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Local architect, urban planner among speakers at D.C. housing symposium

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Housing innovation, emergent private sector programs, and nonprofit programs, and projects were spotlighted during the 2023 Housing Supply Symposium hosted by the Terner Center & Labs. Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and the National League of Cities supported the half-day hybrid event held in Washington, D.C. and online. 

The symposium featured several examples of public-private solutions, shifts in public policy, and investor practices that have helped revitalize neighborhoods, communities, and cities.

Among the speakers was Joshua Morrison, co-founder and creative director of Seattle-based Frolic Communities. As explained on their website, the term “frolic” describes a tradition in which hundreds of families gather to raise a barn in one week. Its model emerged following two years of research at the Center for Real Estate at MIT, which considered input from more than 180 innovators and experts in housing, finance, and community-driven development in the U.S. and Europe.

Frolic partners with single-family homeowners to co-develop multi-family housing on their properties. The goal is to produce housing that is affordable to middle-income families. Among Frolic’s initial projects are the Cedrus Collective in Seattle’s Central District and Corvidae Co-op in Columbia City.

Cedrus is scheduled to open in summer 2024. It encompasses seven units of varying sizes, priced from $220,000 to $450,000, along with a common kitchen and dining area, an outdoor kitchen and gathering space, and a shared back garden and fully equipped guest suite.

Corvidae Co-op is a 10-home community perched on a forested hill on the edge of the 43+ acre Cheasty Greenspace, the largest wooded parkland in the Rainier Valley. Homes are priced from $210,000 to $600,000. The design includes a group kitchen and laundry and common balcony in each building, plus a common courtyard and garden and shared guest room. 

Following remarks by a representative from the National League of Cities, the symposium program featured three panels. Their topics included equitably increasing the housing supply (with a showcase of innovative models), emerging models for inclusivity (e.g., mixed-income, subsidized, and disability-forward housing), and the future of houses (with examples of new approaches for reducing construction costs and increasing sustainability).

Kara Murray-Badal, director of the Terner Lab, the nonprofit affiliate of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation, said their focus is on equity, sustainability and affordability. “The umbrella is big, but the impact is personal,” she remarked, adding there have been great strides, but much work to be done.

Nikishka Iyengar, founder and CEO of The Guild in Atlanta, discussed a pilot project that she described as “flipping the switch on REIT.” Using a Community Stewardship Trust, the Guild transformed a vacant, 7,000 square foot abandoned building in a mixed use space, replacing it with 18 units of affordable housing, a grocery store, and co-working spaces.

Iyengar said their concept is based on preserving affordability, initially with philanthropy and “reparative capital.” They currently “lean on philanthropy for proof of concept.”

In his remarks, Morrison said there are 36 names on a waiting list, primarily from word of mouth. Interested parties include owners who want to age in place and create opportunities for their community and their children.

Panelist Imani Yasin discussed “whole block redevelopment,” the concept used at Parity, an equitable development company in West Baltimore. She said about 70% of homes within the city of Baltimore are row housing.

Rather than rehab a single building, Parity acquires and renovates existing properties (many of which are abandoned) on the same block. “If you can transform the entire block, people can see the vision,” remarked Imani, the director of strategic initiatives at Parity. The organization aims to create development without displacement, while creating opportunities for homeownership, wealth creation and civic engagement.

The second panel discussed increasing access to mixed-income, subsidized, and disability-forward housing. Speakers included the co-founder and CEO of The Kelsey, an organization that “focuses on establishing a scalable model for disability-inclusive, affordable housing across the U.S. and leading advocacy that makes those communities possible.”

The Kelsey has 240 homes in development in San Jose and San Francisco and have unlocked $110 million in funding from major partners. They cite data that estimates 4 million adults with disabilities who rely solely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are priced out of every housing market in the country.

The Kelsey is also among developers of the Housing Design Standards for Accessibility and Inclusion to equip designers, builders, and developers with guidelines and frameworks for disability-forward housing creation. The open-source resource is available as a text-only version and a self-certification tool.

Also on the panel was Christine Wendell, co-founder and CEO at Pronto Housing, and Lionel Lynch, director of community development banking capital solutions at JP Morgan Chase.

Pronto offers tech-enabled compliance software and solutions to manage leasing for affordable housing programs. Lynch is charged with creating scalable platforms to finance new workforce and affordable housing for homeownership, wealth creation and community development facilities throughout the U.S.  

The third panel delved into the future of houses. Speakers Brian Gaudio, CEO at Module and Tyler Pullen, PhD researcher at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation, and moderator Reed Jordan, housing affordability grant program manager at Wells Fargo. They discussed various strategies for reducing the cost and increasing the sustainability of construction.

During the debrief, representatives from the Terner Center and HUD talked the importance of focusing on implementation and scalability, along with building awareness of the paths for accessing resources – including funds and technical assistance, and removing barriers to housing production, noting “there are many bipartisan proposals out there.” They also emphasized “unleashing innovation” so it can flourish, citing advances in factory-built housing as one approach.

As one panelist stated, “Myriad outcomes are being embraced. Housing can be a bridge to closing equity and justice gaps.”

About the sponsors

The National League of Cities (NLC) advocates for, and protects the interest of cities, towns, and villages by influencing federal policy, strengthening local leadership, and driving innovative solutions. The 100-year-old organization assists leaders in more than 2,700 local governments nationwide.

The Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California at Berkeley formulates “bold strategies to house families from all walks of life in vibrant, sustainable, and affordable homes and communities.” Since 2015, when it was established, it has become a leading voice in identifying, developing, and advancing innovative public and private sector solutions to housing challenges.

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies advances understanding of housing issues and informs policy. Through its research, education, and public outreach programs, the Center helps leaders in government, business, and the civic sectors make decisions that effectively address the needs of cities and communities.

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