Finding Partners for Your City’s Affordable Housing Solutions

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The affordable housing crisis looks different in every American city. Demographics, natural resources, and infrastructure are just a few factors that influence community needs—and they vary from place to place.

NLC’s most recent report,  Homeward Bound: The Road to Affordable Housing provides direction for how elected officials and community leaders can implement policy changes, building projects, and planning schemes that support citizens’ growing need for dignified places to live. Partners for local governments are architects, many of whom are already renovating and building new living spaces in their own cities.

Architects are leaders and collaborators. They have the unique ability to assess the large-scale needs of a community as well as the skills to coordinate projects that ensure welcoming and safe housing. Building on the case studies presented in  Homeward Bound: The Road to Affordable Housing, here are a few more stories that showcase how architects are creating affordable housing solutions across the country:

Updating public schools for veteran and low-income housing


Credit: Video created by Cheryl Hess for the AIA Film Challenge 2018

In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Housing Authority collaborated with the architecture firm Kramer + Marks to reimagine a 90-year-old former public-school building, in partnership with the nonprofit HELP USA. Now home to dozens of veterans and low-income individuals, the Lural Lee Blevins Veterans Center is a model for future housing projects that leverage existing buildings. Read more on AIA’s BlueprintforBetter.org

Honoring historic buildings in long-awaited senior housing

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Photo Credit: Chris Luker

The City of Charleston created its first dedicated housing for seniors with the help of David Baker Architects, McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, and Don Cameron. The partnership resulted in a 2019 AIA/Housing and Urban Development Secretary award-winning new facility that pays tribute to the city’s unique regional architecture and includes flood mitigation features. Read more on AIA’s website.

Bringing a legacy public housing project into the twenty-first century

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Photo Credit: Brian Tomaino/Torti + Gallas Partners

Milwaukee won the state’s largest low-income housing tax credit and pumped those funds into an $82 million project to redesign public housing. Torti Gallas + Partners, in partnership with Kindness Architecture + Planning and Entelechy, spearheaded the ground-up redesign of Westlawn, renamed Westlawn Gardens. The project’s Phase 1 was completed in 2012. Phase 2 will have mixed-use elements, including retail space and some market-rate housing. Read more about these projects from ARCHITECT magazine and AIA.

Using modular design to create cost-effective housing

Factory OS
Photo credit: Ian Allen

Modular construction is cheaper and faster than traditional construction but has never caught on as a housing solution. Bay Area-based modular design and construction company Factory OS, the brainchild of housing developer Rick Holliday and contractor Larry Pace, with design direction from David Baker, FAIA, as chief design officer, is working to tackle affordable housing needs. The company’s goal is to change this paradigm by lowering housing costs across the board, for everyone from middle-class workers to those experiencing homelessness. Learn more about these concepts from Wired and AIA.

The power of partnership

The American Institute of Architects has more than 93,000 members. These architects and designers live and work in your cities. Let us help you and your planning commissions formulate a coherent, consistent design vision for your city. Our members are trained to find practical, affordable solutions. Connect with an architect in your city.

About the authors: Kathleen M. O’Donnell and Katherine Flynn are writer/editors at the American Institute of Architects. Founded in 1857, AIA is a professional association of more than 94,000 architect members. AIA members work to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable communities. Through more than 200 international, state and local chapters, AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing. 

AIA members work with civic and government leaders to develop solutions to key issues from school safety to more frequent natural disasters, to diverse housing needs and the increased urgency for sustainable design. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards.