I recently started a project tracking all of the new housing built in Raleigh (WhatIsRaleighBuilding.com), which means I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the future of housing in the Triangle. The predictions that follow are focused on three general questions: Where will homes get built? How will transportation infrastructure affect housing? How will housing prices change? 

So where will future Triangle residents live? 

I think there will be two main trends. The first, and we should not kid ourselves, is suburban sprawl—neighborhoods of single-family homes, but with more townhomes than in the past, outside of a city center where the land was previously “open” (except for the trees) in boomtowns like Knightdale, Apex, Holly Springs, and at the edges of Raleigh and Durham. There will also be more “New Urbanism”-style developments: Think Sweetwater Park in Apex or Briar Chapel in Chapel Hill—nice, but when built on the edge of a city, still sprawl. 

The second trend will be bigger buildings in and near walkable downtowns. I think 20–25 percent of new homes will fall into this category, but in people’s minds, it will feel like more than 70 percent. Think of John Kane’s Smoky Hollow development in Raleigh, which has one thousand units, but also three-hundred-unit apartments with parking decks near downtown Durham, Chapel Hill, and even smaller ones in Cary. If you look across the entire Triangle in 2040, however, it will be surprising how many places like Apex or Knightdale still don’t have anything like this. 

There will be some infill and smaller missing-middle multifamily developments, but I don’t expect to see a lot. Raleigh had about ten duplexes built inside the Beltline in the last eight or so years, so we’d need a big change for there to be lots of those. That’s a shame, because this is the type of housing we really need. A lot of that will rest on the leadership of local governments around the Triangle. 

Transportation infrastructure will see a diverging diamond trend. Interstate 540 in southern Wake County will open the floodgates to sprawl. Look up Gwinnett County in Georgia, population 927,000, a 30-to-90-minute drive from Atlanta. Everything south of Raleigh from Holly Springs to the middle of Johnston County will start to look like Gwinnett when I-540 is completed. 

The yin to the highway yang will be public transit. I don’t think residents realize how hard it’s actually going to be to build BRT coming out of Raleigh, and that commuter rail in ten years really needs your support. (I give BRT a 75 percent chance of happening—and commuter rail a 49 percent chance.) 

With BRT, Raleigh, Cary, and Garner will have a chance to get people out of cars if they allow dense development near transit stops. Compared to sprawl, this won’t be as big a housing trend over the next twenty years, but I am optimistic that we will start to see denser housing with less parking and the things people need to live their lives all around BRT lines. If everything goes just right for commuter rail, we will even see the stations in Garner and RTP build up like small city centers. 

The last thing I predict for the Triangle in 2040 is that housing prices will continue to rise. This should come as a shock to no one. There will be some affordable housing built with money from bonds and even some included in new development as a trade for increasing zoning. But market-rate housing is going to be expensive, and older home prices are going to keep creeping up as well. I see Triangle-wide housing moving toward a $403,000 average by 2040. Single-family homes of any age will become a luxury item, and townhomes will be the new (still expensive) starter home. 

The big price trend that I can only imagine accelerates is gentrification in neighborhoods that don’t see it coming. If you live within two to five miles of an area that is hip, described as walkable, or downtown, then you should prepare. 

In the next twenty years, we might start to run out of neighborhoods like these as they all turn expensive. Maybe the new ones will be near walkable transit stops in Garner and Knightdale.

James W. Demby tracks new housing built in Raleigh from 2018 onward at his blog, WhatIsRaleighBuilding.com. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com. Click here to read the rest of our 2040 predictions.

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