Bringing the Power of Design to Affordable Housing: The History and Evolution of the Affordable Housing Design Advisor

By Evans, Deane | Cityscape, May 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Bringing the Power of Design to Affordable Housing: The History and Evolution of the Affordable Housing Design Advisor


Evans, Deane, Cityscape


Introduction

Decent, affordable housing is critical to the social and economic well-being of the United States. The need for such housing continues to far outstrip demand, and those projects that do get built suffer from severe cost constraints. Good-quality design-too often considered an expensive amenity, rather than a cost-effective necessity-is usually one of the first components cut from a project in the name of cost containment. The result is a country dotted with projects that meet minimal shelter requirements but fall far short of the well-planned, well-designed, and well-landscaped environments usually associated with good-quality housing.

Good design, however, can be the critical difference between an affordable development that succeeds-one that satisfies its residents and neighbors, enhances the community where it is built, and continues as a stable part of that community for decades-and one that does not. In fact, good design may be the most viable strategy currently available to improve the quality, asset value, and acceptance of affordable housing. The funds available for housing development are not likely to rise, land acquisition and construction costs are not likely to fall, and regulations restricting affordable housing development are not likely to become less burdensome. In the face of these constraints, better design may be the one option left for cost-effectively improving the overall quantity and quality of affordable housing in the United States.

Aware of the potential for better design to significantly improve affordable housing in the United States, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determined in late 1999 that the affordable housing community had a clear need for straightforward, easy-to-use guidance on how to achieve cost-effective design excellence. To address this need, HUD initiated a project to create a new tool that would help improve affordable housing design literacy in the United States. The result was the Affordable Housing Design Advisor (hereafter, the Design Advisor).

The remainder of this article recounts the history of the Design Advisor, its evolution since its launch, its current status, and where it-and the role of good design in community developmentmay be headed in the future.

The Affordable Housing Design Advisor

The Design Advisor is a web-based tool designed to help developers, sponsors, and users of affordable housing understand what constitutes good-quality design, why it is worth striving for, and how to achieve it in their own projects. Based on real-world experience and case studies of successful developments from all over the country, the Design Advisor, when originally launched, included the following key sections.

* 20 Steps to Design Quality is a systematic, detailed procedure for making sure that excellent design is built into every step of the development process.

* The Project Book is a design-focused workbook that provides a simple, effective way to manage the development process to achieve the highest possible levels of design quality.

* The Design Considerations Checklist is a practical guide to understanding and ensuring that a series of key issues-those with the greatest potential to affect design quality-are considered from the earliest phases of the development process and that no opportunities for achieving design excellence are overlooked.

* The Gallery is a collection of outstanding, well-designed affordable housing developments from all over the country, with photos and detailed information on each project.

HUD developed the Design Advisor in cooperation with the following organizations.

* American Institute of Architects (AIA).

* Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise).

* Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Boston.

* Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

* National Congress for Community Economic Development (NCCED).

* Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation (NRC). …

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