Planning, Design, and Architecture for Affordability

Over the summer, design and planning professionals gathered at AIA North Carolina’s Center for Architecture and Design (CfAD) to attend an expert panel on the subject of alleviating homelessness through design. The conversation centered around a hypothetical, transitional housing community, that would be located outside of downtown Raleigh. This comes in the wake of the announcement of the finalists for Activate14’s Tiny Home Community Ideas Competition.

Photo Credit: Rachel Eberhard

Activate14 serves is an outreach initiative of the AIA North Carolina, and focuses on strengthening the civic role of architecture and design in communities. The competition received over 100 entries of micro-housing community designs,  each of which aimed to repair and enliven the urban social fabric, and to help people transition out of homelessness. The winning entries were those which successfully combined elements of sustainability, modularity and prefabrication.

Inspired by the winning entries, the NC CfAD put together the June 2015 panel, comprising city government professionals and transitional housing advocates. The experts discussed opportunities for Raleigh to use the tiny home model as a solution to homelessness. While there was some lively disagreement from many on the panel in regards to tiny homes, all of the panel experts agreed that bricks and mortar models are an insufficient answer to the transitional housing shortage.

Photo Credit: Rachael Eberhard
Photo Credit: Rachael Eberhard

Aside from the tiny house solution, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has proposed filling some of the affordable housing needs with manufactured housing. Additionally, the Rural Studio out of Auburn University is also working with this idea and is currently working to build and produce homes for $20,000 (For more information on this project, see the forthcoming volume of the Carolina Planning Journal and  DCRP alumna Amy Bullington’s work with Rural Studio). In any case, formulating a comprehensive solution will not be easy in any community. In Raleigh, a city without a long-range affordability plan in place, this challenge will be especially pronounced. In order for this to become a priority, communities must come together and call their representatives to action.

Tiny house, Portland” by Tammy – Weekend with Dee. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

The growth of the tiny home movement, along with growing interest in manufactured housing and affordable housing design, is an indication that smart design elements can be used to create active, vibrant communities of formerly homeless and extremely low-income individuals. There is a role for urban and industrial designers to play in ensuring that all members of our communities have access to housing, but the question remains: what exactly does this role involve and how can designers best prepare themselves for work in the field of affordable housing?

About the Author: Rachel Eberhard is currently pursuing a Master’s in City & Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a concentration in housing and community development. Her professional interests include real estate development and affordable housing. Prior to enrolling at DCRP, she worked as a senior consulting professional in Washington, D.C.