Leadership

A Building-Blocks Approach To Housing Affordability Solutions

'The effort is all about each locality, and the opportunity to take a stakeholder approach to economic, housing, and social solutions through a people-first model.' -- Marquis Cofer, Module.

Leadership

A Building-Blocks Approach To Housing Affordability Solutions

'The effort is all about each locality, and the opportunity to take a stakeholder approach to economic, housing, and social solutions through a people-first model.' -- Marquis Cofer, Module.

February 3rd, 2023
A Building-Blocks Approach To Housing Affordability Solutions
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A whack-a-mole of barriers bedevil people's access to safe, decent housing they can pay for.

Among them is the definition and scope of every word in the sentence above.

The surreality of the challenge is such that the passion and purpose of 100 people in a room intent on solving it are often in an order of magnitude inverse relationship to their ability to embrace common terms, priorities, and measures of any single set of solutions.

Jerusalem Demsas and the editors of The Atlantic struck a stunning chord this past November. Writer Demsas' story's title, "Housing Breaks People's Brains," had people frustrated by the crisis for decades at "hello."

Anyone who’s been in a dumb recurring fight knows that the entire problem could be cleared up if everyone could just agree on exactly what was said or done. But you can’t, so you end up stuck in a cycle of relitigation. Housing-policy discussions are like that. They descend into crushing bickering because even the basic facts are up for debate." – The Atlantic

The story focuses on that place in an important conversation that should bind people together with recognition and purpose. Instead, though, it keeps slipping out of grasp because instead of unifying people on the exact nature of the crisis itself and the ways society and business could solve it, the issue almost always splits people apart. The article's domain treats the problem as a kind of socialized cognitive dissonance. But the issue runs deeper, more fundamentally a have- and have-not split.

A John Lennon lyric from a song, "I don't wanna face it" comes to mind.

You wanna save humanity
But it's people that you just can't stand

Property holders mostly still "own" America's land-use and zoning agenda, and they appoint, elect, and support local policy officials who – by hook or by crook – perform an essential role in the if-and-when resolution of America's generational housing crisis.

Demsas believes that a crisis by its nature can get so bad that people have no choice but to evolve and accept new solutions. He writes:

.. as a growing number of high-income renters find themselves shut out of homeownership and as the population of the chronically unsheltered soars, reality has begun to set in."

One can hope. Or, one can imagine that unless and until a locality – a city of some size, like San Diego, for instance – does something that causes local voters and officials in cities everywhere to say, "get me one of those" housing-as-a-solution initiatives, the crisis will self-perpetuate.

Like they say, the only way out is through. The only way through a housing crisis made the way ours is will require a dynamic resources stack made up of equal parts land-use reform, capital investment, building innovation, and local community embrace and engagement.

America has – to date – no true model for this truly vertically integrated private, public, local partnership, although public-private-community partnerships are the lifeblood of low-income and supportive housing and real estate development.

Projects, particularly ones that cause practical upside impact, can sustain themselves, and – given investment and policy nurturance, time, and focus – scale in an efficient replicable way, are solutions-seekers' best bet for "unbreaking people's brains" when it comes to housing affordability.

A good case in point:

Fannie Mae announced the selection of five organizations to receive deliverable-based contracts under the Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge, a nationwide competition to help advance racial equity in housing. Through the Innovation Challenge 2022 (IC22), the company sought innovative, scalable proposals to remove barriers that currently prevent many households, including Black families, from purchasing or renting a home. Module is one of the winners.
In partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, the nation’s largest black-led development organization, Module will demonstrate the feasibility of locally owned modular facilities to complete energy-efficient affordable housing in urban communities of color. Their Fannie Mae contract will support their Last Mile Network project, setting the stage to expand the concept to Prince George’s County, MD, and Richmond, VA. Each facility will train new entrants in the construction trades, securing good-paying jobs while creating affordable housing and enabling Black homeowners and renters to build wealth."

Marquis Cofer, director of customer experience at Module talked with us about the multi-modal goals and impacts Module's striving for in its approach to solving for attainable, healthy, sustainable homes for more people. Module's Last Mile project, Cofer says, is a collection of off-site construction facilities in urban communities in the Midwest & Mid-Atlantic. Many modular factories are located in rural environments. These locally-owned facilities insource jobs to urban communities and provide the opportunity to develop a "modular ecosystem" in each market.

Each facility is designed to produce an all-electric, solar-ready, affordable housing product line while bringing good-paying jobs and workforce training opportunities to urban communities. In addition to creating jobs, these facilities will provide entrepreneurs and developers with the opportunity to build wealth.

Module launched its first part of the network, "Last Mile Lab" in Pittsburgh in 2022. The facility includes a workforce development program, finishing stations for modules, and a research lab for new building systems.

We've done the groundwork through our pilot cohort of students, completed research and development, and tested products to set up and scale localized factory facilities, train people, establish the modular ecosystems of partners, and get engagement from local policy stakeholders," Cofer says. "Each of those hub facilities will be local insofar as it will produce modular homes those jurisdictions want more of, and they'll each be capable of producing about 200 new homes a year."

The idea now, Cofer says, is to amplify the story to gain recognition for its event on the Mall in Washington, D.C. this summer, for mission- and impact-driven Developers or Housing Providers who want to learn about modular construction.

The effort is all about each locality, and the opportunity to take a stakeholder approach to economic, housing, and social solutions through a people-first model," says Cofer.

Housing will stop "breaking people's brains" when elected officials and their voter blocks – mostly property owners – declare it's finally time to "get me one of those."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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