Tag Archives: Purple Line

Purple Line Drowns Maryland in Red Ink

Most Maryland pols are heavily invested in the Purple Line. Virtually all discussion by politicians has been on the imperative of finishing it while downplaying the financial cost. In “Hogan’s Purple Passion”, longtime columnist Barry Rascover has taken the opposite approach in his hard look at the epic financial mess that is now the Purple Line.

Though Purple Line supporters sold the P3 (public-private partnership) as insulating taxpayers from rising cost, Rascover explains that we’re now on the hook for the skyrocketing price.

By the time the east-west Purple Line from Montgomery County to Prince George’s County opens years after Hogan leaves office, the state’s total spending on the mass-transit line could exceed $2 billion. It may even top $3 billion.

If the state takes over construction duties of the Purple Line in the next month when the private consortium running the project could leave the job, there’s at least another $1 billion worth of work to finish. Plus, an added delay of six months — or longer. 

Given the line’s history of unexpected delays and under-estimated expenses, that $1 billion projection by the state for future costs could be way off.

This comes on top of the $1 billion in taxpayer dollars already expended by Hogan. 

And this doesn’t count the unpaid $800 million in contested cost overruns the contractor, and a judge, blame on the state.

Either we pay the consortium building the Purple Line what they want or we pay even more and suffer greater delays building it ourselves. Instead of protecting taxpayers, the P3 has turned them into hostages.

Rascover assesses who is to blame for this fiasco:

The state tried to lay the onus on the consortium. But a judge didn’t buy that bit of illogic. He ruled the state was responsible for out-of-control costs. He called it a “self-inflicted” wound.

In hindsight it’s clear [Secretary Pete] Rahn badly under-estimated the Purple Line‘s complexity and its costs. Lawsuits by unhappy residents along the route were inevitable — but Rahn plowed ahead anyway, never anticipating these almost certain legal delays of almost a year.

Rahn also didn’t anticipate lengthy fights over obtaining rights of way along the route, or expensive re-designs to separate the Purple Line from CSX tracks. Both were predictable.

The governor’s determination to privatize this project and get it completed while he is still in office overtook common sense. Now taxpayers will foot the bill for Hogan’s and Rahn’s terribly flawed miscalculations.

It’s even worse than Rascover outlines.

The Governor campaigned against the Purple Line and the gas tax passed under O’Malley to fund transportation improvements. He didn’t repeal the gas tax but instead used the monies raised to fund new road projects around the state.

Pressured by the Washington Post, which then endorsed him for reelection, Hogan changed his mind on the Purple Line. But instead of paying for much of the construction up front as originally planned by Democrats, he put it all on credit via privatization, so he could continue to pay for his road projects.

Excepting perhaps Anthony Brown, Democrats shouldn’t feel too smug. They pushed the P3 forward in their eagerness to move the project ahead and also went along with Hogan’s magically cheaper numbers that have now turned out to be wildly unrealistic.

The state’s ability to borrow to cover the monumental additional cost is consequently highly limited. Many sacred cows are going to be gored to finish the Purple Line.

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Transit Cuts are Just Starting: They’re Going to Get Much Deeper

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has authored an open sign-on letter (posted below) to Gov. Larry Hogan vehemently protesting major cuts in transit service and calling for more capital expenditures on transit.

The reality is that these cuts are just the start.

Due the economic devastation wrecked by the pandemic, revenues are down substantially. The federal government has shown no inclination thus far to help bail out the states, viewed as a “blue state” bailout by President Trump, so no money is coming from that source. The Maryland Constitution requires a balanced budget, requiring substantial cuts ahead. Gov. Hogan will not support a tax hike and there is little enthusiasm among Assembly Democrats either.

The drastically higher than expected costs for the Purple Line to the tune of over $750 million are about to suck even more funds away from other projects. The State has already indicated that the funds will come from other transit projects, like MARC. Even without the pandemic hit, the transit budget was set to take an enormous hit. The Washington Metro, unmentioned in the LCV letter, has already seen its funding cut.

The signatories to the open letter are notably a Baltimore heavy group. The absence of either Purple Line Now or the Action Committee for Transit, both staunch Purple Line supporters, from the letter signatories is perhaps telling. Both are normally easy gets for these sorts of letters but it tacitly recognizes the reality that the Purple Line will not be finished unless major cuts are made elsewhere.

Here is the LCV letter:

AN OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN, MARYLAND TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY GREG SLATER, AND MARYLAND TRANSIT ADMINISTRATOR KEVIN QUINN:

Last week, the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transit Administration announced major cuts to the MTA system, including cutting bus service by 20%, reducing MARC, commuter local bus, and paratransit service, and cutting the MTA’s already strained six year capital budget for critical safety needs by $150 million. We, the undersigned, urge rejection of these cuts, which would be devastating to many Marylanders that live in low-income communities, communities of color, and people with disabilities.

Rather than take steps to relieve the strain of a veritable tsunami of challenges to Maryland’s most vulnerable communities, MTA’s plan would exacerbate residents’ difficulties and hobble the state’s recovery. TransitCenter found that 40% of transit commuters in Baltimore City and 35% of transit riders in the state work in essential job sectors, with hospital and health care workers being the largest share of riders. A large number of essential workers – nurses, grocery store workers, child care professionals, nursing care staff, and so many more – rely on public transit to get to their jobs. The proposed cuts would make it harder for these vital workers to get to their jobs, which would threaten their employment and exacerbate the devastation the pandemic has wrought to our economy. A shortage of these critical workers will also add strain to a healthcare system that is already spread too thin.

Maryland should be investing in more public transportation, not less. We should be increasing access to job centers from the communities most in need, not cutting it. We should be prioritizing cleaner transportation alternatives that reduce pollution and the health conditions that make marginalized communities especially vulnerable to the impacts of coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses like asthma. Vehicle emissions also create NOx that ultimately contributes roughly one-third of the nitrogen pollution to the region’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Among the problematic cuts to service, the proposed changes eliminate any route from Baltimore City (the jurisdiction with the highest reliance on public transportation) to Annapolis. Even in its current state, public transit to Annapolis is extremely limited, but at least it was available and provided mobility services. With the cuts, Annapolis would become inaccessible by public transportation, limiting the ability of many Marylanders to participate in our state’s Democracy. Public participation is always essential to a free and fair government, but never more so than in a crisis.

In reference to Maryland’s essential workers, the Maryland Transit Caucus has stated in their letter to the administration following the proposed cuts: We rely on them. They rely on MTA. We call on the administration to take immediate action. Funding from the Transportation Trust Fund should be allocated to public transit that benefits all Marylanders, rather than to highway expansion and construction projects that benefit only the wealthiest.

Signed,

  1. Maryland League of Conservation Voters
  2. Maryland Sierra Club
  3. Common Cause Maryland
  4. Clean Water Action
  5. Climate Law & Policy Project
  6. Safe Skies Maryland
  7. Maryland Legislative Coalition
  8. Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
  9. Maryland Campaign for Human Rights
  10. Coalition for Smarter Growth
  11. Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition
  12. Transit Choices
  13. Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
  14. Maryland United for Peace and Justice
  15. Sunrise Movement Baltimore
  16. League of Women Voters Maryland
  17. Maryland Nonprofits
  18. Nuclear Information and Resource Service
  19. Labor Network for Sustainability
  20. Family League of Baltimore
  21. Bikemore
  22. Eastern Shore Land Conservancy
  23. Maryland Center on Economic Policy
  24. Job Opportunities Task Force
  25. NAACP Maryland State Conference
  26. Public Justice Center
  27. Our Revolution Maryland
  28. Indivisible Baltimore
  29. Indivisible Howard County
  30. Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
  31. Echotopia, LLC
  32. Maryland Conservation Council
  33. Ji’Aire’s Workgroup
  34. Indivisible Towson
  35. ATU Local 1300
  36. Food and Water Watch Action
  37. Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  38. Disability Rights Maryland
  39. Consumer Advocates for Ride Services
  40. Progressive Maryland
  41. Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Mary
  42. Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) – Baltimore
  43. WISE Maryland
  44. Maryland Climate Justice WIng
  45. Takoma Park Mobilization Environment Committee
  46. Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake
  47. Accessible Resources for Independence
  48. League for People with Disabilities
  49. Climate X-Change Maryland
  50. The Nature Conservancy – Maryland/DC Chapter
  51. Saltzberg Consulting
  52. Chesapeake Climate Action Network
  53. Sunrise Howard County
  54. Baltimore 350
  55. The Parent and Community Advisory Board, Baltimore City Public Schools
  56. Sunrise Rockville
  57. Marylanders for Patient Rights
  58. Bus Workgroup 14
  59. South Baltimore Community Land Trust
  60. Free Your Voice
  61. Represent Maryland
  62. Green Team at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Baltimore
  63. Baltimore People’s Climate Movement
  64. The Climate Reality Project: Baltimore Chapter
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Lucrative Waiver to Chevy Chase Land Company Scrutinized

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Del. Al Carr (D-18) on an issue that the Planning Board is taking up today.

The Montgomery County Council approved the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan in 2013 after a lengthy process of gathering public input.

The plan contains environmental provisions requiring developers to restore the local tree canopy which has been ravaged over the years by road construction, development, Pepco, and clear cutting for the Purple Line. It requires that utility wires be buried allowing for the planting of large overstory trees. A healthy tree canopy is vital to protecting water quality in Rock Creek and its tributaries.

Unfortunately, the Montgomery County Planning Board quietly waived these environmental provisions for the well-connected developer in 2017. The developer successfully lobbied to be released from the requirement to bury the wires on the east side of Connecticut Ave. As a result, the developer is not planting tall overstory street trees on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd to maximize the restoration of the tree canopy.

In the 2017 staff report, planning staff used the following rationale when recommending the waiver: “Although undergrounding of utilities is typically required for site plan applications in Chevy Chase  Lake Sector Plan area, this application is not required to do so because the electrical utilities along the property frontage are high-voltage transmission lines that are not routinely buried.”

However the exact same “high-voltage transmission line” was recently buried immediately to the south where the purple line bridge will cross Connecticut Ave. Identical lines are routinely being buried in the county including in Silver Spring (Linden to Sligo project) and in White Flint (new substation).

There is a long-shot opportunity to correct this mistake when that same developer returns to the Planning Board on July 23rd for amendments to their plan. The Planning Board has the opportunity at that meeting to mandate that the wires be buried at the developer’s expense and that tall overstory trees be planted where possible along the site frontage on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd.

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Should There Be Rent Control Near the Purple Line?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Marc Elrich, who recently equated potential gentrification near the Purple Line with “ethnic cleansing,” is taking flak for his remarks and is not backing down.  We will leave it to others to judge his choice of words.  But what interests us is the policy proposal he has made: specifically, Elrich would like to see rent control imposed near Purple Line stations.  That’s worth discussing.

Economists tend to disagree on many issues but a huge majority of them oppose rent control.  Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has written, “Almost every freshman-level textbook contains a case study on rent control, using its known adverse side effects to illustrate the principles of supply and demand.”  A massive review of economic research on rent control found evidence that it encourages conversions of rental units into condos and leads to higher rents in non-controlled units.  Rent control repeal in Cambridge, Massachusetts led to a surge in property values in both controlled and non-controlled units and a 20% increase in housing investment.  Even Communists denounce rent control.  In 1989, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach told a news conference that rent control did more damage to his capital city than American bombs.  “The Americans couldn’t destroy Hanoi, but we have destroyed our city by very low rents. We realized it was stupid and that we must change policy.”

One need not go to a Communist nation to observe the effects of rent control.  MoCo has a good example of that policy right here at home: the City of Takoma Park, which passed a rent control law in 1981.  We examined U.S. Census data to analyze how the city’s housing stock compares to the county’s.  Below we show that just 10% of the city’s housing was built in 1980 or later, much lower than the county’s percentage of 47%.  That’s not a fair comparison since the city is much older than the vast majority of areas in the county.  However, other older areas inside the Beltway like Downtown Bethesda (27%), Chevy Chase (20%) and Downtown Silver Spring (26%) have much higher percentages of their housing built in 1980 or later than Takoma Park.

It gets worse.  Takoma Park has been losing rental housing units for years.  Below we show the city’s total, owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing units in 2000, 2010 and the five year period of 2011-2015.  During that time, the city’s total housing units fell by 4% and its renter-occupied units fell by 18%.  Owner-occupied units increased by 10% and vacancies rose by 30%.  No housing policy that produces double-digit losses in rental units can be described as good for renters.

Takoma Park’s housing decline is not going to turn around soon.  According to the site plans, preliminary plans and sketch plans listed on the MoCo Planning Department’s development tracking map, only two housing projects with a combined seven units are pending in Takoma Park.  Those units are all single family, which are exempt from the city’s rent control law.

This extract from the Planning Department’s site plan map shows the huge contrast in development plans between Takoma Park and Downtown Silver Spring.

The implication of all this is clear: housing developers are steering clear of Takoma Park’s rent control law.  These folks are not going to be any more enthusiastic about rent control near Purple Line stations.  Why does that matter?  When it comes to building new housing, there are basically three options.  First, you can build it near transit.  Second, you can build it away from transit, thereby incurring the associated congestion and environmental costs.  Or third, you can try to block it from being built, and that’s one probable effect of rent control.  But that won’t stop population growth – instead, it will result in overcrowded housing, unsafe living conditions and code violations.  (Such phenomena are not unknown in some areas of the county.)  Rent control near the Purple Line just encourages options two and three.

Finally, the Purple Line is a huge investment, costing at least $2.65 billion to construct.  Only an insane society would pour billions of dollars into a transit project and then stop new housing from being built next to it.  Even Vietnamese Communists would agree.

Disclosure: Your author is a long-time supporter of the Purple Line and is a publicly listed supporter of Council Member Roger Berliner for Executive.

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Elrich: Without Rent Control, Purple Line Will Cause “Ethnic Cleansing”

By Adam Pagnucco.

In response to a question about just cause eviction and rent control at the Progressive Neighbors County Executive forum, Council Member Marc Elrich stated that the Purple Line would cause “ethnic cleansing” without a rent control law.  Elrich said:

I support rent stabilization and I think we need to be honest with ourselves about this.  If we throw up our hands about this and say the market will determine the price of housing and the market alone will determine that, then we are going to wipe out neighborhood after neighborhood in Montgomery County.  If you did that, then if you did not put rent stabilization around the Purple Line stops, for example, then the neighborhoods around the Purple Line will not continue to exist.  They will be bought, they will be repurposed and they will go to other people.

When we did the Long Branch plan, and Park and Planning came in and said we want to rezone all the existing housing in Long Branch, I accused the Planning Board of ethnic cleansing.  And I said some people do it with the gun, you guys are doing it with the pen but the truth is those folks would be gone and they would be gone forever…

Elrich’s remarks begin at the 2:29 mark of this video taken by Ryan Miner.

Disclosure: Your author is a long-time supporter of the Purple Line and is a publicly listed supporter of Council Member Roger Berliner for Executive.

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BREAKING: Brookeville to Open Montgomery’s First Casino

brookeville-acadBrookeville Academy

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s discovery that the Town of Brookeville owes $7.2 million to the State of Maryland due to his office’s miscalculation of municipal tax receipts for many years placed the Town in quite a bind, as the municipality of just 134 souls had no idea how it could repay the debt.

Today, Brookeville Commission President Katherine Farquhar announced that, after working on the issue with the County and the State, Brookeville will open a casino in historic Brookeville Academy (pictured above), which is owned by the Town, to raise monies to pay off the debt to the State.

Franchot praised the decision, stating that he “appreciates the Town’s gratitude to my office for finding the errors” and plans to award the Town the Comptroller’s Medal for its “creative solution” to the Town’s financial difficulties.

Members of the County Council had initially expressed concerns regarding the project. But Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) has now announced that the casino will be the first recipient of the microloan program he has advertised on Facebook in anticipation of his 2018 County Executive bid.

In a press release, Berliner said “I’m so pleased that the microloan program will make the casino possible. It will help jump start Federal Realty’s development of the outbuildings for future expansion, showing the importance of partnerships like these.”

After initial opposition, Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5) came on board once the Town agreed to hire MCGEO workers transferred from county liquor stores. “They know as much about gaming as beer, wine and liquor, so this is a great opportunity,” said MCGEO President Gino Renne.

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gigi Godwin agreed with the union president, as she commended the County for brushing aside development concerns with the adoption of a special Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) over the objection of the Civic Federation. “We need the County to take a more proactive approach on business.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) also applauded the project, saying that he was happy to learn that Brookeville “is open to serving craft beers” that an official taskforce determined were crucial to revitalizing nightlife in the County.

The sole casino opponent, Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL), pointed out that Georgia Ave. is already a parking lot and that the development violated County traffic tests. His statement was interrupted by George Leventhal, who brusquely asked Elrich “Why do you care about people coming from Howard County? Haven’t you figured out we ignore you yet?”

In contrast, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-AL) expressed optimism regarding transportation: “SafeTrack has been such a success. We should use the projected savings on Metro to initiate a study on extending the Purple Line to Brookeville.”

The casino will have a War of 1812 theme, reflecting Brookeville’s role as the “U.S. Capital for a Day” in 1814 during the British occupation of Washington. The building’s exterior will be preserved as the interior is redesigned in a “modern Madisionian” style.

(P.S. I think most have figured out by now, but yes, this is satire. Happy New Year.)

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Transit-Oriented Development? LOL.

The first Purple Line associated development project is going up and –surprise–is about development rather than transit-oriented development. At Chevy Chase Lake, EYA is building  “62 stately” “luxury elevator townhomes” that start at $1.5 million. All will have two car garages.

Why the two car garages if everyone is going to be riding the Purple Line? Unless you think elevators count, that sure doesn’t sound like transit-oriented development, and surely places into question claims that ridership of people who live near Purple Line stations will be unusually high.

Despite the claims that the Purple Line would increase affordable housing in Chevy Chase, even as quite a few existing affordable housing units get knocked down, this development is not about that goal either. I suppose one can make the trickle-down development argument that increasing supply will lower the price–not one usually associated with progressives who support the project. But we could have done that without billions on the Purple Line.

What is this really about? Thanks to our public subsidy, the owners and developers of the land can build more and make a tidy profit on the roughly $100 million for which they intend to sell the units, which will be valued for their close-in location to DC, proximity to Bethesda and Silver Spring and good school district more than the pricey Purple Line. Accompanied by some shops, I imagine it will be a very nice place to live.

Attracting more wealthy taxpayers and raising the value of the land will also increase the County tax base–good for the County and its economic health. The irony, of course, is that in the future many of the same people who supported the Purple Line as a “social justice” measure will use undoubtedly use this development as an example of the growing economic divide in the County even though the policies they supported made this happen.

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Metro Ridership Down Another 5% Last Year–Now at 2004 Levels

metro ridership

Metro ridership is down 5% over last year. As Metro did not project this decline, this means that Metro faces a substantial budget shortfall of $15 million from the decline in rail revenue and $5 million in bus revenue. Yet, Metro plans to add another 59 employees to the system.

If it raises fares, ridership will decline even further. Metro also needs to spend money on the rail system, as its reliability still seemingly continues to decline on a near daily basis. People don’t want to ride a system that is undependable.

Bringing it home to Maryland, it would be interesting to know how many few people are boarding or alighting at Maryland Metro stops. Additionally, how does the steady decline in ridership affect the projections for Purple Line ridership, as many of its passengers are expected to change to the Red or Orange Lines?

boardings

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Gloom from Floreen and Leventhal

Though Montgomery County Councilmembers George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen voted for the County’s bus-rapid transit (BRT) plan, both poured lots of cold water on the idea at a transit symposium at White Flint recently. In the process, both made statements that would likely surprise County voters regarding future taxes and spending.

Annual Purple Line Operation Payment?

Councilmember Nancy Floreen mentioned that that Montgomery County might have to make an annual payment toward the operational costs of the Purple Line. This ongoing cost would be in addition to the millions that the County has pledged to the light rail line’s construction. News to me, and suspect others, who expected the State to cover these costs.

Taxes Headed Up

Councilmember George Leventhal said that County Executive Ike Leggett would propose a “massive” tax increase in the forthcoming year just to meet current commitments in the context of explaining why he believes that the BRT system is not affordable.

Leventhal Makes Anti-Purple Line Arguments

Weirdly, George then went on to make a string of arguments frequently used against the Purple Line . . . but against bus-rapid transit. The concern about cost was particularly bizarre as BRT is far cheaper than light rail.

George also explained that we could not be sure that the hoped for development would come if we built BRT. Though the Purple Line entails much greater financial risk, George has brushed aside concerns regarding his favored project.

Perhaps most oddly, George argued the incompetence surrounding the Silver Spring Transit Center meant that people would not trust the County to build and operate BRT. Additionally, he explained that all of the trees that would be torn down and construction associated with the Purple Line would further turn people against transit.

Not exactly a vote of confidence in the County’s government and strange since BRT entails much less risk for more gain than the Purple Line. Why did George or Nancy vote for the plan that they now are now publicly undermining in the first place?

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Reporters v. Data: Millennials Edition

On March 29, the Washington Post published yet another of many stories on how millennials love the city and hate the suburbs:

Transit-centric millennials . . . who were born between 1980 and the early 2000s, are causing angst in traditionally car-dominant suburbs such as Montgomery County. Suburbs nationwide have long lured companies — and the high-skilled workers they seek to attract — with good schools, relatively low crime and spacious corporate campuses surrounded by vast parking lots near major highways.

A realization is growing among those communities’ business and civic leaders that the traditional suburban brand needs an overhaul.

The story had several anecdotes but had no actual data to support its conclusion that people are no longer moving to the suburbs. One reason for that omission is that it isn’t true, as reported on FiveThirtyEight:

According to U.S. Census Bureau data released this week, 529,000 Americans ages 25 to 29 moved from cities out to the suburbs in 2014; only 426,000 moved in the other direction. Among younger millennials, those in their early 20s, the trend was even starker: 721,000 moved out of the city, compared with 554,000 who moved in.1 Somewhat more people in both age groups currently live in the suburbs than in the city.

Indeed, for all the talk of the rebirth of American cities, the draw of the suburbs remains powerful. Across all ages, races, incomes and education groups, more Americans are still moving out of cities than in. (Urban populations are still growing, but because of births and immigration, not internal migration.)

There have been some important changes but they’re about delaying moves to the suburbs

The common narrative isn’t entirely wrong about the long-term trend lines. Millennials are moving to the suburbs at a much lower rate than past generations did at the same age. In the mid-1990s, people ages 25 to 29 were twice as likely to move from the city to the suburbs as vice versa. Today, they’re only about a quarter more likely. But even that slowdown appears to be mostly about people delaying their move to the suburbs, not forgoing it entirely. Today’s 30- to 44-year-olds are actually heading for the suburbs at a significantly faster rate than in the 1990s.

And the move to the suburbs isn’t being driven by moves to new urban areas like Bethesda and Silver Spring. The home with a yard for the kids to play remains popular. Indeed, the exurbs are still the fastest growing areas:

But a survey released earlier this year found that most millennials still want a traditional suburban experience, complete with big single-family homes. The American Community Survey, which provides a more granular look than the data released this week, tells much the same story, said Jed Kolko, chief economist of the real estate site Trulia.

“The fastest population growth right now is in the lowest-density neighborhoods, the suburb-iest suburbs,” Kolko said.

FiveThirtyEight hypothesizes why this story has gained traction even though it’s not true:

So why has the “city-loving millennials” story gained so much traction? Kolko has a theory: As American cities have become safer and more expensive, they have become increasingly dominated by the affluent and well-educated — exactly the people who drive the media narrative.

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