Is It Time to Expand Our Definition of Resources?
A misconception about affordable housing is that it is only required for the very poorest in our society. Real estate values and rental prices have outpaced wage inflation for years. This has meant that housing options are severely limited for many people and even those on average incomes.
Why is the affordability of housing such a crucial issue today? Simply put, because the prohibitive cost of housing leaves many families exposed to the risks of financial stress ─ imagine living life on the edge of a precipice at the bottom of which is homelessness. Imagine being only a single health emergency or paycheck away from falling off that precipice.
What creative, affordable housing strategies exist that could help us to remove this anxiety from their lives?
All housing can be made affordable
There is no one-size-fits-all housing model in our cities. People have unique needs for their homes, and therefore there are many housing models that exist.
One way to make housing more affordable is to use our existing resources more effectively.
We could streamline planning permissions to reduce the time and cost burden on housing developers. We could make it easier for state and local governments to set up public bodies that buy land specifically for affordable housing, and ensure that housing management exists to maintain the said housing in good repair.
With a little creativity, many housing models could be made affordable. Here are a few examples:
New-build housing, where the developer plans for the whole development to be affordable housing. We see this in many diverse types of homes ─ from student apartment blocks to individual houses and multi-family units.
Mixed development housing, in which affordable homes are built side by side with other homes ─ again, individual houses or apartments.
Refurbished existing real estate, either homes or other disused buildings refurbished or converted for housing that is deliberately repurposed as affordable housing.
Existing housing that is maintained by private or public landlords and rented at affordable prices.
Co-habiting housing, in which renters have private areas (such as bedrooms and bathrooms) but benefit from shared facilities that may include kitchens, laundry, study areas, and yards.
We must make it easier to access financial help
Financial resources should also be considered, shouldn’t they? Too often, low to moderate income families find it difficult to access financial help when it is needed.
We should ensure that financial information is more readily accessible, and that appropriate assistance is given to those who need it ─ and not only to ‘those who need it most’.
There is a wide range of finance options available, and these permeate through every level of the road to build and supply affordable housing:
Land purchase and development financing can be provided by federal, state, and local governments
Financing can also be provided by public housing corporations, as well as private developers or social agencies
Banks can provide loans on more accommodating terms
Renters can be subsidized by a variety of methods, including subsidies, vouchers, and loans
Further creative use of the existing resources, which is often not considered, is to have prospective residents contribute to affordable housing schemes. This may be by way of labor or other expertise but offers multiple benefits. Developers save on costs. Residents help to create the homes they will occupy, delivering greater engagement and a sense of pride in their homes, and receive reduced rent or purchase prices in return.
The challenge: Creating affordable housing is a collaborative effort that requires multiple resources
When discussing the resources needed to create affordable housing, we must move away from considering only the fabric of the homes we are seeking to develop. Of course, we must pay attention to the materials and labor used, the heating and energy sources included, and even the smart mobility systems around planned developments.
But we should remember that resources include land, existing infrastructure, government, and people. By being more creative with these resources, we can unlock efficiency, purpose, expertise, and collaboration.
The creation of affordable housing requires more than bricks and mortar. It needs advocates to motivate and drive affordable housing projects. It needs governments and developers to acquire land. It requires financing from banks and government, and architects to design homes. It needs state and local government to be more accommodating with permissions, people to do the work, and communities to be engaged throughout.
Are these the resources that will make ambitions of more affordable housing not just a continual discussion, but a reality?
We must also be mindful that affordable housing can only be delivered if those people involved have adequate financial recompense.
Developers, landlords, financial institutions, and the like can only build affordable housing if their efforts and actions are financially justifiable.
Just like the family that must balance its income and costs to exist, so too must all parties associated with planning, designing, delivering, and maintaining affordable housing for all those who need it, not only those who need it most.
At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, and play – including how they are conceived, designed and created. To learn more, contact ACB Consulting.