Posts tagged with "Housing":
- Establishing by-right development
- Taxing vacant land or donate it to non-profit developers
- Streamlining or shortening permitting processes and timelines
- Eliminating off-street parking requirements
- Allowing accessory dwelling units
- Establishing density bonuses
- Enacting high-density and multifamily zoning
- Employing inclusionary zoning
- Establishing development tax or value capture incentives
- Using property tax abatements
Over the past three decades, local barriers to housing development have intensified, particularly in the high-growth metropolitan areas increasingly fueling the national economy. The accumulation of such barriers—including zoning, other land use regulations, and lengthy development approval processes—has reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand. The growing severity of undersupplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families, increasing income inequality by reducing less-skilled workers’ access to high-wage labor markets, and stifling GDP growth by driving labor migration away from the most productive regions. By modernizing their approaches to housing development regulation, states and localities can restrain unchecked housing cost growth, protect homeowners, and strengthen their economies.“When unnecessary barriers restrict the supply of housing and costs increase, then workers, particularly lower-income workers who would benefit the most, are less able to move to high-productivity cities,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, speaking to Politico. “All told, this means slower economic growth.” “It’s important that the president is talking about it,” said Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute. “Local restrictions on housing supply are a crucial economic issue. I would say it’s one of the top 10.” A link to the toolkit can be found here.
Consider the accessory dwelling unit (ADU). It is a structure of many names, including secondary dwelling unit, garage apartment, granny flat, backyard cottage, casita, carriage house—the list goes on. The unit has equally as many uses: rentable occupancy, (secret) Airbnb gem, guesthouse, or extended family annex. Over the past decade, as housing costs have soared in cities like Austin, the casita has become a much-studied and proliferated phenomenon.
The ADU frenzy is not unique to Austin. The format is popular in other cities like Houston, Texas, or Sydney, Australia, which was, as of the end of 2015, churning out a hundred “Fonzie” flats a week. Portland (1,300 as of 2013) and Seattle (1,396 as of 2015) both established city pathways for creating secondary units. Across the border in Vancouver, 35 percent of all single-family residences have one. The back house represents an important option for low-impact densification, as it increases lot inhabitation and generates rental income but, due to its street invisibility, leaves the character of a neighborhood intact.
Austin’s ADU construction is widespread: 750 permits for “secondary apartments” have been issued since 2006, with the annual number of permits for these auxiliary units surpassing those for duplexes since 2014. Still, the structures are limited to multifamily and some single-family zonings, including SF-3, which carries a minimum lot size of 5,750 square feet, a maximum building coverage of 40 percent, and usually requires expensive infrastructural items like a separate water meter.
Austin’s ADU regulations were updated in November 2015, making it easier to build closer to primary structures, on smaller lots, and without parking in central, transit-adjacent areas. The ordinance also prohibited the use of the dwelling as a non-owner occupied short-term rental (STR), and restricted STR usage generally to 30 days per calendar year. Ahead of the new ordinance, local organization Austinites for Urban Rail Action (AURA) “dedicated to a vision of an Austin where everybody is welcome and everybody’s interests matter,” advocated for allowing ADUs everywhere in the city, and circulated an online petition that gathered over 1,000 signatures in support. Its “ADU City” report, released in June 2015, offers policy provisions and case studies in support of ADU growth. Via email, AURA board member Eric Goff stressed the importance of growing the housing supply and simplifying the permitting process. “Rules like unit caps, lot size, Sub Chapter F, FAR, building height, set backs, and others,” he wrote, “consistently make it difficult to add more housing.”
Here, house prices and rental rates continue to climb while income remains stagnant. The ADU, even in limited deployment, becomes useful in gentrifying neighborhoods, as its rental income balances out rising property taxes for families on low or fixed incomes. In a June editorial, city council member for East Austin’s District 3, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, said that he and his wife were only able to remain in their home because they built a secondary unit to supplement their income. These units, when rented at market rates, are largely occupied by younger individuals or couples who can afford to trade space and dollars for location. This doesn’t explicitly offer housing for lower-income renters, but it reduces market competition for cheaper units, allowing those units to be occupied by those who need them most. And it creates a revenue stream for those who are struggling to keep their homes, critical in areas like East Austin, where neighborhoods have lost 34 percent of their homeowners since 2002.
Substantial evidence demonstrates the myriad positive impacts of the ADUs. Their adoption is the goal of the Alley Flat Initiative, a collective effort started in 2005 by the University of Texas Center for Sustainable Development, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, and the Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC). The outfit provides resources, including design services, to citizens, neighborhood groups, and nonprofits interested in building ADUs. To date, it has realized five units, with two under construction and about nine in development. In mid-June, it hosted the first-ever Alley Flat Tour, showcasing the five completed units with over one hundred attendees. Nicole Joslin, who recently took over as executive director of ACDDC, said, “the biggest hurdles are access to financing and making the property taxes calibrated to the rent that’s being collected.” For example, an ADU built and rented through the City of Austin’s S.M.A.R.T. (safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced, transit oriented) Housing Policy that caps incomes for its renters is not recognized as affordable housing by Travis County and is appraised for market value, instead of the income generated, which is the typical indicator for multi-family property taxes. “Banks don’t know what to do with ADUs,” Joslin continued, noting conflict if the structure increases or decreases property value. Further, local house appraisers struggle with ADUs, sometimes grouping the square footage together with the main house or ignoring the unit altogether. “We’ve overcome a lot of the LDC barriers,” she said. According to Joslin, what is needed now are additional subsidies to lower the cost of construction and, as ADU requirements are relaxed, incentives to retain the primary house. Moving forward, she hopes to continue to build ACDDC’s “capacity to be a resource for their community partners and single-family homeowners who are trying to prevent displacement.”
High-design versions of the granny flat showcase its possibilities for architectural achievement. This year, AIA Austin presented a Design Award to For A Better Architecture (FAB) for its Hillmont Studio, an 850-square-foot back house in the Zilker neighborhood. The unit was also featured on the 2015 AIA Austin Homes Tour, along with another alley flat. FAB cofounder Patrick Ousey, AIA, said the challenge was to create a sense of privacy while still maintaining a connection to the street. The massing is pushed into the lot’s back right corner, and because the spaces “don’t stack exactly one over the other,” the overhanging bedroom hovers over the glassed-in living area and patio. Clad in thin black Hardie siding, the project also includes walnut cabinets, clean detailing, and an interior-exterior concrete wall that was “brought into the budget without increasing overall cost.” This materiality connected the interior to the site walls, tying together the entry movement from the curb all the way back to the ADU. The project cost about $200 per square foot, including landscaping. Ousey reported a normal permitting experience, though the water meter became a problem. Adding an additional meter can cost up to $20,000, a fee that “makes a small project like that not doable.” FAB is at work on another residence with a back house that is similarly sited for privacy. Big or small, the design work “boils down to quality,” Ousey said, and “quality comes at every budget.”
Granny flats occupy the lighter end of the “missing middle” housing density spectrum that is painfully absent in Austin. The ADU joins a larger set of housing solutions in development to keep Austin affordable. In early June, the city unveiled a draft of its first-ever housing plan. The Austin Strategic Housing Plan, available online, offers progressive solutions to make up the current deficit of affordable units by producing 35,000 units for those at 80 percent median family income—$62,250 for a family of four in Travis County this year—and 40,000 market-rate units for a total of 75,000 units in the next decade. The plan provides an arsenal of tactics: Tax Increment Financing (TIF), the expansion of homestead preservation districts, expanded density bonus programs, a strike fund that would be used to purchase and maintain existing multifamily complexes, expanded use of community land trusts (CLTs), renovation of the S.M.A.R.T. Housing program, and many other bold ideas. Even without policies available to other cities—Texas is the now only state where inclusionary zoning is illegal—these tools forecast admirable gains.
City of Austin senior planner Jonathan Tomko said that there is “two-pronged” reform at work, on both the policy and code fronts, and that maximum progress happens when the two work together in tight coordination. The policy battle is well underway, as is CodeNEXT, the effort to fully rewrite Austin’s Land Development Code. CodeNEXT is led by its main consultant, Opticos Design, a Berkeley-based outfit focused on walkable urban living and the “missing middle” housing movement. The city now estimates draft code to be delivered for public review in January 2017, and has released two of four prescription papers that preview strategies. The Household Affordability document, delivered in April, lays out the changes that are coming soon.
Some believe that the promised results of the CodeNEXT rewrite may not be enough to reverse Austin’s economic segregation, now rated at the worst in the nation. John Henneberger, winner of a 2014 MacArthur Genius grant and co-director of the Texas Housers nonprofit, wrote in a May 2016 blog post that “Austin must promote, as a public policy, economic and racial diversity across all neighborhoods and should reject the ghettoization of affordable housing into city-designated districts,” referencing the strategy to concentrate investment at transit-rich nodes. Speaking to the AIA Austin audience in June, Henneberger emphasized the rights of low-income citizens and argued for reform at the neighborhood level, including leveraging solutions like community development corporations (CDCs) to create affordable housing. Such activism remains important work as inequitable policies persist—evidenced by a 2015 Texas bill that allows landlords to discriminate against renters who use housing vouchers. Contemporary studies show that “laws aimed at things like ‘maintaining neighborhood character’ or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities,” according to The New York Times. Affordability is increasingly the central topic at city council: An additional fair housing initiative was approved in June, providing yet another referendum in support of consequential action.
This action is needed if Austin is to realize the big changes envisioned in the Housing Plan and CodeNEXT rewrite. Thankfully, many individuals and groups are up to the challenge. At the Alley Flat Initiative, Joslin is focusing future work on the financing of ADUs, and on neighborhood-scale sustainability efforts “more and more—this isn’t about architecture only.”
For Tomko, the goal is to have the housing plan approved by the end of 2016 as an appendix to Imagine Austin, the city’s comprehensive plan: “all types of housing for all types of people in all parts of town.”
An impenetrable and arcane little book, The Art of Inequality, along with a well-organized and intelligent panel discussion, accompanied House Housing’s Los Angeles’s appearance. The panel was moderated by the Los Angeles Times’ architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, and included a witty, knowledgeable, and acerbic group: L.A. architect Julie Eizenberg, and San Diego–based academics Juliana Maxim and Andrew Wiese. The panel, as it turned out, was better than the show and the book combined because it was focused, relevant, and brief. If there is one broad criticism I might offer here it is this: The never-ending parade of traveling shows, publications, events, social media feeds, and inscrutable websites that now stand in for academic research and dedicated curatorial work has tanked.
And sadly, this effort seems to highlight the entire dilemma. What started in the mid-to-late ’90s with the Harvard “Project on the City” and the Architectural Association of London’s Design Research Laboratory as an attempt to realign architecture with reality, has now descended into a farce where loosely appropriated data and reality samples are presented as research—and petulant attacks on practitioners as political action. Forced to absorb a series of half-baked guest essays, useless charts, graphs, meanly redrawn housing unit plans (what a waste of some poor grad student’s time), and attacks on well-known octogenarian architects, the audience must somehow surmise that this is meaningful academic work. How dumb do the curators think the audience, professional or otherwise, really is? Is there an even an audience for this sort of work? Do the authors care if no one shows up?
Despite its appropriate setting, House Housing perfectly illustrates all that is wrong with these sort of airless engagements with the realpolitik of contemporary city-making by architects today. If the aim of the exhibition was to invite “scholars and practitioners to discuss how we might reframe our understanding of the relationships among architecture, housing, and real estate in light of the inequalities they both produce and reflect,” the net effect is a misreading of the jujitsu-hold many practitioners find themselves in as they attempt to negotiate the market forces that have been at work reformatting our cities since at least the dawn of the Reagan-Thatcher era. House Housing parades out real-estate and architectural-atrocity exhibits, “from architect-designed houses to prefabricated apartment blocks to suburban gated communities,” presented less as a coherent analysis of the tragedy of housing inequality than as some sort of evidence of the intrepid academic’s adventures in the “real city” wherein the desire, ambition, and greed of the inevitably evil developer class squash the dreams of the proletariat. Architecture, predictably, plays the role of the villain’s guileless and dim-witted sidekick. Architects are caricatured as willing handmaidens to the construction of socioeconomic injustice. “More than just a building type or a market sector,” the editors argue, “housing is a primary architectural act—where architecture is understood as that which makes real estate real.”
An easy target like Frank Gehry ends up demonized for being part of market-rate development in New York and the author of an oddball suburban house renovation, while Bernard Tschumi, formerly a radical leftist and current dean emeritus at the Columbia GSAPP, gets no censure for the Blue Condominium housing tower on the Lower East Side—average sale price, $1.5 million as recently noted by Alex Cocotas in the Jacobin. One wonders, here, if the author-editors are even aware of their own biases.
It has to be stated that the entire effort is also very condescending. Once again we are offered that late-20th-century academic cliché, Institutional Critique, as an innovative model of cultural production. Instead of a more genuine or provocative proposal for redefining the role of architecture in city-making we are served up, yet again, the now-zombified Standard Marxist Critique of State Capitalism. As neoliberalism accelerates the transfer of urban control from a near-dead public sector to the hyper-advanced private sector, the best the authors can suggest is that if “architecture is imagined first and foremost as an investment…thinking and making it otherwise remains a fundamental, unmet challenge for our times.” The political ambivalence of this statement reveals that the very academic tools used to draw attention to social inequality and architecture’s role in its production fall far short of the potentially radical and ferocious work that will need to be done by architects on their discipline and the professional organizations, academies, museums, and research bodies that support them in order to change the situation. Nothing less than total outrage and focused action will address the social violence of radicalized poverty and its caustic effects on the 21st-century city.
What is required now of architecture, especially academic architecture, is not another retreading of the usual antagonisms. Resipsa loquitur: The boring and never-ending Facebook-adjacent arguments around this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale are primarily about mindless parametricist fundamentalism versus patronizing do-gooder fundamentalism. Who cares? Only the difficulty of real adversarial engagement, not fantasy critiques launched from the ivory tower at the profession, will further the conversation. Architecture will not advance one step as either a symbol of the one percent or as a tool of the other 99 percent; it must adapt and grow beyond its currently servile relationships with capital and/or community. What is required is nothing less than a wholesale attack on the discipline’s stagnating orthodoxies, left and right.
House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate ran from April 9 – May 8, 2016 at the MAK Center at the Schindler House.
One/Two Family Custom HousingThis award recognizes work for custom and remodelled homes. Hog Pen Creek Retreat; Austin, Texas - Lake|Flato Architects "Towering heritage oak trees, a steeply sloping site and aggressive setbacks from the water created challenging site constraints thoughtfully answered by the home's L-shaped footprint and orientation. A long exterior boardwalk connects a series of structures that stair step down the hillside, crossing a 75-foot lap pool and terminating at a screened pavilion by the water’s edge." Jury Comments: "Nicely detailed, fully cohesive design strategy with water and nature being primary influences. This feels very place based and perfect for its setting in Texas. Artful composition of masses. Delicate placement amidst mature landscape and Creek waterfront views." Independence Pass Residence; Aspen, CO - Bohlin Cywinski Jackson "The house stretches between two knolls, forming a threshold to the views. A series of textured Vals quartzite walls extend into the landscape on either side, giving weight to the lower level. The upper volume is a glass and wood pavilion with a roof that floats on slender stainless steel columns. Its position on the site, linear shape and the use of glass, steel and quartzite gives great strength to this mountain home." Jury Comments: "Beautiful use of stone and lines to frame views of conservation land. A stunning house. A simply spectacular house totally attuned to its Aspen setting. The views are spectacular at every angle." Island Residence; Honolulu - Bohlin Cywinski Jackson "Situated on the Ocean’s coastline at a corner of an ancient fishpond, this private residence reflects the culture of the Hawaiian Islands by embracing its lush surroundings. The house has diverse outdoor spaces and a highly transparent envelope with intimate views of the landscape, the coastal reef and the surf. Jury Comments: "Excellent place based design marrying modernism with hand crafted details. An exciting take on a vernacular, providing a real warmth and openness. Lovely cultural references to both Hawaii and Japan." Newberg Residence; Newberg, OR - Cutler Anderson Architects "This single-family 1,440 square foot residence and 550 sf guest house was designed so the owners can connect with the wild creatures that come to water regularly. The design attempts to make the pond and residence a single entity via entry through the forest, over a bridge from the north end of the pond." Jury Comments: "Elegant design demonstrates joy of living with nature - not requiring a grand vista or dramatic landscape. Thoughtful siting as bridge over pond, elegantly detailed. Simple, clean proportions, warm wood interiors." Oak Ridge House; Jackson, MS - Duvall Decker Architects, P.A. "This house, located in Jackson, Mississippi, is designed as a scaffold for the experience of moving between these conditions, to inhabit and interpret each of them over time. It is shaped to draw the outdoors in, lure the family out, and provide an environmentally rich palette of spaces to accommodate the process of habitation." Jury Comments: "Understated, well designed home. Multiple functions of builtins nice feature, as is choice of materials - slate and pecan. A really, really nice L shaped residence."
Multifamily LivingThis award looks at the integration of the building(s) into their site, using both open and recreational space, transportation options and features that contribute to liveable communities. Both high- and low-density projects were considered. 1180 Fourth Street; San Francisco - Mithun | Solomon (initiated as WRT/Solomon E.T.C.)* "The project occupies a full city block with a multi-level courtyard accessing tenant services, daycare, community gardens and common spaces. A generous community room serves the larger neighborhood as well as the project. Amenities emphasize fitness, nutrition, education and community life. It houses 150 low income and formerly homeless households, plus 10,000 square feet of restaurants and retail." *Associate Design Architect: Kennerly Architecture & Planning Jury Comments: "This is a really cool project! It does some really neat things architecturally and is rich in many ways. San Francisco sorely needs affordable housing and this is a perfect location re: transit and accessibility. To live here you have to won the housing lottery!" Cloverdale749; Los Angeles - Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects "Cloverdale749’s integration with its surroundings is upheld by carefully considered deck, window, and walkway placements wherein LOHA established a veil of transformable layers to promote a hybridized relationship between private and public spheres. Incorporating passively sustainable elements in the exterior cladding helps reduce the solar heat load on the building and its energy expenditures for cooling." Jury Comments: "Nice understated design. Rigorously developed and is an upgrade in its context. Very well thought out, detailed, and elegant resolution from a simple, rather banal ships container reference."
Specialized HousingThe Special Housing award acknowledges design that meets the unique needs of other specialized housing types, including housign for the disabled, residential rehabilitation programs, domestic violence shelters, and among others. Commonwealth Honors College, University of Massachusetts; Amherst, MA - William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. "The Commonwealth Honors College Community brings together all classes of students in a mix of unit types that provides 1,500 beds in seven new buildings. The buildings are organized around intimately scaled courtyards that step down the hillside, creating the sense of an academic village for the University of Massachusetts Honors Community." Jury Comments: "Rich mixture of campus buildings resembling an Italian hill town. So impressed that at every scale it was well thought out and integrated. They spent so much time on careful spaces for social engagement." Homeless Veterans Transitional Housing, VA Campus; Los Angeles - LEO A DALY "As part of the Nation’s vanguard effort to house its homeless veterans, the design team of Leo A Daly took a historic structure on the VA’s West Los Angeles medical campus, a building that had been vacant for decades, and repurposed it, turning Building 209—a 1940’s-era clinic building—into an inviting new home for veterans. In the process, the building’s exterior, designated a historic landmark by the Secretary of the Interior, was fully restored, and the former mental hospital transformed into modern therapeutic housing for 65 formerly homeless veterans." Jury Comments: "Spaces, landscaping, and rooms afford a believable sense of importance of and gratitude towards the residents. Respectful of the original building, and respectful of the occupants on the inside. This carefully considered the specific building users and their particular therapeutic needs." Whitetail Woods Regional Park Camper Cabins; Farmington, MN - HGA "Nestled into the hillside of a new regional park, three camper cabins riff on the idea of a tree house entered from a bridge at the crest of a hill. Built on concrete piers to minimize environmental impact, the 227-square-foot cabins with an 80-square-foot deck feature red cedar glulam chassis, cedar and pine framing, and red cedar cladding. Two full-size bunks, dining and sitting areas accommodate four individuals, with a sleeper sofa and folding seating accommodating up to two more. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors frame views of the forest." Jury Comments: "Beautiful simplicity. Colors, materials, and textures reinforce the undisturbed natural habitat. The light footprint is lovely and the low impact on the environment is wonderful."
Like Fannie and Freddie, Ijeoma pegs affordability to spending no more than 30 percent of one's income on housing. That's sensible advice, but more than half of New Yorkers are, by this measure, rent burdened, spending over 30 percent of their income on rent.
Affordability guidelines are generally broken down by the number of bedrooms per unit as a proxy for household size. Instead of looking at average rents across neighborhoods, or rents for units of one particular size, Ijeoma dismissed those nuances as irrelevant for this project, as "[the data] would've more or less looked the same because of the geo-spatial interpolation and translation into 3D."