“We don’t build affordable housing. We build housing that is made affordable through subsidy.”

September 27, 2010 at 4:38 pm 1 comment

At Architecture for Change, Daniel Glenn of environmental works led the program “Too costly for affordability,” which explored the causes of relatively high costs of affordable housing projects in addition to the diversity of unofficial or illegal, but very real, affordable housing worldwide.

The fact is that squatter settlements make up most of the world’s privately built affordable housing stock. In addition, people in many countries live in nomadic shelters, cars, storage spaces, and on friend’s couches. Many individuals have also lived in college dorms with minimal personal amenities and in other forms of communal housing. Why then, asked Glenn, is there no cultural or legal standard for these types of housing in America’s longterm private housing market? In an effort to help alleviate the current housing crisis, should architects consider providing more at a somewhat lower quality instead of less at the current middle class standard?

Later in the presentation, Glenn pointed out that affordable housing projects generally take 5x the funding sources and 2x the time to complete as market-rate housing projects. So even with low materials costs, there is significant time and money used in supporting fundraising, legal, and other administrative efforts. This was reaffirmed by panel member Peter Landon, an architect, professor, and the one quoted in the title of today’s post. Recognizing this administrative burden, they asked: how can we change the business structures and, in particular, streamline funding in order to reduce these soft costs?

Despite the great panel discussion, which also included Fred Bonner of Bonheur Development Corporation, and the enthusiastic Q&A from the audience, all of these questions remain difficult and unanswered. The good news is that they are being asked increasingly at conferences, in articles, and generally amongst designers.

September 27’s daily design idea is a quote from Anna Muoio: “the challenge is to create a business model that is viable and demonstrates the value of this work.”

left photo of a squatter settlement in Durban by Flickr user Easy Traveler; right photo of Westhaven Park Phase IIB by Landon Bone Baker Architects, a mixed-income development including 45 affordable units

This post is 6 of 7 within a series exploring Public Interest Architecture.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

“Looking good only counts if it does good, too.” An architect of change.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. An architect of change. « Daily Design Idea  |  October 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    […] just-do-it approaches. Tons of designers are working on ways to create more responsible housing and reduce project costs (though they could always use more). And everyone seems so dedicated to working towards a world […]


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