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Developers adapt housing projects to keep Gen X here

Changing demographics could force new development in North County to offer a mix of products not previously built together in San Diego, panelists said Tuesday morning at an Urban Land Institute session at the University Club.

“We have to break the mold we’ve had before,” ULI management committee Chairman Tim Sullivan said in summary of the event, billed as a discussion on creating a more affordable, equitable and lively built environment.

High housing costs could be one factor to blame for the changing population over the past five years, and the new population may have different demands for housing.

The Generation X population -- defined as those born in the late 1960s to mid-1970s -- and their families have declined since 2008, according to an August report from the National University System Institute for Policy Research.

The total population continued to grow over this time period by 3.9 percent to 3.17 million people, although that rate is lower than pre-2000. But leaving the county were those in the 35- to 49-year-old age range, with a population drop of 4.6 percent.

Millennials, those up to 19-years-old -- and likely the children of Gen Xers -- also dropped by 1.9 percent.

Three populations did increase in the five-year period: Generation Y -- ages 20 to 34 at the time -- by 5.2 percent; baby boomers, ages 50 to 64, by 15.5 percent; and retirees older than 65, by 15.2 percent.

“When you’re in your 20s, you can double up with roommates,” said Kelly Cunningham, the study’s author and panelist. “But when you get married and have kids, you need an affordable place to live.”

Race and ethnic demographics are also changing, said Cunningham, economist and senior fellow at the National University System Institute for Policy Research.

The county’s white population is getting older, with a median age of 42.8 years, and the Latino population skews younger, with a median age of 28 years. According to the report, the Latino population under the age of 20 outnumbers whites by 35 percent.

“You can carry these trends out and you can see how our regional demographics are changing over time,” Cunningham said.

Populations reflect incomes, Cunningham added, describing the two-tier system with plenty of jobs at the top and bottoms of the pay scale, but fewer in the middle, where recovery has been slow since the recession.

These factors could drive the industry for the next decade, signaling a change in course for development, communities and programming, said Sullivan, of Meyers Group LLC.

Panelists echoed these sentiments and explained the changes their companies are already making.

Chris Brown, founder of Alchemy Consulting Group, said he’s working on a project that’s undergone a study on the balance between jobs and housing. An imbalance was reported for the 514-acre Warner Ranch development, which could serve employees at Pala Casino Resort and Spa, Brown said.

Meanwhile, empty-nesters in their 60s and 70s want smaller lots and ground-floor master bedrooms, Brown added.

William Ostrem, president and CEO of Black Mountain Ranch, said companies need to develop a plan that offers an array of product types for niches in demographics.

Tom Martinez, first vice president of CB Richard Ellis, spoke about cooperation between builders and businesses, such as figuring out how to expand a labor base and keep a competitive edge.

Educational opportunities are also key, he said.

“Along the (Interstate) 15 corridor, you are seeing expansion,” Martinez said. “You’re seeing big lots of space starting to absorb. You are seeing absorption happen, and it’s positive absorption.”

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