Infill housing development rises in Los Angeles region

A housing development under construction in San Jose. During the last decade, 80% of the San Jose area's housing construction was infill -- built on previously developed land.
(David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)

A new report on residential construction places the Los Angeles region in some surprising company.

Contradicting metropolitan L.A.’s reputation as the capital of unbridled sprawl, roughly two-thirds of new housing built there between 2005 and 2009 was infill – constructed in previously developed areas rather than on raw land in the exurbs.

Other large metro areas with high infill rates were New York, San Francisco and San Jose, according to an analysis released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Infill rates varied considerably, with some places such as Austin, Texas, and Prescott, Ariz., still building the vast majority of housing in undeveloped areas. But 36 of 51 large metro regions saw a rise in infill between the early and final years of the last decade.

In the San Jose area, 8 of 10 homes built between 2000 and 2009 were infill, outpacing L.A. and New York (both about 62%) and the San Francisco region (56%).


Overall, infill accounted for about a fifth of new home construction in 209 metro regions across the country between 2000 and 2009.

The study attributed the trend to a variety of factors. Compared to the postwar period, fewer American households have children, lessening demand for the conventional large-lot suburban house. Rising transportation costs have added to the allure of homes with shorter commutes. More buyers are interested in living in walkable neighborhoods close to urban amenities.

Areas with high housing costs and demand also create a market for the condominiums, townhomes and small apartments that are typical of infill housing.

The report said the environmental benefits of infill -- a form of “smart growth” – could be substantial. It cited a 2011 EPA study that found that infill on brownfield properties cut per capita air pollution from auto emissions by a third or more, compared with the same construction elsewhere in the same metropolitan regions.