If you’ve driven lately on Interstate 5 near downtown Sacramento, you may have noticed that an old industrial site is now just a dirt field with a psychedelically colored silo in the middle.
The Setzer Forest Products plant was demolished in recent months to make way for the next phases of the Mill at Broadway, a large and ambitious infill project that’s proven a hit with 20- and 30-something first-time home buyers.
Its densely packed, energy-efficient homes sell from the mid-$300,000s, a relatively affordable price range in today’s competitive housing market. Areas under construction are a hive of activity, with workers building houses by the dozens and buyers – primarily young singles and couples – snapping them up.
The 200 or so homes in Phase 1 are already sold out. Phase 2 construction and sales are well under way. And the Mill developers are planning Phases 3 and 4 where the wood products plant once stood.
The project eventually will feature an urban farm and restaurants in a renovated produce warehouse. Once completely built, the Mill is expected to have up to 1,000 homes.
The project’s success still comes as something of a surprise to Rachel Bardis, of Bardis Homes, which has built residences at the Mill since the housing market recovered from last decade’s crash.
Early on, there was uncertainty as to whether an urban infill project aimed at millennials and downsizing baby boomers would succeed. The Sacramento region had traditionally met its housing needs by filling fields with larger single-family homes.
“It was walking down the path of the unknown,” Bardis said. “No one was doing infill.”
More recently, other infill projects such as East Sacramento’s McKinley Village have proven equally viable in a housing market that’s greatly changed since the recession.
Many buyers want to be close to downtown Sacramento, which offers more restaurant and entertainment options than before the downturn. They want to avoid long freeway commutes, and they’re in the market for low-maintenance homes with small yards or none at all.
“With millennials, we’re finding out they’re not necessarily concerned with having a traditional single-family home on a large lot,” said Greg Paquin, a consultant to the new home industry. “It’s, ‘How does housing fit with their lifestyle?’ ” he said.
For many young adults, the focus is on their social community, Paquin said. Older generations wanted bigger homes to host dinner parties. Millennials are “just as willing to have a small house without a dining room and to go to a pub and have dinner with six people,” he said.
“The Mill has done a good job of facilitating that type of environment,” Paquin said.
The profiles of area home builders are also changing, skewing toward younger, more diverse and more innovative individuals.
Bardis, for example, is in her early 40s. She and her cousin Katherine Bardis run Bardis Homes, which specializes in urban infill such as The Mill at Broadway and The Good Project, a sleek urban townhouse development in West Sacramento.
As a further sign of changing times, Rachel Bardis is being sworn in Friday as chairwoman of the North State Building Industry Association, which represents the region’s new home industry. She’s not the group’s first female leader, but older men have been more the norm.
“Rachel’s that person that’s always saying ‘What do we need to do differently?’ ” said Michael Strech, president and CEO of the North State BIA. “We have different demographics, different buyers. How can we do it differently to reflect the buying needs and wants of the future?
“She’s a great role model to encourage builders to think differently about what we build and where we build it.”