Reframing Housing Development: Designing More Affordable Housing

Reframing Housing Development: Designing More Affordable Housing

July 12, 2019 3 By Bernardo Ryan



So we're going to get started. I'm going to call up the
first panel, which will be moderated by Katie Swenson. Katie is the Vice President
of Design and Sustainability at Enterprise
Community Partners. Her work investigates how
critical design practice can and should promote
economic and social equity, environmental sustainability,
and healthy communities. She co-authored the book,
Growing Urban Habitats. She's on the board
of MASS Design Group and winner of the 2017
Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for architecture. Beyond the official
bio, Katie is what I like to call a force of nature. She is a person with
incredible energy, with incredible optimism,
with incredible desire to make things happen. And when she comes
into your sphere, you get swept along
into that orbit. She's been a good friend
of the Joint Center, as Enterprise Community
Partners has been, and helped to pull us in this direction. So we're really delighted
to have Katie today here with us to help
moderate this first panel. I walked into Chris's office
about maybe 18 months ago and said, I think it's time that
we do some design and policy research. He kind of looked
at me and said, hmm, I don't even know
what that would mean. Well, you may have met on the
way in Donald Taylor Patterson, who's sitting outside,
who with our partnership and partnership from
the Joint Center just finished our first policy
paper investigating on how design is or is not incentivized
in the Qualified Allocation Plan in Massachusetts. So on the way in I saw
one of my colleagues, and we were chatting, and he
works throughout the state of Massachusetts. And we said, well,
let's get together and get a bigger agenda together
to deliver to the Joint Center. So Chris, we're not done yet. We're just getting started. I'm excited to build out these
more strategic ways for design essentially to infiltrate
the housing delivery system and make a much larger impact. At Enterprise
Community Partners, the kind of statistics that
really keep us up at night are, of course, 20
million Americans who are housing insecure. 500,000 people who are without
homes living outside on average every night. But I also wonder sometimes
in the housing space these kind of numbers
and our language gets a little bit in
the way, I would say. I was recently visiting with an
architect activist and a woman who was formerly homeless. She spent about six years living
in the Skid Row neighborhood. She's now in a beautiful, small
apartment on Main Street that is subsidized. And at lunch we talked about
using the word homeless, a word that they choose not to use. For them, and I think for
all of us, the notion of home is so deeply tied to our
identity and our sense of self. So that when we
call people homeless or we refer to a
homeless problem, sometimes this even happens
when we talk about housing or affordable housing, we
tend to distance, I would say, the person and the problem
from their core humanity. I was in Atlanta recently
where the city of Atlanta is undertaking a
real effort to bring design excellence into their
affordable housing program. And of course there Martin
Luther King's notion of the beloved community
says essentially that homelessness and poverty
will not be tolerated. So I think the first
thing that we have to do is fundamentally
set our intentions in a slightly different way
to recognize the humanity behind these
statistics and to get to work on providing
real solutions that, not only elevate the
quantity of housing, but absolutely
elevate the quality. And Chris, I think we have
to have a larger discussion today about what constitutes
quality and how do we know it when we see it. So the Joint Center is asking
us an important and pressing question here today,
to the design community in particular at this moment. Can we fundamentally change the
economics of housing production so that we can achieve
these outcomes, but at a dramatically
lower price? I took a little issue
when David called me about lowering the
cost of housing panel. Enterprise has done
so much work on this. I would absolutely encourage
you to go read our Bending the Cost Curve report, which
really does a great job of spelling out these issues. And he said, no, we don't want
to just chomp around the edges. We actually want
to see if there's a way to fundamentally change
the economics of housing production. I said, I'm in. I'm absolutely in. So our panelists today are
going to share perspectives from very different
parts of the country. We're going to start
with Brian Philips, who's here from Philadelphia. Philadelphia, I believe, is
a relatively affordable place to live right now and a
relatively affordable place to build. Then we're going to turn
to Michael Thomas, who's here from the Bay Area, one
of the most expensive housing markets in the country. And then we're going to
go to Andrew Freear, who's here doing his year
as a LOEB fellow and hailing from Alabama. Where, of course, the
economics of housing production are completely different. So I'm going to
welcome our panelists. And I've asked them
a few questions that they'll address and will
carry on throughout the day. What is the role of designers
in the production of housing? Designers seem to often
be in limited roles according to a constraint in
the timeline in which they're engaged or the parameters
of their contract. Second, are there ways to engage
designer skills more broadly and in a more timely
fashion that could yield a bigger impact on costs? Can designers create value
while reducing total development costs? And then lastly, third,
we should consider the definition of home, and
whether that definition is evolving, and how. As a society and as
a design community, how do we understand what
are the new modes of living, new modes of housing products? Can we conceptualize something
socially and culturally, both specific, but
perhaps different? What are these new
models and how are they evolving so that we can
create new typologies that will dramatically reduce the
cost of designing construction? So I'm going to first welcome
Brian Philips to the stage. Thank you. Hey, guys. Great to be here. Architects usually get up
and running after 10 minutes, and I actually have to be
done in less than 10 minutes. So I'm going to jump right in. I am going to use my
time to try to talk a little bit about the
way an architect using the skills of design can engage
with some of these issues. We're not really activists
or policy makers, though we're aware
of these issues. But we really are focused
on how can our day to day work with our clients
result. And what we like to think of
as working around the edges and margins of
projects to make them better. Do I know where the
advance is here? Yes. So this is both, I think,
a story about practice, but also a story
about Philadelphia. Katie had mentioned that
it's an affordable city. And I think in a way, the
Laboratory of Philadelphia has taught us some
lessons, which we're now trying to export to
other cities and I think might be a fun
thing to talk about once we get into the panel. But these are the things
that we spend time thinking about as designers. It's not so much making low
cost housing look great, which we think is a foregone
conclusion, a good place to live, but we start
engaging with the parameters of development, land
acquisition, zoning codes, building codes, pro formas. We like to know all
that information and use design thinking to
engage with those issues. So I'm going to just share
a series of case studies that hopefully
will reflect this. This project actually
is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It's called 100K house. A developer came to
us and said, let's build 1,000 square foot $100
square foot LEED platinum infill houses for Philadelphia. You can see how this was sort of
on the edge when it was built. It is now largely built out. But that charge to a
lot of architecture would be a nightmare. Of course we can't do that. Why would we even want to? You need to spend more
money on good housing. But the result for us
was to almost act more like industrial
designers or to act more like a kind of number
crunching team. How do we spend money
on a house that's going to realize this market? This is less than the
zoning code allowed. This is really about starter
homes for young millennials moving to Philadelphia. Super energy efficient,
which isn't going to be the point of my talk. But one of the things I
just want to point out is this house had two
doors, the bathroom door and the front door. And so this whole
idea about, are there new ways of thinking
about housing that are small and simple
that can control costs. And frankly, also create spaces
that people want to live in. We really thought of
these as urban cabins. You see the exposed
concrete floor. Some of the plywood finishes. Very off the shelf
pieces coming together to create these little houses. And we gave ourselves
the parameter of four corners flat
facades because we knew that would be
very energy efficient and it would be
very cost effective. So we wound up printing
on these like a t-shirt as a way to create the
identity of the facade. And then we started to
realize that Philadelphia is a funny town. It's got 440,000 row houses. No other city in America
quite stacks up like this. Baltimore is sort of similar. There's this democracy
of the grid where, whether you're rich
or poor, you probably live in a 16 foot
wide house, which creates this common
challenge for living. And I think we're finding
ways to exploit this. So I'm going to take you through
three different quick projects that talk about
three different ways that we operate in this fabric. Just real quickly, Philadelphia
lost a lot of population since 1950. It's on the rebound. Resulted in a lot
of vacant land, so that's part of what
we're now working on. And one of the things we do
is we infill single lots. This was a funny project. Our project's in the
middle, the white one. When this developer
came to us, they were worried that the market
wouldn't be mature enough to sell houses. And by the time we
broke ground, there were houses all around
us getting built. We'll talk about why
that's happening so fast. But one of the things
we learned here was this idea that the
outside of the house didn't have to be expensive. And in fact, on
a rowhouse block, the sidewalk and the street
is actually the living room. And that this arms race
for facade, curb appeal, on a lot of projects
we're seeing is almost a
misplaced investment. And so our idea with this
was about core appeal, which was put the value
of the house inside. And for basically the
price, actually a little under what a lot of people are
building these starter homes for in this
neighborhood, people are able to live in what feels
like a very generous space. Where the value is in the
kitchen, and the bathrooms, and the stairway,
which is the stuff you touch as you
live in the house. So just rethinking the way
we're spending the money was a lesson here. The vacancy of
Philadelphia sometimes results in big pieces
that are missing. And this next project
resulted from the demolition of an outmoded school. You can see here
on the top left, basically the diagram was to
continue the rowhouse fabric. So the parking in the middle
of the block, that was all turf paved, so it's also an
outdoor recreation space. But one of the things
we've been using, if you think about this as 100k
growing up as far as scale, this is a combination of
condo flats, three story, and two story houses. The two story houses
sold in the upper 200s, which in this market was a
pretty remarkable number. Still hitting about
that $100 a square foot. You can see the
simplicity of the– and I apologize for the slightly
blown out floor plans there with the contrast–
but very simple cores. Very simple interior layouts. And really hitting a
kind of green performance level that is also putting some
money back in people's pockets instead of to the
utility company. We're also very interested
in local things. We are very inspired
by understanding how housing projects
fit into neighborhoods. And this was such a fun thing
to do in South Philadelphia, the home of the Mummers. I don't know if you guys
know about these guys there on the top. But this developer
was really struck. He was very worried about
the cyan-colored facade, saying this was going to
stick out in a funny way. And we said, no, trust us. It's South Philly. You'll never see it. And I think in a way
it's kind of true. It actually created
an animation the way that the existing houses do. And the neighbors were
extremely embracing of it. And you can see just
interiors, again. This is a little
bit more grown up than the original 100k, but
still lots of off the shelf very simple deployment
of materials and design. So this is my favorite
category, the leftover category. And this is what happens
as a market matures and all of the easy
sites are gone. And now developers
start turning back to what are the sites
that are hard to develop. And I think this
is a lesson we've been learning about how
maybe the architect can unlock interesting value. So this was a 20 by 100 foot
lot under the elevated train, which I would say
it's a corridor that three or four years ago was
not a place most Philadelphians wanted to be after midnight. And the developer came to us and
said, it's right on the train. I'm really worried
about whether people are going to want to live here. And we really embraced
this idea that if you're going to live on
the train, you need to really live on the train. So you can see diagrammatically
these apartments fit into a very narrow site with
terraces that face the train. This filled up very quickly. And while they were affordable,
they were also very desirable. And just to talk a little bit
about some of the tactics. The zoning code
was kind of funny. It had a mean roof height, which
you're seeing in that diagram there at the bottom, but
also required cornice line to relate to some of
the other buildings. So the shape of the building
really came out of the maximum build out envelope
and traced the diagram of what was allowed. You can see on the
left in the plans, there's a single
stair in the middle of the building with flanking
units facing front and back. And here you can see the
relationship to the train. And you can also see
on that upper level there are these
volume spaces that allow people to experience
the roof line that is interesting and dynamic. And you can see the
terraces that are revealed. That's one on the back. You can see what it's
like to be out front there and looking at the train go by. And we've now done a series of
projects along the train that are, frankly, being built on
pieces of land that are still affordable and finding
ways to maximize the number of apartments and
places to live on those lots. And not to make them
feel marginalized, but frankly this
corridor, we do have a habit of gentrifying
corridors a bit in the sense that lots of people want
to live on this corridor. This is my favorite
leftover right now that's under construction,
which was a site that when the developer first
mentioned it we couldn't find because it was 11 feet wide. It was essentially two
nose in parking spaces. We're building seven
apartment units on this site. And you can see on
the left the section of how we're doing this. And this is not New
York, obviously, because this is a wood
frame building that has a couple of steel
moment frames in it. But it's being done with very
off the shelf construction and very everyday contractors. And again, it's a little
bit like that last project I showed with that stair in the
center and some flanking units. It's actually a three story
building that's 70 feet tall. And you get these
double height living spaces that actually feel a
lot more spacious than you might imagine. I want to make three points
about why I think Philadelphia is generating these projects. One of them is this idea
of small batch development. I think one of the things
we're going to hear about today is volume is important. And I think that's true. A lot of cities are tens
of thousands of units behind on affordability. But one of the
things we're seeing is that small projects, both
of these projects, the banker, the lawyer, the developer
are all sitting at the table. And everybody gets on board
with the project we're doing. And there's not distance
from the project on things like financing
and some of the regulation. That everybody
gets on board and I think that allows for
some interesting risk. We've also become
really interesting in this idea of what
we're calling lab cities. It's interesting. We're working in
Detroit and Chicago. And if you look at
them statistically, they're similar to Philadelphia. My last slide will
point this out. But I don't think cities
sit in the lab zone forever. But I think when
they're in the lab zone, it means they're just
affordable enough. And we think that's a place
where there can be innovation. And we're now looking
for other cities where we can contribute to the
way that they're unfolding. I just saw the stop sign. I'm on my last slide. So for the sake of data,
and this was actually provided by a research firm in
Philadelphia called Econsult. But we've found this
very interesting. I'll just wrap explaining
what these fields are. So top, you see politics,
approvals, and construction. So politics is that red tape. Approvals is the
neighborhood process. And construction is cost. And what's really
interesting is you can see Philadelphia is not
necessarily the cheapest place to build, but projects
get done really quickly. And our zoning code
allows a lot of projects to happen as of right. And as we're working in
Chicago, and Detroit, we're also seeing that they
have similar kinds of profiles. So a food for thought as
we talk in the afternoon, I think this is
worth consideration. Thank you. All right. That stop sign was scary. I'm going to definitely
go through this. Let's see here. Forward. Got it. Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Michael Thomas. I'm the Director of
Business Development for Panoramic Interests. We have been
building high density urban infill housing in
the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 28 years. The company was started
by Patrick Kennedy in 1990 in Berkeley, California. It was at a time in Berkeley
where the Wall Street Journal described its
citizens as a place where the people were
torn between the desire to overthrow the United States
government and the quest for the perfect croissant. So it was a very
hard place to build. We did prevail. We ended up building about a
dozen buildings in Berkeley and in San Francisco. In fact, the one
in the bottom left was the first building
built in downtown Berkeley since President
Nixon was in office. And it was also quoted
in the local newspaper as being a Stalinist
monstrosity and monument to civic corruption. But our development philosophy
has always been the same. Build market rate housing
that is affordable by design. In Oakland today we
are in the process of entitling what is currently
the largest process going through the planning department,
with one very controversial characteristic. It has 1,000 units
with no parking spaces. So this will come as no
surprise to the room. We have, in the Bay Area, added
a little less than 700,000 jobs over the last eight years. During that same stretch, we've
added only 100,000 housing units. So there's this
incredible shortfall of units, which
leaves what we would call the regular
civilians competing for housing with highly paid
engineers working for Google. Even the cartoon
artists in town are recognizing the ridiculousness
of the housing situation. On the left is how apartments
have been used forever. Two bedrooms, you get a couple
of roommates, a small family. Today, on the right, that's
how they're being used. My personal favorite is the bed
in the bathtub or the sleeping loft in the kitchen. But cramming more
people into less space has been the market's response
to affordability our solution and response is as follows. For us to continue
to build housing that is affordable by design,
it needs these three things. The first one is
building with no parking. Second, building with micro DNA. And by that I don't mean
building teeny tiny studios, but having apartments that
have the spirit of small. And third, having a
standardized set of designs, which can be adapted
to be modular. Next week, we are
breaking ground on 200 units in San Francisco. We're going to
have 650 residents. And we're going to
have no parking spaces. The development immediately
next door, similar in size, ended up building
subterranean parking. We decided to build
subterranean housing. It cost us about
$60,000 per space to build a single parking space. By not building any
parking, we were able to add 17% more
housing for humans. I will say in San Francisco
it is no hardship not having a private car in
a parking space. Most people that
are moving to town are choosing not to have the
headache of having a car. Certainly in the age of
car share and bike share and scooter share,
most people are choosing to not own the cow
when they can just buy the milk. This is our second mantra,
which is having what we call micro DNA. This is a project we built
a couple of years ago. It's 160 units. The one lesson that we learned,
which was the greatest lesson, was that a 250 square foot
studio was way too big. The favored units
in this building ended up being our
three bedroom suites. Those units had the
DNA and the spirit of a small studio
and efficient space, but we were able to have three
bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, a kitchen, all in
less than 600 square feet. Now for us, it's important to
have just enough common space outside of the apartment. So always having a
nice rooftop deck. Having reading rooms
in the building. Having a cafe on
the ground floor. Once we get past
those basics, we stop. We don't do pools. We don't do gyms. We don't do doggie day
care in the buildings. In fact, in our office we
banned the word amenity. We feel like the greatest
amenity in San Francisco is price. This is a pretty good
example of micro DNA. On the left is a
luxury studio built very close to our
building on 10th street. It's a studio that could
have one person or a couple living in it, and it
rents for about $3,500. In that same square
footage we've designed and are building
four bedroom apartments. Now this is the last and my
personal favorite component that has to go into housing
for us to keep it affordable. My favorite cheeseburger
place in California happens to be In-N-Out Burger. Has anybody else in this
room been to In-N-Out Burger? Oh my gosh, this is amazing. So for those that have,
you can appreciate the simplicity of the menu. They have a hamburger,
a cheeseburger, and a double double. For us it's the studio, the two
bedroom, and the four bedroom. Now you can order
off menu at In-N-Out. We are not allowing
off menu ordering. We're sticking to
those three designs. But having this
standardized set of designs has allowed us to build modular. This was the first project
that we built in 2013. It was our first
modular project. Every unit was exactly
the same as the next. We did not have a full
catalog of various apartments. Now we ended up constructing
the boxes up in Sacramento. And then drove them down over
the Bay Bridge in 16 pieces and stacked them up over
the course of four days. So this saved us almost eight
months in construction time. Having that
standardization has allowed us to create what we
call the MicroPAD. PAD stands for Prefab
Affordable Dwelling. I actually have a
little model of it here, which I'll leave
on the table afterwards. It is uniformly eight feet wide. We make these off-side
and then we bring them to the construction site on
a traditional 18 wheeler. Or it can come on
a train or a boat. But using this
construction technology is identical to
the technology used in making shipping containers. Once they're
brought to the site, they get stacked up,
just like LEGO blocks. We can erect a six story
building in less than a week. We did actually build
a prototype of this. It is small. It's only 160 square feet. But we feel like it's very
suited for single butchers, or bakers, or
candlestick makers. We did recently submit
a planning submittal to build our first MicroPAD
building in San Francisco. It's going to be a
five story building and likely will be
leased by a school. We do feel like,
though, developments of this size, small
developments that are using modular
technology, are very well-suited for
building supportive housing for the homeless. And that's something
we've been looking into a lot over the
last year and a half. I don't know enough about
Boston's homeless situation, but I will say in San Francisco
it is at crisis level. By having a standardized design
using modular technology, we feel that there
is a potential to make a real material
impact on homelessness. I think we really
need to think big. Housing for every
single homeless person in San Francisco and Berkeley
could be delivered on this one boat with room to spare. The entire issue
can be taken care of by this one single ship. I'm happy to be here today. Thanks for listening. Hello. OK. So you're trying to silence
the rural interloper, huh? I got you. OK. So I'm Andrew Freear. This is where I live. It's Newbern in West Alabama. Population of 178 folks,
which is about half the size of this conference. I run Rural Studio, a small
undergraduate architectural design and build program that's
part of Auburn University. The program has operated in
West Alabama for 25 years. And for my sins, I've
been there for 18 years. With our community we design
and build homes, parks, and public facilities. At the tail end of
the Appalachians, it's one of those rural areas
with persistent poverty. Hale County has
about 27% of folks living below the poverty line. And perhaps the most
shockingly neighboring county has childhood
poverty of over 50%. Like the delta in the colonias,
this part of the Appalachians has always had
extraction industries. So a lot is taken away,
but little is given back. Much of the land is owned by
folks who don't live there. So when we try to raise
taxes to support education, their powerful lobbyists
frighten everyone into believing that even the
smallest tax increase will be the end of the world. Same with food. We grow and raise
America's food, but we don't have access
to good local food. This is just one of the causes
of an increasingly troubling health situation. I was in Newburn this last
week and I took this screenshot of my expensive single source
satellite internet service, which other folks can't afford. I'm privileged as a professor
that I can afford that. And I'm proud to say
that my service was 1,140.6 percent slower than
you folks get every day. So how can 60 million
rural Americans participate in the economy
if they can't connect to it? So for the studio
housing is a Trojan horse for a whole lot of issues,
jobs being number one. If you don't have a job,
you can't own a home and you can't stay
in your community. The type of job
is also important. We need more than poverty
level service sector jobs. So 13 years ago,
we started to look at a small site built home. We imagined it being dignified,
beautiful, and affordable, whilst encouraging folks
to live within their means. The main goal was raising
the quality of rural housing and offering an
equitable product. And at the same time,
and most importantly, it's locally built. So
the money and the jobs stay in the local economy. This is a fun issue because
eight years ago metropolis actually suggested
that we alone had figured out affordable
housing, if you note that down at the bottom. So we have a new [inaudible]. The 20K house name, which
though slightly naive, was originally based
on getting access to the USDA rural development
direct home loan grant. It was also what we understood
that anyone and everybody could afford, even on poverty
level incomes, which amounts to about $100. So this is not 30% because
really poor folks certainly can't afford 30%
of their income. But $100 a month out
of your monthly burn could go into rent or mortgage. And that mortgage,
we suggested, would be $20,000 over 30 ticket. We then divided that
number roughly in half, but focused on materials is a
thing that we could control. When I came to
Alabama 20 years ago, this was affordable
rural housing. The stereotypical condition
of shacks with dirt floors. Today there is still a serious
problem of substandard housing. But I would argue the situation
is actually even worse. Today the landscape
is also littered with secondhand trailers. The hermetically
sealed anti-social tin can where folks exist in two
seasons of heating and cooling. The occupants are
also trapped in the associated financial system
that is the trailer home. The attraction, of
course, is the trailer can be viewed and
purchased one day and brought to the
site in the next. That's tough for us
architects and builders to compete against. But it's also a product that
deteriorates rapidly, is financed in a fight in a
similar manner to a car, and is often misunderstood
as real property. In most cases, it's not
the first step on the road to home ownership and
the American dream. So our goal is a home built
in three to four weeks by three to four guys with
a GC, and a pickup truck, and no crane. If you do that and you can
just serve the single person households that are in need
of a home in Hale County, you can have an
extraordinary impact. $16 million in a county of
16,000 people is a big deal. So we've done some 22 prototypes
and put over 200,000 man hours into the project over
the last 13 years. We've progressed
from one to two beds, building one to two
prototypes a year. We have three models of the
one bedroom that we like and that we see as a
potential product line that we would like to
roll out in the future. All were around
16k in materials. Now without it being the
aim, the three models have ended up as
rural prototypes. But that can't be right. Honestly, it's 16,000. Sorry. OK, I'll go to the next one. So this is Dave's. Dave's is a shotgun. They've ended up as
being rural typology, simply because that's what the
most efficient use of putting those $16,000 piles
of sticks together. This is what it
looks like, frankly. So Dave's is a shotgun. Our houses mostly have
single foam gable roofs to throw the water away
from the foundations. And being small
footprints, we can't justify turning the
corner or adding appendages that may compromise
the roof in the long term. The roof sits on top
of a vented attic that shelters the insulated box. They're engineered
to 110 mile an hour wind and raise off the ground
to make for little side work as possible. We believe in porches for
encouraging healthy living. And we try to make details
and assemblies that are simple to build. And an offering of tolerance
even for the most inexperienced builder. We used zoned areas for ease of
heating and cooling to attempt to control the utility bills. And our challenge is five
windows and two doors. We use deep reveals
around windows to make them look bigger and
to bounce light into the space. We use nine foot ceilings for
drywall efficiency and ceiling fans to help cross ventilation. This is Mac's. Mac's is a modified
dog trot, permeating the outdoor social space. The plan is clearly
divided into day and night. Kitchen has become entry
nexus and dog trot. Joanne's proves a simple math. It proves that the
geometry of a square plan gives you the same– sorry, let me read this again. I'm not used to
reading this shit. I want to stick
within the time limit. And she's already
pulling me off stage. Where the hell am I? OK. Joanne's proves a simple
math that for the same amount of wall, the geometry
of a square plan, unless you take a circle one,
which is really difficult, gains you more
interior square footage over a rectangular footprint. It's an efficient plan
with little circulation. We care about stuff
like the position of the ugly American
refrigerator, in this case, bouncing light off its
face into the kitchen. We're working on the two bedroom
version and the associated questions of larger
communal spaces and where to locate
the bedrooms. In this case, we
gang them together, but it makes the house wider
and less easy to build. It's fun to watch how
folks live in the houses. A breakfast bar seemed
like a good idea for us liberal designers. It's a place to imagine
sipping your gin and tonic you can see over here. The reality, of course,
is very different. The great ugly American sofa
ends up sitting at the bar. As we've got into the
project, particularly with the two and three bedrooms
and the associated family expectations, we've started
to identify resources. Not only the local labor
or the local materials, but also the kinship
networks that exist. These folks live with
very, very little. Frankly, it's the only
way they can survive. There is little no evidence
of homelessness, frankly. We have kinship and community
that you city folks strive for. So we work very hard not to
damage these fragile networks by seeing the 20ks
as replacement homes. And this example, Adella,
who is wheelchair bound, live in a shack and
could literally not get in or out of the house. We replaced it with
an ADA accessible slab on grade 2 bedroom. Her daughter, Michelle,
her primary caregiver, lived in the crappy trailer
that sits right behind it. We were able to replace
Michelle's trailer by literally building right next to it
and pull the trailer out when the house was
finished, the goal being to keep the family together
and leverage the existing water and voice connections. In a Dallas house, we made the
bathroom a tornado shelter. Not only for wheelchair
bound Adella, but for 12 members
of the family that live on the property
who will all squeeze into the shelter in
case of a real emergency. Moving forward or looking at
shifting the monthly burn. In targeting the operating
costs of the house, we're looking to
reduce and shift them into the fixed known
costs of the mortgage. We believe for every dollar we
can save in operating costs, we can add $200 to the mortgage. So for example, examining
our wall assemblies where we compared our current
baseline of two-by-six studs unfaced by insulation and
OSB with other options. We looked at the monthly
utility costs of the assembly. The upfront costs
of that assembly. Assessed the minimum
required saving. And then the savings over
the life of the loan. And ultimately have come up
with a revised choice that represents the best value
versus our baseline option, potentially saving $2
on the monthly burn and offering a potential
extra $400 in the mortgage. And obviously indirectly raising
the market value of the home by using higher
quality materials. And of course we can do
this for all the assemblies. And we can do this for the same
thing with a home insurance. If we build the house to
fortify construction standards, we can save 20% to 50%
of our monthly burn that can add a whopping
$4,000 dollars if we move that monthly
savings into the mortgage. So finally, looking forward,
to roll these houses out on a bigger scale and as
we develop partnerships and partners, some of whom
are in the room today, we want to address the challenge
of the financial, educational, and communication system
for procuring the house. Of course, this is a
huge design challenge. Whether it's a need to establish
community college training programs, to educate folks
to build these homes, or whether it's the fact
that the bank says to us, hey, it costs the same to
write a mortgage for 20,000 as it does to write a
mortgage for 200,000. Or whether it addresses the
fact that builders bid solely on what it cost last time. Or that today, of course,
we, as architects, give out instruction sets
and not construction sets. The challenges, as
you know, are many. But us, most importantly,
it's a design challenge to make the process
accessible to the folks that really need the houses
and need to build them. Thank you. I'll shut up now. [applause] OK, excellent start to the day. So this is how
today's going to work. We're going to– rather than
go straight to questions, we're going to ask you all to
have a conversation yourself. So we're going to
do about 10 minutes. So circle around. Folks up in the
bleachers, figure out how to have that conversation. I think, Chris, we
have a question first. We're going to poll a question. OK. So our question is, where is
design energy most needed? And let's see. Our choices are pre-development
design and planning, financing products, the
parking, labor specifications, construction
technology, and other. And of course, we can't wait to
hear what your choices in other are. Is this going to come
up for us immediately? Yes. Well, I guess we
fundamentally decided that parking's off the table. We will never build another
parking space again. We just solved that today. David, we're done. OK. So I'm going to leave you there. We're going to take
a 10 minute break, and we're going to come
back with questions. Thank you. OK, folks. We're going to
come back together. So I would say to the Joint
Center team, bravo, success. You got an incredible
conversation going. And I want to really just say
bravo to the three panelists. Incredible presentations. I'm going to just ask
the first question. Number one, I think
I personally am feeling incredibly optimistic. Like wow. OK. Maybe we can do this thing. So I want to ask the first
question really two parts. One is, what part of this
equation have you not solved? And then insofar as from
a design and construction perspective, perhaps you have
created some really excellent solutions. Then what you need from our
colleagues from the policy and finance sector to be
able to amplify your efforts? Who's going first here. By the way, that was too
many questions all at once. OK, what have you not solved? What's your next
question, Michael? OK, so we have not
solved the exact place to put the dish rack on
the counter in the kitchen. It's truly a dilemma
in a small space. So one of the things
that we have not solved is how to get around
or collaborate with labor in our
market where we're going to be building using
off-side modular technology. It's something
that I don't think exists everywhere
in the country. But in the Bay Area,
labor is having a problem with off-site construction. And that's something
that I think is going to take
time to get through. But we, of course, as a small
private development company, have not solved that yet. So one thing I can say is
we haven't solved Boston. I think we're in month
27 of a modest project we're trying to get
approvals here in the Boston metropolitan region. And in that time,
I think we've built nine buildings in Philadelphia. So one of the questions
that we always have is I think we have come to
learn the opportunities. And frankly, the downsides
to easy approvals and streamlining the process. Which means that you have to
take the good with the bad. Meaning if you're allowing
a lot to happen quickly, things aren't as
tightly controlled. But I think we haven't
solved this idea about how do you achieve some
of the nimbleness and speed in certain markets
and more high pressure markets. And I think our belief is like
unlocking development to them. I think that, like anything,
the more people that are involved at
different scales. It's not just all big projects. There's big projects. There's small projects. There's adaptive reuse. There's marginal sites. There's city center sites. Doing that, I think, is
very, very challenging. Want to take this on, Andrew? I mean, I think I tried to
suggest it in the last slide. It's the whole roll out package. From financing to communication
to who's going to build it. It's a complicated DNA. It's a complicated network. And there's questions
all along the line. You talk to the banker
and he said, of course. I'd much prefer to write
the $200,000 mortgage than a $20,000 mortgage. We've had a series
of beta testing roll outs of this informally. We did the standard
architectural set of drawings. And what ended up happening,
it was interesting. The builder, as you
will know, does just compare it to the last
thing that he built. And so he picks the
number out of the air and it ended up being five
times what we had expected. But also the guy didn't
look at the drawings. Didn't use the drawings at all. And ended up building
homes that were built to look like 20k homes. And so obviously that kind
of communication package, either for the builder, the
contractor, the community groups, the students in
the community colleges that we like to
get access to this. We need to give them some other
communication package that is not the typical
set of documents that the architects
give them today. Because they're all
about confusion and they end up comparing apples
to oranges every time. So we can give
people a precise list and the amount of material. The problem was that, in the
cases that we've built homes, the general contractor is not in
charge of buying the materials. The sub bought the materials,
so the sub won't tell the GC how much he spent on
materials to [inaudible]—- Yeah, I think it's
just complicated. It's a wonderful mess. But we consider it
a design challenge. So one of you mentioned that
your work is a little bit more like being an
industrial designer. And I know I read in the news
that last week in Austin, I believe, a house was
3D printed for $4,000. Meanwhile, the balloon framing
was invented in the 1820s. And yet somehow it
continues to seem to be an incredibly viable
construction technology. Let's talk about lots of
interest in containers. Interest in modular. Different kinds of modular. Interests in different
construction techniques. How much do you think
that kind of investigation is important in your markets? Yeah, I would say it is
amongst the most critical of components to the
whole development business right now is the advancement
of construction technology. And I think the next panel is
going to talk a lot about that. But we are a customer of
good construction technology. Which, as you mentioned, has
not changed a ton since balloon framing in the early 1800s. We've used wood
modular in the past. We are currently shipping a
22 unit apartment building to a site that we own
in Berkeley right now. That is going to
be steel modular. But really the
construction technology has not changed enough. Off site is tremendously
helpful to us because of the height of labor
requirements in the Bay Area. It is so expensive to build. And there are too few skilled
laborers in the Bay Area to actually build the buildings
that we need to have built. So we're looking to
off site methodology. And I think, Andrew,
that's why this is for us really
exciting that you're doing innovative stuff
on a small scale, but for a very, very
little amount of money. So I think if we could squish
together what you're doing and what we're doing, it
would be a good start. We've done prefab
in Philadelphia. I think one of the
that's really fascinating is the local information
for projects related to labor, and cost, and design. And one of the things that we've
found as a prefab challenge is there's still a
site contractor that takes a lot of responsibility
for construction, but they're getting a very
small piece of the building. Say 20% of the build
foundation, coordination, some of the utility tie-ins. And then an out-of-town
fabrication company is bringing in 80%
of the building. And the contractual relationship
between those people can be very thorny. And I think those issues are as
important as any construction technology. Meaning that how do those
people get along on site. And frankly, how does
the contract philosophy we've been under
for decades need to change to share
liability in new ways and to focus more on the
results of the project rather on each person's
position within the contract. Yeah. I will say in the Bay
Area the percentage of spend for us on
site is about 60%. Whereas the modular
component is about 40%. So it really obviously
depends on the location. But I would imagine,
in your neighborhoods, they may even be more
resistant to modular. Because if the site guy
only gets 10% of the spend, it's going to be tough. Even at 60%, there's a big
chunk of the building that's going to a [inaudible] that
almost has their own agency in the process. But I think it's part
of the challenge. We've seen general contractors
that can provide prefab under their umbrella. It seems to be an organization
that works really well. I would love to be able to
print a home in Newbern. But with my current
internet being– I'm screwed. I also live in the
middle of a forest, so why not build the
houses out of wood? And of course, we're
starting to look at CLT construction,
sort of a pickup truck version of CLT construction. Do you want to say what that is? Cross laminated timber is
where you're literally almost building solid walls of wood. Solid walls of wood that
are built in layers. In our situation, we need jobs. So if you can come up with any
other ways of construction. We'd be delighted
to prefabricate it. Our fear is that the
prefabrication will end up in one plant in
South Carolina, which is what we've got already. And that didn't do any
good to our local economy. So if you can come
up with something that local folks in our
community can do that will allow them to
stay in our community. Because it's a myth that people
all want to come to the city. They're actually
kind of happy there. They'd just like some
decent work that's not shitty service sector work. They'd like to be creative, and
they'd like to be productive, and they'd like to build homes. So that's why we go back to
the stick frame building. So we absolutely love to
prefabricate more of it. But it is kind of hard to
keep up wealth locally. So we're going to go to some
questions from the audience. Those of you who are on Twitter. And we've gotten
a lot of comments. If you have questions as
well that you want answered, please submit them via Twitter. And we'll let them
roll and someone will pick it up and pass it on. So can I take some
questions from your tables? Yes, please. How much of the
savings in modular is technology versus
the cost of labor being just a lot
they're charging? The hourly rate is $15 an hour
versus $30 an hour or higher. Sure. From our perspective, the
first building that we built on Harriet Street,
which was 23 apartments. We constructed it in
Sacramento and drove it down. We didn't actually save any
money on the hard costs. It was more or less an R&D
project for us to figure out, can we build modular in
an urban environment? So we saved zero on that. On our second one,
which is in the works today, it's likely that
we're going to save about 10% on hard costs, which
is not a ton of money. What does help us save
though is the 8 months of construction time. We're going to be collecting,
I think, about $45,000 a month in rental income
on that building. Multiply that by 8 months,
that's a lot of money. And so putting that into
the equation is a big saver. And we are the
biggest cheerleaders for modular housing right
now because of that fact. We built a 72 unit,
70,000 square foot wood frame modular project in
Philadelphia in nine months. It actually may have
cost a little more than if it was done another
way, but the time savings is remarkable. Especially in an
urban environment where just controlling
site, and closing streets, and having to stage costs money. Being able to be in and
out like that is, I think, really I think that's where the
urban economic advantages are. One of the conversations
we had over our break when we were talking
was the really wonderful thing to see these three very
different economies, different environments,
these different cities, and how tailored the
design approaches were to the needs
of that community. And yet it seems as if we're
operating in a national context with national standards that
are not necessarily specific. And I thought this slide
was very interesting, Brian, about, of course, the
politics and the approvals processes. How do you see how some of
these national standards relate in the local
context, whether it's the way buildings are financed,
or the way they're approved? I'd love to hear a
little bit of that and hear from those ideas
later in the afternoon as well. One thing I'll say is the
two projects I shared, the one against the
railroad and the 11 foot wide building in
Chinatown in Philadelphia, were both receiving variances
on the building code that the city was
giving for travel distance for the furthest
unit from the single stair. They're no longer
giving the variance. The lesson there is those
buildings can't be built now. And I think there was an economy
of scale in the number of units you could generate per cost. Because buildings,
at some level, cost money because there's cores
and there's supporting space, rather than rentable area. And these buildings actually
had a remarkable amount of rentable area,
which I think goes to this idea of affordability. So in a city of
16 foot wide lots, using the same building
code standards as a city with 20 or 30 foot lots or very
different kinds of patterns, there are things that can
be unlocked and subtleties of the code that might
allow for affordability. There's a lot of
local jurisdictions that have exceptions
to the code. But I think there's not
many that are strategically given to unlock value. I think they're the wave
of the fire Marshal, or someone had an
experience with something and they have a personal
stake and thinking about those regulations
in a certain way. But to think about
it as a local way of seeing the way
we make buildings, I think is interesting. I think parking
is the boogeyman. Who agrees? And I will say the idea
of cars and parking is changing quite a bit. Andrew, when you talk about what
I look at what you're building, there's, of course, plenty
available parking space on the outside of the homes. It costs us three times the
amount to build one parking space that it does for
you to build that home. So I think that the whole
perception around parking is it's changing, but we
do hope it changes quicker. The building that I
mentioned in Oakland, we are entitling for
over 1,000 apartments and we are very hopeful that we
will get zero parking spaces. It's one block from the
Bay Area's busiest transit station called BART. So the idea for a lot of people
of having no parking spaces for 1,000 units is bonkers. But in certain
places, like Oakland, and in San Francisco, and
Berkeley, and potentially parts of Philadelphia, it makes
all the sense in the world. Do you have bike
parking, Michael? We do. We're going to have
tons of bike parking. In fact, it's called
bike East Bay, is super psyched on this
project because of all the bike parking spaces
we're going to have. Two thoughts about that. I agree. One thing I'll say is
Philadelphia is, I think, the most onerous parking
ratio is three spaces for 10 units, which is
kind of remarkable as an as of right ratio. But an interesting aside,
we were funded by the Knight Foundation a few years
ago to think about what a 100k house would be in Miami. And we were getting all
excited about the design, and the climate, and
how to save money. And we realized that they had
a 2 to 1 ratio for parking. And as we met with
planning and we were like, you can't build these projects. You can't do small
incremental infill. But developers in
Miami were like, I think we can sell and rent
these houses without parking. Which was interesting
that development had advanced beyond planning. And because we came to planning
as a research entity and not a developer, they actually
piloted small scale infill without parking. You're starting to see
these smaller projects and you're starting to
see a different reaction. So I think that's
absolutely the case. We have one more question. Yes, please. Are you building
market rate affordable or are you building affordable
using subsidies, tax credits? What's the economic model there? We are building marker 8 housing
that is affordable by design. With that said, we are
also building income restricted affordable housing. What we're building
in Oakland, we're going to have 84
units, which are going to be income restricted to
people making 50% or less than the area median income. All without any subsidies? All without zero subsidies. Yes, please. I guess all with zero subsidies. Andrew mentioned the
ugly American fridge and the big couch. And Brian mentioned the
stairwells and the bathrooms. I was wondering, how
have your designs changed by actually having
done this for a while and seeing how people
are using your spaces? Have any of these changes
made things more expensive? Or how have you
balanced the need to change, or have you changed? In the four hour
version of the lecture, we're often put in the same
slot as the tiny house movement. And relative to the
last discussion, we're culturally not trying to
change the way that folks live. We live in a place that people
are land rich and cash poor. Less space. And so when we do a one bedroom,
it is about 500 square feet, but it does have that
knowledge, the furniture you can get to Rent-A-Center,
which is not typically Mies van der Rohe. And it doesn't expect you to
sit and cook on top of your bed. So culturally, we're very
aware of all of that. Specific examples. Do you furnish the
apartments, Michael? It looked like it was built in. Yes, 100% furnished. With a small space,
if someone does bring in a gigantuous sofa,
it's not going to work. So we furnish everything. Make the doors smaller. Right. OK, well, I'd love to really
give a huge round of applause to our panelists. Thank you.