Let’s Talk About Solutions, Not Problems

As the United States continues to experience a housing crisis that shows no sign of abating, urban planners and designers are faced with the issues of how to increase the supply of homes and how to improve housing affordability.

Perhaps the key lies in identifying and practicing innovative affordable housing solutions. Here, we should not restrict ourselves to designing homes using new materials and incorporating ideas such as permaculture home design, sustainable housing solutions, and energy-efficient technologies. While all these strategies are incredibly important, there is much more that we can do, and should be doing, to improve the supply of affordable housing in our cities.

This article outlines five innovative strategies that could help us transition to greater housing affordability for our urban communities.

  1. Remove regulatory barriers to reduce time and cost of building

A policy decision that can be taken at federal, state, and local levels is to remove the regulatory barriers that increase the time and cost to deliver housing projects. We should examine the restrictions that current regulations place on purchasing and use of land, automate legal processes, relax planning codes, and make it easier for planning and zoning for affordable housing projects.

One such example of this working in practice might be to remove single-family zoning and replace it with multi-family zoning, allowing duplexes and triplexes where once only single-family homes could be constructed.

  1. Help renters to improve their credit scores

Credit rating remains a problem for many renters, especially in minority communities. Lower credit ratings make it more difficult to access appropriate housing. Yet most credit ratings don’t use rent in their algorithms, even though rent is the biggest single expense for most. A renter can have an exceptional history of rental payments, and yet it counts for nothing, while a single late payment on a loan can have an unbalanced detrimental effect.

By using credit scoring systems that include rent in their calculations, renters will be better able to access the housing they need.

  1. Utilize existing land more effectively

Even though cities are densely populated, there remains a problem of poor land use. Derelict buildings and disused industrial sites could provide the ideal solution to improve the supply of housing. Disused warehouses could be refurbished as multi-family apartment blocks. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) could be built on unused land within perimeters of existing housing.

  1. Offer financial incentives to home builders

The use of financial incentives could be extended to encourage home builders to develop more land for affordable housing. Tax breaks could be given to landlords who rent out their properties at pre-specified limits of average median household income. At the extreme, city authorities could donate vacant sites for private developers to create affordable housing projects.

  1. Listen to, and engage urban communities

When delivering affordable housing solutions, it is crucial that we listen to and engage local communities in our planning. Doing so motivates neighborhoods to make change happen, and this drives the sustainability of our urban spaces.

Where there are empty buildings, we should seek opinions for use from the surrounding community, and focus our efforts on housing, education, economy, and social change. Instead of tear-down and replacing, we should first consider refurbish and reposition. It is not gentrification that improves our neighborhoods, it is community. Allow the people to decide what we should create because people don’t destroy what they create.

The time for talking is over

The housing crisis is not new. But isn’t the time for talk over? The more we talk about the problems we are facing, the worse those problems seem to become. 

Instead of continuously discussing the issues we face – predominantly a lack of affordable housing – we should focus on the potential solutions. We need to find ways to act with greater urgency and to kickstart a revolution in housing construction that will begin to reverse a crisis that is gaining momentum with every day we delay.

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.

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