The drive to develop more affordable housing is spawning new collaborations that are influencing not only the traditional building process but the regulations and policy surrounding it to strengthen housing as a positive business enterprise.

The housing community is evaluating all the various access points in the process to streamline or disrupt for more efficiency, more affordability. Even many markets are taking the initiative to host competitions that drive new solutions to local housing issues.

Los Angeles County recently hosted a Housing Innovation Challenge, which ended February 1, in which five organizations received a total of $4.5 million for new and cost-effective ideas to build housing for the growing homeless population.

One of the winners was Nest, a proposal by a collaboration of Los Angeles–based Brooks + Scarpa, the nonprofit Community Corporation of Santa Monica and Rialto, Calif.–based manufacturer Plant Prefab. In the groups approach to dissect the various affordability issues, they created a very strategic solution that not only addresses individual unit design but also streamlines the zoning process.

The Nest is composed of prefabricated parts that can be interchangeable and adapted specific to the lot and housing type—the 2,200-square-foot structures have seven modules that can go up to five stories. Not only are construction costs reduced, but ongoing maintenance is minimized because the Nest can operates energy, water, and sewer systems off grid.

In 2010, Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA of Brooks + Scarpa; Katie Swenson, vice president of design and sustainability at Enterprise Community Partners; and Maurice Cox, FAIA, director of the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department formed another collaboration to create the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute. Since then, the group has been part of the innovation behind more affordable design, changing the housing landscape, just as the Nest project shows.

In this short video, Swenson, presents the history and initiatives of the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute, recognized as a HIVE Top 5 Innovator in December 2018.

Enterprise Community Partners continues to take a leadership role in how design can drive to more affordable solutions, recently launching the program Design Matters that helps housing developers think more holistically about design. The project was born out of the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute’s three-day event and training curriculum along with industry best practices, and now is an asset for the entire housing industry with simple steps, templates and dozens of other resources.

“What we did with the Design Matters tool was try to distill that rich training and worksheet content, into a stand-alone online web resource with information, tools, related case studies, etc.,” says Ray Demers, director, design leadership at Enterprise Community Partners. “It’s something we look forward to continuing to grow and populate with related information over time.”

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