About 100 people joined CMAP, the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) on February 28 for the latest ON TO 2050 Big Ideas Forum, "Closer to Home: Creating a Balanced Regional Housing Supply by 2050."

Led by moderator and associate managing editor at the Chicago Tribune Mary Ellen Podmolik, the panel -- Nancy Firfer, senior advisor at MPC; Zach Lowe, founder and principal at Residential Planning Partners; and Mary Ellen Tamasy, president of the Lake County Residential Development Corporation -- discussed balancing today's housing market realities with the current and future housing needs of a diverse and changing population, amid financial and political obstacles.

"This topic is critically important for how we think about planning for the year 2050," said Bob Dean, CMAP deputy executive director of local planning. "Balanced housing options enable our residents to find the types of homes they want in the communities they choose, but there are many barriers that stand in the way of creating such options."

The panelists agreed that a major question in the world of housing planning is what kinds of homes two major demographics -- millennials and Baby Boomers -- will want in the future.

For boomers, Firfer said the concern will be if they can physically and financially stay in their homes as they age. "We need to think about having a diverse housing stock," Firfer said. "Not everyone is going to want that single-family home. There are many different forms of multi-family or intergenerational living. But first, elected officials need to understand who lives in their community and what their needs are." CMAP recently published a whitepaper on Aging in Place.

Meanwhile, as millennials move toward homeownership, panelists said urban and suburban planners and developers must be ready to address their needs. "Many of them are going to go to the suburbs in search of space, schools, and affordability," Lowe said. "But they're going to bring their urban sensibilities with them." He said they will want more walkable communities with access to transit, stores, and entertainment options all in a price range they can afford.

He encouraged developers to think outside the box, although the tendency can be to continue to build housing that has been successful in the past rather than change direction. "We can't just go back to the old suburban model that seemed to work for years," he said. "We need something new that responds to the market differently. The market is changing and the market of tomorrow is not going to look like today." Tamasy said municipalities should consider adapting old malls and shopping centers, which may become vacant as e-commerce continues to expand and the retail market evolves. 

Panelists agreed that winning support from elected officials and community members on projects that would bring diverse housing types to a municipality can be difficult.

Tamasy said her organization has had success partnering with municipalities and community groups from the beginning of a project. Often, she said, people who come to public meetings are there to oppose a project. "You have to get local people who are in favor of the project to speak up and get involved so elected officials hear both sides," she said. Lowe and Firfer said that since the recession, communities may be more open to rental housing, affordable senior housing, or other options that they may not have considered before.

"A lot of times communities don't have an idea of what balanced housing is or what it would look like in their community, so it's important to give them that education and understanding of the housing market," Lowe said.

Looking toward 2050, panelists said the cost of developing new housing, which is often passed on to residents, is another concern.

"The rising cost of housing is very, very difficult," Tamasy said. She added that both older adults on fixed incomes and young families will struggle as housing costs continue to rise. "I think there is going to be less and less money available for housing. We have to look at different ways we can use technology to reduce some of those costs."

Join CMAP this summer for the Alternative Futures Forum Series, which invites you to imagine the challenges and opportunities of five "alternative futures" that could significantly shape our region for decades to come. Register today for the first, "Thriving in a Changing Climate," on Thursday, April 6, from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m., co-sponsored and hosted by the Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (2430 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago).