The U.S. Census Bureau last week predicted that the population of the United States will expand 49 percent from 282 million residents four years ago to 420 million people 45 years from now.

The U.S. Census Bureau last week predicted that the population of the United States will expand 49 percent from 282 million residents four years ago to 420 million people 45 years from now.

Let’s face it: Housing 420 million people is not going to be easy. We need to be open to new housing ideas, we need to find better housing solutions than we’ve tried thus far, and we need to think–and act–soon. Indeed, the Census Bureau also said the faster rates of population growth will occur in the earlier years of the 45-year period.

Long-term demographic predictions are always a bit iffy, but let’s assume the Census Bureau’s number-crunchers overestimated the total future population. It really wouldn’t matter because 380 million or 390 million instead of 420 million would still be a huge number. And if they’ve erred, as they have in the past, on the conservative side, we could be talking about housing more than 420 people.

Take an Inman News survey on housing availability.

Where will 420 million people live in 2050? Where will you–and your children and grandchildren–live?

The nation had approximately 120.6 million housing units at the end of June 2003, an increase of 75 percent compared with the 68 million housing units that existed in 1970, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development statistics. So it was possible to vastly increase the nation’s housing stock in three decades.

But do we have the resources and the will to do it again?

Suppose we tackle the problem from the supply side. We could tweak some local zoning laws, increase government subsidies for housing construction and set up more housing trust funds. We could establish some new cities and build more housing on what is today undeveloped land. We could build new smaller homes on smaller lots and increase existing housing densities.

It wouldn’t be easy. Environmentalists would fight zoning changes and new development. Home buyers likely would balk at shoebox-sized houses on handkerchief-sized lots. Housing barely registers on the national political screen, and politicians must be hard pressed to support higher expenditures for public needs. But assuming we agreed on those supply-side solutions, would they be enough, even cumulatively over four-and-a-half decades, to expand the housing stock to accommodate 420 million people?

Suppose we tackle the problem from the demand side. We could lock the nation’s borders or maybe encourage some people to emigrate out of the United States.

Maybe we could go all out and annex a neighboring country? Canada has a lot of land and not that many people, relatively speaking. And it’s conveniently close. Or maybe we could tow a few sparsely inhabited islands alongside the U.S. coastlines?

Immigration advocates would howl in protest if the borders were closed; convincing people to leave the country is probably a non-starter; and, of course, annexing Canada is simply ludicrous.

All things considered, towing those offshore islands sounds pretty good.

But seriously, we can’t close our eyes to a future in which, if the Census Bureau is correct, we will have to house 420 million people. We need new ideas. We need more solutions. We need housing opportunities. And we need them now.


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