May 2, 2022

How the Pandemic is Changing Where and How We Live

Massively disruptive events always change the social landscape. Just as the Great Depression colored the sensibilities of people who lived through it, generations of people today are likely to feel the long-lasting results of the coronavirus pandemic for decades to come.

A man stands in front of a building with a mask on
Photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash

It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has completely upended modern society. It continues to do so as COVID-19 continues to evolve; with each new variant, the virus has different impacts and implications that we need to adapt to as a society to protect both ourselves and others. 

In the wake of more than two years of dealing with the pandemic, some things have become clear: COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of our lives. This includes not just how we live but also where we live, as we have changed our residential habits in response to the pandemic. Here’s how things have changed – and how they may continue to develop in the future.

How Lockdowns Changed the Landscape

Early in the pandemic, widespread lockdowns instituted to curb the spread of the virus were disruptive to the extreme. Vast swathes of the populace were relegated to staying home from work and instead transitioning to a telecommute paradigm that many were unprepared for; the logistics requirement for remote work required an adjustment period that was less than ideal for many.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t just adults that had to face suddenly working from home. Parents soon found that their children were likewise riding their desks at home as well, as schools across the country transitioned to virtual learning to protect the health and safety of their students. The stresses created by kids having to adapt to this new environment were even more pronounced; stress and anxiety created by fear and uncertainty became commonplace.

Today, lockdowns have largely ended, and many adults and children have returned to some semblance of normalcy. Yet the impact of these early lockdowns has taught us something about how we live and work – and today, many adults that have adapted to the benefits of working from home have begun to embrace it as something they want to pursue further.

Shifting Towards Different Living Arrangements

With so many of us being trapped in relatively small homes and apartments during pandemic lockdowns, it’s only natural that we’ve grown tired of not having enough space for ourselves. Additionally, with the infrastructure for remote working now firmly established, it’s now not necessary to live close enough to your job to have to settle for a small, cramped living space in an urban environment. 

This has led many people to look for places to live farther away from urban centers, trading proximity to work for increased space and a lower, more affordable cost of living. According to research published by Bloomberg in late 2021, urban centers saw many more people moving out over the course of the pandemic than moving in. 

The New York City metropolitan area, for example, saw its overall population shrink by more than 10 percent. The San Francisco region shrunk by 8.1 percent. Even the Los Angeles metropolitan area, one of the most crowded places in the United States, saw its population decline by 3.8 percent. The suburbs around all those metro areas saw huge growth, with the suburb of Hudson, NY growing an astonishing 88.2 percent. 

The Effect of Such a Mass “Urban Shuffle”

With so many of us moving farther away from urban centers to enjoy some much-needed extra room, the effects of the so-called “urban shuffle”, as it’s been named, have been clear. The real estate market has practically exploded overnight with high levels of demand for larger homes in suburban regions. 

Unfortunately, this has been complicated by the lack of home inventory. Families in these suddenly incredibly popular regions are just as reticent to move somewhere else as people in urban areas are willing to stick around in cramped quarters. Indicative of this is how in December of 2021, monthly home sales fell well below estimates to just 6.18 million, a four-month low.  

What goes along with high demand and low supply? That’s right – price increases. Sale prices for homes across the country have skyrocketed as well. Prices went up by 19.9 percent across 2021, with estimates of another increase of 17 percent or more in 2022. Historically low-interest rates have helped support this trend, as it’s less expensive to repay larger mortgages as well. 

What The Future Holds

On the horizon, the lingering effects of the pandemic are likely to influence how and where we live for quite some time. Even as vaccination rates increase across the US and COVID-19 infection trends begin to reverse, the lessons people have learned from the pandemic will continue to stick with us going forward. 

With these lessons showcasing just how unimportant it has become to be physically present in an office for many of us, a renewed interest in better work/life balance is likely to persist. This will prompt people to value personal comfort and security more than proximity to employment, and the “urban shuffle” away from traditional job centers will continue. 

This continued interest in more space is going to keep demand for larger homes outside of urban centers high. As the pandemic eases, though, home inventory may recover as it’s now safer for people who already live outside cities to relocate if they want. Additionally, interest rates are unlikely to remain low forever, as growing attention is being paid to rising inflation brought about by pandemic-related supply chain issues. More expensive lending could also reduce demand as well, helping with price equalization.

Massively disruptive events always change the social landscape. Just as the Great Depression colored the sensibilities of people who lived through it, generations of people today are likely to feel the long-lasting results of the coronavirus pandemic for decades to come.

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