Affordable Housing Solutions: creative ways to make housing less expensive

 City of Alexandria Office of Housing, 2017

City of Alexandria Office of Housing, 2017

The costs of housing – from the single-family home to multi-family apartment buildings – have been on the rise for decades. As the average income rose 33% since the year 2000, 1-BR rent costs rose by 94% and home values by 178%. Discrepancies that large require innovative solutions from every corner of our housing system: construction innovations, tools for homeowners, and public agencies alike. Here, we’ve detailed just a few of the more discussed solutions to create more housing solutions, in addition to further sources for reading.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) – an owner-controlled affordability option

An ADU is a unit designed within an existing property that can be rented and occupied by someone other than the property owner – often called a “mother in law suite” or “granny flat”. These units can be built into basements of homes with ground level entrances, above garages, or as separate buildings on a single-family home lot. They feature their own kitchens, bathrooms, and living spaces. Such units are well suited for older family members and neighbors who are downsizing, single students and young workers, and young families. Additionally, the ADU itself can create a revenue stream for the owner, which would allow older home-owners to support a fixed income using their residential property.

ADU regulations are governed by jurisdictions, and are currently not permitted in Alexandria (though they are in Arlington, Fairfax, and D.C.).  Concerns addressed in ADU regulations typically consist of limits on overcrowding, allowable size by lot, HVAC and plumbing requirements, and other quality of life elements.

Read more on Arlington’s recent changes to ADU regulations (Washington Post)

Pre-fab building innovations – reducing housing costs in the construction process

Pre-fab, short for pre-fabricated, homes are made of parts produced in a factory and shipped to a site, for multi-family or single-family buildings alike. The benefits of factory production can include streamlined production and insulation from weather effects, allowing for faster (and thus more affordable) construction times. Assembly via crane, and features like interior and exterior finishes, are completed on site. Downsides to the prefabrication process include figuring out how to ship (and insure shipping on) large construction pieces, limited customization options, and local/state regulatory requirements that aren’t addressed by the prefab factory.

Read More from Forbes and the Washington Post.

Public-Private Partnerships and other joint efforts– creative partner solutions to “make land” for multi-family housing

While the need for more housing in our area is ever growing, land acquisition costs can be prohibitively high.

Public Private Partnerships (sometimes referred to as P3s) allow for multi-family developers to save on the costs of construction by partnering with public agencies for land or other supports. For example, if a public agency has an old office in a high-opportunity location, they may opt to redevelop their office and support the inclusion of new housing or other public goods elsewhere on the site. AHDC’s The Station is a prime example of this type of partnership: the Potomac Yard developers donated land to the Alexandria Fire Department, who in turn worked with AHDC to add housing above their new fire station. Other non-housing examples of this include the Silver Spring Library in Montgomery County, which combines a library facility with other private uses.

AHDC looks for creative housing solutions in the City of Alexandria - like The Bloom, our partnership with Carpenter’s Shelter, and The Gateway, affordable housing in a mixed-use development. Want to learn more about what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter to get news about AHDC property openings and updates, Alexandria housing news, and other industry developments!

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