Real Estate

How To Solve The Affordable Housing Shortage? Winner Of Design Competition Offers A Solution.

What if you lived in a house that was designed to change over time as needed? As a young couple, you might live on the lower level and rent out the two bedrooms upstairs. When you are ready to start a family, you might desire an additional bedroom, so you move to the second floor and rent out the first floor. As you grow older, modifications on the first floor could make your home more accessible and better suited to your needs. Through these scenarios, the starter home becomes a forever home. 

A recent design competition called Disruptive Design challenged architects, designers, students and those invested in urban development to submit ideas for affordable owner-occupied single-family or two-flat homes that included a wealth-building component such as a rentable unit or live/work space. 

The competition was organized by the Chicago Housing Policy Task Force, a group of organizations invested in creating affordable housing in Chicago.

Greg Tamborino, a senior project architect at Perkins and Will architecture and design firm of Chicago, was selected as the winner of the Disruptive Design competition for his flexible architectural solution that encourages long-term wealth building through homeownership. He will receive $20,000 as well as the opportunity to see his designs get built.

When Tamborino read about the competition, he didn’t hesitate to enter. “It was exactly what I had been thinking about, had been knowledgeable about and care about,” he said.

Chicago-based developer Related Midwest plans to build two prototypes of the winning design on what are now city-owned vacant lots in Chicago’s Bronzeville and West Humboldt Park neighborhoods. 

Jurors considered community feedback on the final designs as well as their own expertise in construction, design and public health to make their decision.

“Greg’s design is disruptive because it can be converted so easily from a two-flat to a single-family home,” said juror Amy Mayer, vice president of construction at Related Midwest. “We thought that the plan was very clever and that as any one of those options, it was a very marketable plan. And we liked the economy that was presented in the design. I think all of the designs had a similar concept to work with rental income potential, but this one really nailed it on having the real compact program, maximizing the efficiency of the construction.”

Tamborino, who has been with Perkins and Will for 14 years, said varied experiences in the construction and architecture industries contributed to his professional growth and vision for his award-winning design. For example, he gained construction experience working for his father, a retired home builder who taught him how to swing a hammer. 

“I do a lot of work with high-rise residential developers, and just the whole strategy and their way of thinking is really applicable to the idea of affordable housing,” said Tamborino, adding that: “They want the most value for their investment. They want the spaces to be well lit, comfortable, safe, taking advantage of views. All the things that the program is asking for are all the things the developers are looking for in their projects as well.”

Finalists spent six weeks refining their initial designs with feedback from Chicago’s Department of Buildings and the Department of Planning and Development. They also presented their initial and final designs to residents of West Humboldt Park and Bronzeville. Jurors considered community feedback on the final designs as well as their own expertise in construction, design and public health to make their decision.

“I think they saw a certain level of practicality in my solution,” said Tamborino. “They liked that it matched the feel of the neighborhood. They liked that it has this open and transparent ground floor that has this feeling of a connection between the inside of the house and the neighborhood outside your door. And the whole flexibility that I described seemed like it fit a variety of needs. And that’s exactly what they were asking us to propose.”

The two-story, wood-framed two-flat would sell for about $350,000. “There are so many soft costs and variables that go into the final sale of a house,” said Tamborino. “They just asked us to look at the hard costs, the construction costs alone.”

He said the two-flat design is intended for someone who could not afford the whole house but could envision living on one floor and renting the larger unit upstairs.

 “For example, when their family grows, my solution is that this house changes with you,” said Tamborino. “There’s no need to pack up and move to another house. This home will always fit your needs, including when you become elderly.”

Mayer said the design has the potential to add solar panels and layers of super-insulation to make the house more economical to own and operate and use less of a carbon footprint. Depending on solar orientation, either skylights or south-facing windows let natural light deep into the living space.

“Affordable housing is typically associated with big apartment developments,” said Tamborino. “This obviously is not inexpensive, but it is intended to be affordable for someone who maybe wants an income-generating vehicle for their home.”

Mayer noted that bringing buildings back to neighborhoods is the key to their longevity.

“Everybody that I’ve talked to is so enthusiastic about this project,” she said. “It’s really a breath of fresh air. The empty lots that exist throughout the city are a real problem for these neighborhoods where they are underpopulated. It creates missing teeth in the streetscape, and we really need to infill these.”

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