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Affordable Housing: Designing an American Asset

February 28, 2004 - August 8, 2004

"The generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care."
-U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Swan's Marketplace, Oakland, CA.
Courtesy Pyatok Architects, Inc.
The need to design and construct affordable housing in America is urgent. Twenty-five percent of all American households face severe housing challenges, including insufficient funds for monthly rent or mortgage payments, maintenance, and repairs; overcrowding, both within individual dwellings and in high-density multi-family developments; and structural deficiencies. These 30 million households include not just the poorest and those without jobs, but also teachers, librarians, firefighters, health-care workers, and many others who make significant contributions to our communities.

Slums, tenements, chain-link "cages" enclosing concrete high-rises, filth, crime, and racial segregation: such often-frightening visions illustrate many chapters of the affordable housing story in our cities and towns.

Howard University/LeDroit Park Revitalization Initiative, Washington, D.C.
Howard University/LeDroit Park Revitalization Initiative, Washington, D.C.
© Sorg and Associates, PC
In recent years, however, a new emphasis on design excellence in affordable housing has yielded encouraging alternatives that create substantial assets for both residents and their communities. In Washington, D.C.'s, LeDroit Park, for example, financing from Fannie Mae, in partnership with Howard University, spurred the development of 12 new and 28 restored homes, significantly transforming the physical character and composition of the existing neighborhood while bringing renewed vitality and stability to a historic community. In Santa Monica, California, Colorado Court's contemporary architecture incorporates energy-efficient strategies, enhancing tenants' quality of life on many levels. And in Albany, New York, and Oakland, California, developers and architects recycled and reinvigorated existing historic structures, providing many units of housing while conserving and strengthening local character. These innovative projects, and many others across the country, point toward a better way to design affordable housing.

Fact: Someone who makes the current minimum wage of $5.15 per hour and allocates no more than 30% of annual income for housing, should not have to pay more than $257.50 per month in rent and utilities. The average monthly cost of a reserved parking space in downtown Washington, D.C., is $280.

Design drawing of Chelsea Court, New York, NY, by Louise Braverman, Architect.
Courtesy Louise Braverman
The 18 projects illustrated in this exhibition, from across the nation and in a range of urban and rural settings, demonstrate that well designed developments can offer new opportunities for the least wealthy Americans, while creating real value as assets for their surrounding communities. The projects show an increased recognition of the needs of tenants, and display sensitivity to the human experience in all spaces, from public and private areas to transition spaces such as entrances, porches, lobbies, hallways, and foyers. Many provide flexibility for different family types, easy expansion, and personalization. They also show consideration of unit and building positioning, thereby optimizing views, ventilation, and accessibility. As these projects demonstrate, America's architects are increasingly creating affordable housing that is durable, environmentally sensitive, comfortable, attractive, and economical to maintain-in other words, well designed.

The design excellence achieved in the highlighted projects is prologue to some of the exciting possibilities for affordable housing's future, now being designed and conceived by architects across the nation.



Affordable Housing is made possible by the generous support of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Nixon Peabody LLP; and Related Capital Company, one of The Related Companies; along with Bank of America; Century Housing; Fannie Mae Foundation; National Association of Home Builders; NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS ®; Corcoran Jennison Companies; Council of Federal Home Loan Banks; Horning Family Fund of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region; Meridian Investments, Inc.; and Newman & Associates, Inc. Additional funding was received from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency; National Council of State Housing Agencies; National Housing Trust; National Leased Housing Association; Reznick Fedder Silverman; Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition; Bruner Foundation; Homes for America, Inc.; Housing and Development Reporter; Institute for Responsible Housing Preservation; The John Stewart Company; Katz & Korin, P.C.; Local Initiative Support Corporation; National Foundation for Affordable Housing Solutions; National Housing Conference; Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation and the NeighborWorks ® System, and Southern California Housing Development Corporation.