as our wants.

You will notice that savvy developers are now designing homes that they are hawking as "multi-generational" family plans.

It took decades of living large for builders to grasp that new single family homes need to either go on a space reduction diet or that other housing types reflect not just what the market can afford but what they might actually want.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.