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IBS 2024 | A Home of Their Own

Pocket home duplex on corner

Design Ideas for Attainable Housing

In the not-so-distant past, owning a home, selling it, and then upgrading to a nicer or larger one was the path for many. However, in recent years, the dream of homeownership has become increasingly elusive, particularly for essential workers—the backbone of our communities, including teachers, firefighters, police officers, and nurses. Entry-level professionals in these fields face formidable barriers to breaking into the housing market.

Recognizing this challenge, we wanted to take a deeper look at where we can make up ground to get all parts of our communities the opportunity of homeownership. In this exploration, Tony Crasi of the Crasi Company, Anne Postle of Osmosis Architecture, and Susan Wade of Redland, have identified three pivotal arenas for dismantling the obstacles to attainability: cost, home design, and the intricacies of land planning.

Tackling the Cost Challenge

Tony Crasi, a seasoned builder from Ohio, brings a pragmatic perspective to the table. We need to redefine attainability within the context of workforce housing families. The financial constraints faced by teachers and other essential workers highlight the disconnect between rising home costs and stagnant incomes.

In the landscape of 2018, a teacher earning $65,000 could comfortably afford a $319,000 home, supported by a $1,788 mortgage payment encompassing property taxes, insurance, PMI, and potential HOA dues. Fast forward to today in 2024, and that same dwelling comes with a heftier price tag of $383,000, a surge attributed to augmented labor and material expenses. The spike in interest rates from 3% to 7% amplifies the challenge, pushing the monthly mortgage to over $3,000—a leap the cautious banks are reluctant to take on.

plan with and without garage
Left, Original Plan with Garage. Right, Plan modified without Garage

Certain facets of a home are indispensable to our lives: our kitchens, bathrooms, and daylight/windows cannot be compromised, along with our HVAC systems. Practical cost-cutting strategies become imperative. These include trimming square footage, shedding non-essential features like basements or, in some instances, even garages, and exploring avenues to negotiate lower interest rates. Smaller, however, doesn’t have to equate to inferior! The importance of quality design surges to the forefront as smaller homes have to be thoughtfully designed.

Designing Homes for Attainability:

Boulder Creek Neighborhoods - Wee Cottages
Boulder Creek Neighborhoods - Wee Cottages

Anne Postle champions the cause of innovative home design as a means to enhance affordability. Projects like Wee Cottages by Boulder Creek Neighborhoods have successfully lowered the cost of single-family homeownership. Yet, the battle for affordability is far from won. Some of these homes are as small as 900 square fee and the fees often exceed $125,000 before even nailing the first stud. Challenges to the status quo need to be made to urge policymakers to align fees with the infrastructure demands of smaller homes.

Accessory Dwelling Unit
ADU Living Room and Kitchenette by Brightland Homes.

Infill projects and accessory dwelling units highlight potential creativity within existing neighborhoods, breathing new life into neighborhoods that haven't realized their full potential. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) offer a great solution to effectively convert a traditional single-family lot into two more affordable opportunities for homeownership. This too, however, comes at significant pushback, from both existing zoning guides and NIMBY sentiments. However, take for instance, a modest 530-square-foot ADU perched above a garage — a transformative addition that not only enhances the homeownership experience for the main house but also introduces an element of affordable rental space to the neighborhood. Accessory units along the alley can play a crucial role in cost reduction for the family investing in the larger front home.

Pocket Homes on end of block.
Pocket Homes on end of block.

An additional infill idea is the concept of Pocket Homes. The introduction of pocket homes on a standard 50’x100’ lot, 5-6000 sq. ft. lot. The pocket homes put 4 units, 2 duplexes onto one single-family detached lot. Four homes on a single lot, each meticulously designed with two bedrooms and one bath. These homes embrace a blend of single- and two-story plans while forgoing garages and basements. Remarkably efficient, these homes seamlessly integrate into the fabric of the traditional neighborhood where the can be positioned on corner lots within typical single-family homes. Alley-loaded, these homes can be integrated into any block.

Contemporary elevation of duplex pocket home

These homes would best thrive as market-rate, for-sale, owner-occupied properties. Ideally introduced at the master plan or early concept plan stage, they can also integrate into small infill site conditions. The key to overcoming resistance lies in their simultaneous construction alongside single-family homes. By aligning these pocket homes with existing residential structures, we mitigate the NIMBY mindset. For those who still have reservations, it's essential to underscore the inclusivity inherent in this approach. These homes are more than just an answer to affordability; they represent the potential living spaces for your grown children, aging parents, teachers, and firefighters. It's a visionary concept where a teacher, a parent, or any community member can find a place to call home. While the challenges are undeniably significant, the introduction of innovative solutions like pocket homes signals a promising shift towards more attainable housing options.

Strategic Land Planning for Attainability

Susan Wade underscores the pivotal role of strategic land planning in creating inclusive communities. From block design to density considerations, Susan outlines the importance of maximizing land usage to accommodate attainable housing units.

Neighborhood plan

At Berkley Shores in Adams County, Colorado, meticulous planning gave rise to a community that not only offers diverse housing options but also provides communal spaces. The incorporation of a generous 4-acre open space allowed for a well-thought-out plan featuring 92 units on 9.2 acres, achieving a density of 16 dwelling units per acre. This mix includes three-story townhomes centrally positioned, tuck-under townhomes creatively designed to navigate grade transitions, two-story townhomes, and single-family detached residences. This diverse housing typology caters to a wide range of the markets, enriching the fabric of the entire community. Recognizing this challenge, we wanted to take a deeper look at where we can make up ground to get all parts of our communities the opportunity of homeownership.

housing types

There are opportunities to explore non-traditional development standards and advocate for minimizing fees and maximizing density at the lot, block, and neighborhood scales. Innovative strategies may involve the implementation of narrow private access lanes, alternative garage solutions (such as one-car or carport configurations), and inventive approaches to detention and utility services. By fostering collaboration, innovation, and good design, communities can overcome the barriers to attainable homeownership.

A Call to Action

The challenges of attainable housing are undoubtedly complex, but they are not insurmountable. The strategies proposed—addressing costs, championing innovative design, and implementing strategic land planning—present a tangible roadmap for progress. However, the responsibility to translate these strategies into actionable solutions falls on the shoulders of communities, policymakers, and industry stakeholders.

In the quest for attainable housing, collaboration, and innovation are paramount. By working together and embracing change, we can pave the way for a future where homeownership is within reach for all, irrespective of income or profession. The time for action is now, and the journey towards attainable housing begins with a collective commitment to change.


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