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Home builders, federal leaders, economists, and subject-matter experts discussed challenges facing the construction industry and how innovative building technology can address these obstacles as part of the kickoff event for the 2022 Innovative Housing Showcase, hosted by the NAHB and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). During a series of panel discussions, speakers shared the benefits of innovative technology and discussed what public and private actors can do to spur adoption to make housing more innovative, resilient, and affordable.

NAHB chief economist Robert Dietz and National Multifamily Housing Council vice president of research Caitlin Walter discussed the various economic challenges currently facing the housing sector. Rising interest rates, supply chain challenges, inflation, skilled labor, and high regulatory costs are all among the issues currently plaguing the housing industry.

During a panel discussion moderated by Brookings Institute senior fellow Jenny Schuetz that included Joan Glickman of the U.S. Department of Energy, Ivory Homes vice president of strategy Michael Parker said a general understanding of innovative techniques and technologies can help bring innovation from the research and development stage to more widespread adoption across the industry.

“A lot of people don’t understand how much innovation is happening out there. The exposure and awareness piece is such a big thing in this industry,” Parker said. “We’re used to doing things the way we’ve always done them. There’s an efficiency gain from that, but there also isn’t. We have stagnant production gains [as an industry] over the past 100 years.”

Glickman said partnership will likely be key in helping innovations reach widespread adoption and code and regulatory compliance. Innovation without collaboration from financers, regulators, and other stakeholders will not lead to improvement, adoption, and change in any industry, according to Glickman. Additionally, she said innovation should always place energy-efficiency and building performance at the forefront. The costs of such innovations can be kept lower by integrating technologies and techniques into the construction phase, rather than retrofitting existing buildings.

“[Innovation] is about reducing costs, but adding value and then trying to get enough players at the forefront to understand what people are going to want,” Glickman said. “What are builders going to want? What are homeowners and home buyers going to want? Otherwise, we’re inventing things that nobody’s going to use.”

While numerous innovative technologies and techniques exist, including modular building, off-site construction, components manufacturing, panelization, and zero-carbon retrofits, costs, risk aversion, and labor remain the biggest barriers to adoption in the industry. While the up-front costs are steep, Parker said the industry would benefit if companies began experimenting with innovation on a small scale.

“If we could get every home builder or multifamily developer to take one building or one subdivision and try to do something different, we’d start making some big headway,” Parker said. “We don’t have to bite off the whole apple to experiment and see what impact on affordability we get from innovation.”

During a panel moderated by NAHB first vice chairman Alicia Huey, Julia Gordon, the assistant secretary for housing at HUD and the Federal Housing commissioner, and Dr. Rodney Harrell, vice president of family, home, and community for AARP, discussed the importance of collaboration to innovation and combating the idea of “siloing,” where challenges are assigned to one department or group. Harrell said a “surround sound” approach can lead to holistic thought and bring about change more effectively.

“With silos, we focus on internal metrics,” Gordon said. “One of the ways we can get out of these silos is to make sure we keep as our north star what we are trying to accomplish out in the world for communities and people. Then we can drill down [issues] and figure out how to work together.”

The 2022 Innovative Housing Showcase features new building technologies and housing solutions designed to make housing more innovative, resilient, and affordable. The event includes exhibitor demonstrations and full-sized prototype homes.