The richly varied character of the region's communities that we described in Chapter 1 provides choices among many different housing markets. Just as suburban employment opportunities and differentials have driven decentralization in the region, housing choices emerging in the suburbs and exurbs have led to a decentralization of residential opportunities far beyond the boundaries of the region as it existed in the 1950s and 1960s.
Housing markets vary significantly across the region, paralleling the patterns of uneven development that differentiate older suburbs and smaller communities from exurban agricultural areas and peripheral industrial towns. Established communities now face disadvantages arising from their older and often smaller homes, as well as limits imposed by aging infrastructure and restricted opportunities for alternative development. At the same time, the townships located at the exurban fringe are experiencing rapid change from small, often rural communities to new suburbs or economic hubs. These transformations are evident in the shifting shape of the regional real estate market, whose advances and declines provide much of the grist for the mill of regional politics.
The uneven quality of housing available in different parts of the region accounts for some of the most important disadvantages suffered by the region's low-income families, because a family's choice of housing represents much more than a choice among dwelling units. Choosing a home means choosing a community environment; the people one will have as neighbors; the public services and amenities one can expect to enjoy, from schools to supermarkets;