If you have an hour to fill and are interested in the intersection of design and affordable housing, you could do a lot worse things than watch this talk at Harvard’s School of Design’s Reframing Housing from a few weeks ago (below). The panelists represent some of my favorite designy, affordable projects of the last decade or so. Each represents a way to develop in a different urban (or non-urban) condition and all the considerations that condition entails. All are worth knowing about if you don’t already.
From Philly, there was architect Brian Phillips. His shop, ISA, has done of a ton of cool infill projects that incorporate a variety of cost-saving, energy-saving, design-savvy stratagems for affordability. ISA is the design force behind Postgreen homes, makers of the 100k house, a LEED platinum townhouse in Philly’s East Kensington neighborhood that was built for $100/sf. Postgreen—powered by ISA—has done a bunch of similar project with names like Awesometown and Avant Garage.Continue reading “Affordability is the freaking amenity”
Around 76% of American housing is single family. One solution to adding affordability and density to this commodious architectural form is accessory dwelling units, aka granny flats (because grandpa, you know, lives underground). ADUs are basically little houses you can toss in your backyard—they can be used by family, a tenant, or Airbnb. They’ve been gaining popularity particularly in California and Oregon, each state lending crucial legislative support.
But a lot of folks paying a mortgage can’t necessarily afford to build a second home, which can easily run $100K+.
Portland-based startup dubbed Dweller has a solution for this shortfall. According to the CityLab, “Dweller fronts the cost of purchasing and installing one-size-fits-all prefabricated ADUs in backyards. Third-party property managers rent out the unit to long-term tenants, and Dweller splits the revenues 70-30 with the homeowner, almost as if the company is leasing the land.” Homeowners can buy back ADU at any time or can purchase one of the prefabs outright.
Last Spring I caught wind of a project called ONESHAREDHOUSE, a self-initiated effort by superstar creative agency Anton & Irene. OSH explored concepts in coliving, inspired by Irene’s formative years in a Dutch lesbian co-housing arrangement (they also made a badass interactive documentary that you should check out). OSH caught the attention of SPACE10, a Copenhagen-based, IKEA-funded “future-living lab” that is tasked with detecting trends that might affect the furniture behemoth’s business in the years to come. One of those trends is “shared living,” and the two parties collaborated to make ONESHAREDHOUSE2030, a research project exploring the future of shared living.
SPACE10 was in NYC this last week and held an event the other night in Brooklyn, which I attended. Some takeaways:
What’s less often discussed is the bad, highly-probably stuff. And the baddest and most probable stuff is global warming, which will likely make many major markets virtually development-proof in the not-so-distant future.
As of 2010, 39% of America’s population lived directly in coastal areas that include virtually every major city (the number was projected to jump to 47% by 2020); most of these areas will be subject to the impact of sea level rises and their attendant storms. A recent report underscored this, suggesting that 41M Americans live in areas, both coastal and inland, that are susceptible to 100-year flood (read: big-ass flood). This is a major revision from FEMA’s previous 13M estimate.
One of our favorite co-living/housing/whatever operators, HubHaus, raised a $10M series A lead by Social Capital the other day. Whereas most coliving operators focus on multifamily housing in super pricey cities, HubHaus takes on shared living in single-family housing in Bay Area/SV and LA suburbs. While these areas have an abundance of jobs for single, techy types, their suburban housing is decidedly family-friendly.
HubHaus rents out rooms in normal, old suburban houses at very approachable price points (~$1k/month). And the shares give residents a built-in community, which is more important in sleepy, low-density burbs than cities that abound with social opportunity. And given that 76% or so of American housing is single-family, the market potential is huge, something this latest investment attests to.
NIMBYs objections tend to run something like, they want to: protect the character of their neighborhoods, prevent gentrification and maintain affordable housing for existing populations, prevent overcrowding, and so on. But underneath the protests is a more base—if unconscious—financial concern. Often, a large share of the NIMBYs wealth is tied up in their home’s value. Suggestions of easing housing scarcity—the big driver of their personal wealth—can strike them as an existential threat.
But most people have a price. What if the NIMBY could see—and benefit from—the real development potential of their property? That’s the idea behind CityBldr. The Seattle-based startup is using “machine learning on dozens of disparate data sources” to find the “highest and best use” of a property (read: milking the most money from it). They claim their system can help fetch as much as 89% more than conventional valuations. They will help you shop your property to builders and developers and they also have tools that will keep you apprised of potential upzoning—an issue that could be a big deal in California in the next year.Continue reading “The machine that will drive the NIMBYs out of their homes”
“The machines will never replace the human,” Jeff Buczkiewicz, president of the Mason Contractors Association of America, told the NY Times regarding the role of robotics and masonry. Jeff was speaking to the Times at the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 bricklaying competition (who knew, right?), where fast-handed masons race to build high-quality walls in the least amount of time.
Also at the competition was SAM, a $400k bricklaying robot by Construction Robotics. SAM was slower than the humans (who could lay 7-9 bricks/minute) and didn’t have the “human element” Buczkiewicz claims is necessary to lay down bricks—elements like opioid addiction and onsite deaths, we assume. Nevertheless, the Times wasn’t so convinced the masons are safe from the robots.
The “I” in the RFI is a brain-dump from “market participants,” explicating how modular will work in a variety of multifamily settings throughout the boroughs. The RFEI “invites expressions of interest for modular affordable housing construction on private sites within the five boroughs,” with the aim of expediting “the pre-development process” for successful RFEI respondents. These preliminary steps will be shortly followed by an RFP for a project built on city lands. Continue reading “NYC gets mod complex”
The micro-apartment topic tends to be framed around micro-studios. But the hefty development costs of building an NYC micro studio result in a rent which is 115% of the AMI (area median income).
The problem is studios require the same plumbing and electric work as larger units (which is why shared kitchen/bath SROs make so much sense). So developers default to building two and three bedroom units, where plumbing and electric costs can be distributed across more beds. Larger units are also seen as a more reliable unit type by lenders, probably because they can be adapted to roommates, couples, and families.
Cheaper development costs and cheaper debt mean two and three beds can be offered at cheaper price points…to an extent.
Square feet still cost money. A luxury square foot rents for around $6/month in Manhattan, which means a 900 sf two bedroom will set you back $5400. This is a good chunk of change for most.
Ranger Properties might onto to something with “The Lanes.” Their Long Island City building features 57 micro two and three bedroom apartments—490 and 735 sf, respectively (compared to 900 and 1,200 sf for more conventional units). By shrinking unit sizes, Ranger presumably achieves the economy of scale that keeps development costs low on larger units. But because units are small, they can charge a solid $/sf without elevating rents too much, especially when compared to market comps. Continue reading “Sky’s the limit with biggie smalls apartment”
When big cities gutted their single room occupancy (SRO) inventory in the mid-to-late 20th century—and failed to replace them with Section 8 or anything else—it left a big gap in the market for cheap and flexible housing. The vanishing SRO can be blamed for the birth of the roommate and its consequent squeeze on family-friendly urban housing and—more critically—the birth of the modern homeless crisis. One poll from 1980 found that half of NYC’s homeless population had once lived in SROs. Moreover, what SROs survived the purge became de facto bastions for the uber-poor, reinforcing negative stereotypes about the housing type.
A recent report by NYU’s Furman Center is renewing interest in the SRO as a viable market-rate housing typology. They argue that small efficiency apartments with shared kitchens and baths (i.e. SRO units) can achieve development and operating costs far lower than conventional apartments; for example, per unit hard costs on SROs are 67% less than normal studio apartments.