By the Numbers: Why the Northland Needs More Housing

A recent inquiry for a Business North article on Duluth’s housing market posed a common question in debates around housing in Duluth: if the city’s population isn’t growing much, why does Duluth still need more housing?

Some of the answer is a straightforward cycle of replacement. Older housing that isn’t well-maintained can get run-down and dilapidated, and sometimes it gets replaced by something else. There have also been changes in what types of housing people look for, either due to preferences or pricing; average American homebuyers expect far more space than they used to. Some units become second homes or vacation rentals, which shrinks the supply somewhat without growing the permanent population, and college students aren’t always counted in consistent ways, either.

The most straightforward answer, though, has to do with a change in household size. Duluth’s population according to the 1980 Census was 92,811, and those people were part of 34,784 households. The 2018 American Community Survey gave Duluth a population of 86,004 people…across 36,039 households. Even with a slight decline in population, the number of households—and, therefore, the number of housing units the city needs—has gone up by 1,255.

This trend isn’t exclusive to Duluth: it covers the entire Northland, and the entire nation. Household size has gotten smaller. Families now tend to have fewer children, are more likely to delay marriage or family formation, and live longer. There are more single-person households than ever, and that trend does not appear likely to change. Couple that trend with a sensible planning effort to prepare for and attract new population and the data points in a clear direction: we need more housing.

Past Research on Duluth’s Housing Market: