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A New Angle to Tackle Affordable Housing

How can innovative design and technology improve affordable housing and healthy communities? This question becomes even more important in the wake of the shift in the way people in the U.S. look at housing.

In a Fannie Mae Perspectives blog, Maria Evans, VP for Sustainable Communities at Fannie Mae gave the example of an exhibit called Making Room: Housing for A Changing America at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. to drive home the point for the need for innovation in housing.

According to the exhibit, nuclear families accounted for only 20 percent of America's households, down from 43 percent in 1950. Nearly 30 percent of households today consisted of single adults living alone, while 28 percent of adult chose to house share.

Housing stock, however, has failed to keep up with these changing demographics. The exhibit revealed that 11.63 percent of the total housing stock was for one-bedroom homes, a preferred choice for single adults. It indicated that tw0-bedroom homes made up 26.54 percent of the housing stock while three- and four-bedroom homes consisted of 39.8 percent and 16.6 percent of the overall housing stock respectively.

"When affordable housing is part of a mixed-income community with good schools, health and wellness opportunities, and good-paying jobs, it is much easier for those communities to address longstanding disparities in educational or health outcomes of low-income residents," Evans wrote in the blog.

But, she said,  it was important for the industry to innovate to address the affordable housing needs where it intersected with key aspects of the community. Giving the example of West Denver Renaissance Collaborative, which participated in Fannie Mae's Innovation Challenge, Evans said that this organization was implementing an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) program across nine neighborhoods in west Denver to enable long-term, low-income homeowners to remain part of their communities and benefit from recent investments.

"The ADU will be a detached residence, between 450-870 square feet, in the backyard of the primary home and will serve as a rental unit, creating a new income source for homeowners and increasing their property value," Evans said. "The ADU also adds to the affordable housing supply, allowing new residents to move into an established community. We expect the overall result will be a vibrant, multi-generational, mixed-income community that better reflects how we’re living today."

The exhibit at the National Building Museum, Evans said, showcased such innovations that allowed for comfortable living in smaller spaces, "which are both more affordable to construct, less expensive to live in, and can be leveraged in any neighborhood." It underscored how much could be accomplished if the housing industry and adjacent sectors started to think differently about design.

About Author: Radhika Ojha

Radhika Ojha is an independent writer and copy-editor, and a reporter for DS News. She is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication. Upon completion of her masters degree, Ojha worked at a national English daily publication in India (The Indian Express) where she was a staff writer in the cultural and arts features section. Ojha, also worked as Principal Correspondent at HT Media Ltd and at Honeywell as an executive in corporate communications. She and her husband currently reside in Houston, Texas.
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