1. Fill the Missing Middle
Most affordable housing is far from urban offices, but it wasn’t always this way. “Before World War II, duplexes and housing courts were integrated into city planning,” says Daniel Parolek, Founding Principal of Opticos Design, in Berkeley, California. Post-war, upscale suburban development left America with a “missing middle” of affordable, mid-scale homes.
Demographic shifts are accelerating demand for these homes. “Already 30 percent of households are single-person homes,” Parolek explains. “By 2025, 75 percent of households won’t have children.” A 2017 Realtor.com poll shows most Americans want smaller homes in walkable neighborhoods.
“Zoning is the biggest barrier; 90 to 95 percent of cities aren’t enabling middle housing,” Parolek says. As an alternative to high-priced townhouses in suburban Salt Lake City, Opticos built Mews homes facing a pedestrian greenway. “It’s livable, affordable, and still profitable,” he says.
2. Solve for Housing Insecurity
“People who look like they’re doing well really aren’t,” says Marianne Cusato, Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, who designs and develops disaster and workforce housing. “This truth hit home in 2008. “People were living beyond their means with variable rate mortgages,” she says. “The stock market recovered, but individuals haven’t.” Student loans compound the problem: “Graduates who are six figures in debt are closed out of the market.”
Yet housing insecurity is seldom addressed by public policy — until disaster strikes. After the 2017 California wildfires, Cusato partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County to lead a charge to rebuild affordable housing in the devastated region. “Awareness can spur public/private partnerships to build affordable housing, teach personal finance, and fund recovery efforts,” Cusato says. “We’re also working with The Florida Keys Community Land Trust to rebuild after Hurricane Irma, to create affordable housing into perpetuity using the land trust model.”
3. Innovate with Affordable Housing
Many Americans dream of home ownership but can’t afford it. “Due to cost pressures, regulatory issues, tariffs, land prices, and capital access, the industry can’t produce housing at rates most people can access,” says John McManus, Editorial Director for the Residential Group at Hanley Wood.
“But we see opportunities in three areas. First is productivity. Compared to other businesses, construction has been slow to adopt innovations in automation, robotics, prefabrication, and modular approaches that could reduce waste, cycle times, and expense.
The next is policy. Community outreach can change the context for development. Third is access to capital. Interest rates are rising, so we’re looking at less traditional, more collaborative approaches like crowdsourcing.” These housing innovations will be the focus of Harley Wood’s HIVE Conference in Austin this year. To join HIVE in action, visit hiveforhousing.com.
4. Make Towns Movable
DPZ Partners have designed compact, connected, complete communities since 1980 — including Seaside, Florida, New Urbanism’s original model town.
But DPZ cofounder Andrés Duany doesn’t want credit. “We don’t work on the star-architect model,” he says. “Ours is an earlier, practical model aligned with the original modernist movement.”
Florida’s Panhandle is at risk from climate change. To adapt coastal housing to rising sea levels, DPZ is looking inland with a new type of housing design — one that is movable. “The mobile home industry delivers movable housing at $25 per square foot,” Andrés says. “We believe we can design desirable, affordable units not on rusting axles, but on the chassis of New Urbanist thinking.”
Higher ground isn’t the only option, he says: “Silicon Valley parking lots would be great. The designs are sophisticated, livable and hip to appeal to college grads and young professionals who have been shut out of the housing market because of skyrocketing costs and student loan burdens.”
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