For those of us who spend an unmentionable amount of time scrolling through Zillow listings, it might be fair to say that we use the app more for manifestation purposes rather than intentionally buying a home. Or is that just me?
From the housing market’s supply and demand dilemma to the burden of repaying student loan debt, today’s consumers are met with a housing market they can’t afford.
In fact, home prices have soared a whopping 118% since 1965 (adjusting for inflation), despite income only increasing by 15%, according to a report by online brokerage Clever Real Estate.
This reality forces many like Bernard Glinton, a Silicon Valley bus driver, to sleep in his car because he can’t afford to live in the community he works in, and Boston high school teacher Kelly Henderson who also can't afford to live in the community where she teaches.
“For people in the private sector, they’re probably saying ‘Oh poor you, you can't live in the community where you work, what's the big deal?’” Henderson shared in an NPR interview. “And I guess part of the nature of public education and why it's a different kind of job, is that it's all-consuming — as it should be.”
While affordable housing is a multilayered issue, it’s important that we both acknowledge the systems that put many in this position (restrictive zoning regulations being one of them) while also recognizing the people and organizations diligently working towards creative solutions for those who have been shut out.
Creative Affordable Housing Solutions:
Permanent Supportive Housing is Key in Addressing Chronic Homelessness
While short-term temporary solutions are always needed to address immediate problems, permanent supportive housing has become a proven long-term strategy to addressing chronic homelessness.
This approach pairs housing with case management and supportive services, allowing the person to be met in a more holistic, solutions-driven manner.
According to the National Alliance to End Homlessness, investments in permanent supportive housing have helped decrease the number of chronically homeless individuals by 8% since 2007.
In addition to ending homelessness, research shows that permanent supportive housing can also increase housing stability and improve health.
A cost-effective solution, permanent supportive housing has been shown to lower public costs associated with the use of crisis services such as shelters, hospitals, jails and prisons.
For example, Anawim Housing — the largest provider of permanent supportive housing in the state of Iowa — manages over 536 housing units, and provides stable housing to 380 individuals who have experienced homelessness, live with a mental illness, substance use disorder, physical disabilities, HIV/AIDS, or are fleeing domestic violence. Altogether, they’ve served 1,200 individuals within its community who needed access to safe, affordable housing.
Municipalities Are Now Turning Vacant Lots into Affordable Housing Opportunities
A long-time vacant parking lot in Hell’s Kitchen (a neighborhood on the West Side of Midtown Manhattan in New York City) is officially set to become an affordable housing option for many after its city council voted to approve the construction of The Lirio, a supportive housing project for homeless individuals, long term survivors of HIV/AIDS, and families.
The city also green-lit a commitment to offer below-market-rate ground-floor commercial space for local beloved grocers and businesses.
Similarly, the abandoned historic Los Angeles County General Hospital, a once cutting-edge medical facility, is closer to becoming an affordable housing option after the county’s board of supervisors voted to advance plans to overhaul the art deco building.
This progress comes from locating millions of dollars in local and state funding to create liveable units, after supervisor Hilda Solis began advocating to repurpose the building in 2018.
The county had originally looked into multiple uses for the old general hospital, but the increasing concern for affordable living ultimately guided them to create plans, which include 500 low-cost apartments for unhoused and extremely low-income Angelenos.
Dutch Retirement Home Offers Students Free Rent For Time Spent with Elderly Residents
Since 2012, Humanitas, a retirement home out of Deventer, Netherlands, has been offering university students rent-free housing in exchange for 30 hours of volunteer work with its senior residents.
Students are asked to do anything from preparing meals, to facilitating social media training, and music lessons — effectively providing residents with the social interaction needed to remain physically and psychologically healthy.
The program, led by Humanitas Deventer CEO Gea Sijpkes, has inspired social organizations in other parts of Europe to explore similar opportunities as well.
Sijpkes shared with PBS NewsHour that this program not only aims to provide affordable housing for students, but it’s also an opportunity for people young and old to be “good neighbors.”
Affordable Housing For Indigenous Communities
In an effort to provide quality affordable housing for Indigenous communities, Chilean architects are incorporating insight from the Indigenous Mapuche community to create culturally-informed dwellings.
Together, architects from Underraga Devés Arquitectos, NGO TECHO (also known as Un Techo para Chile), and the Mapuche community created a housing community of 25 two-story “ruka” dwellings that honored and incorporated culturally significant features.
Those features include the east-west orientation of the house, with doors opening towards the east to greet the rising sun. The project falls within a larger effort consisting of 415 traditional social dwellings.
In the U.S., The Chief Seattle Club — a nonprofit combatting homelessness among Seattle’s Indigenous people — announced the completion of ʔálʔal (“home” in Lushootseed) in January 2022. It has become a landmark permanent housing development for Indigenous people who were formerly homeless, financially struggling, or veterans.
ʔálʔal features a nine-floor building with 80 housing units, a healthcare facility, and social services. It even includes a cafe that serves traditional foods and items from Indigenous-owned businesses!
Tiny Home Communities For Those Transitioning Out of Homelessness
What might have originally seemed like a temporary trend, tiny homes have grown to be an innovative, affordable, and scalable solution for cities and organizations looking for alternative, accessible homeownership solutions.
The New Arroyo Seco Tiny Home Village, funded and built by the City of Los Angeles, is the largest tiny home village in California with 117 units and 224 beds.
Since November 2021, it has provided an immediate pathway for homeless individuals in the area to find permanent and stable housing. The village also provides onsite case management, mental health services, and job training and placement.
Community First! Village in Austin, Texas is another affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for folks transitioning out of chronic homelessness. A development of Austin-based nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes, this 51-acre community provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community.
Community First! also offers its residents “micro-enterprise opportunities” which are on-site skill-building and job opportunities that encourage self-sufficiency.
LA and Austin are only two of many cities across the U.S. — like Occupy Madison in Madison, Wisconsin and Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon — using tiny homes as a creative solution to meet the needs of their community.
3D Printers and Shipping Containers Being Used as Instruments For Affordable Housing
If you’ve ventured into building a home — especially during the pandemic — you know it can take up to a year or longer to complete. Habitat for Humanity and 3D-printing construction company Alquist partnered to build the first 3D-printed house: a three-bedroom, two-bath concrete structure, which can withstand hurricanes and tornadoes. The exterior only took a mere 28 hours to construct.
In many cases, 3D printers can take less than 24 hours to print the foundation and walls for a small home at a fraction of the cost of typical construction — with the average cost being $10,000 according to The Zebra. Once the blueprint is created and sent to the printer, it prints material layer by layer, not only saving homeowners time but providing them with a more economical option than what is traditionally seen on the market.
Other nonprofits like New Story, an organization working to address homelessness in South and Central America, joined forces with ICON, a construction technology startup to print 500 houses in Tabasco, Mexico.
This Organization is Using “Bridge Building” To Connect Renters with Affordable Rental Units
The Metro Housing Collaborative (MHC), an Omaha-based nonprofit founded in 2021, is addressing the housing crisis within its community by doing creative “bridge building.” MHC works with 30+ community partners in order to develop beneficial relationships between property managers, community partners, and tenants.
Serving the surrounding metro area, this organization has built up a network of affordable rental units and community resources for tenants while also simultaneously increasing occupant retention rates and decreasing vacant units for property managers.
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