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Fewer Kids Living in Transit Villages and Town Homes

November 26th, 2006 by

  • A new analysis of 2000 U.S. Census data from Rutgers University finds that higher-density, multiunit development near train stations does not bring in nearly the number of schoolchildren as previously believed—and often actually produces fewer children than larger, single-family homes.
  • Previous studies, based on 25-year-old demographics, and upon which currently held assumptions about the link between new development and schoolchildren were based, fail to reflect current conditions. For example, older studies suggested that 20 public schoolchildren would be generated from 100 two-bedroom town homes built in New Jersey in 1980. The new study found that in the year 2000, the same development would generate only 13 public schoolchildren—a decline of more than one-third.
  • Perhaps most significantly, the new study refutes assumptions that multiunit compact development produces the greatest burden on municipal and school budgets. Instead, it found that detached single-family housing currently produces the most residents and schoolchildren, and large homes with four bedrooms or more generate the largest household size and number of students.
  • In contrast, the most commonly found types of attached housing, such as two- and three-bedroom town houses and one- and two-bedroom multifamily units, have a relatively a low impact on schools.
  • The impact of new development is particularly modest in homes found in transit-oriented developments (TODs). TOD housing units currently generate about one-sixth the number of public schoolchildren as do homes of a similar type, size, and value that are not located near transit. The study found that in New Jersey, 100 housing units in a TOD contain, on average, only two public schoolchildren.
  • Housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households was also found to produce fewer school-age children than what has been commonly believed.


For years, municipalities have worried that compact, multifamily housing developments near train stations would attract more families with schoolchildren than municipal school budgets could handle. According to new research from the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University, their fears have been overstated.

This new analysis of census data provides a more accurate picture of the fiscal impacts of new residential development on school and municipal budgets. Until the release of this new analysis, planners and mayors were forced to use demographic data that were at least 25 years out of date and significantly overstated the number of schoolchildren. Older data did not reflect current trends such as downsizing empty nesters, revitalizing urban areas, smaller average household size, and a return to transit-oriented development.

This report’s findings will update and improve studies that estimate the fiscal impact of transit village developments. The new numbers bolster claims that multifamily housing and transit villages can create positive tax revenues for municipalities with considerably less impact on schools. This is good news for those communities planning transit villages—the type of development that connects housing to job locations and transportation choices. Today many high-wage New Jersey businesses are choosing to locate elsewhere, and long commute times and a lack of affordable workforce housing are often cited as chief complaints.

However, the fact that this new data is considered “good” news for communities seeking to build residential development only provides more evidence that New Jersey’s notorious property tax system forces towns to adopt an anti-family bias. With the costs of adding new schoolchildren to a municipal school system more onerous than many communities can handle, it is clear that the state must step in and reform a tax system that leaves municipalities overreliant on local property taxes to cover school costs. New Jersey’s towns should be able to welcome families with children, not seek to avoid them.

For questions about this issue of Future Facts, contact Tim Evans, Research Director.

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