Policy

Trailblazers '23: Igniting The Super Power Of 'Co' In Housing Solutions

We talk with The Kelsey co-founder and ceo Micaela Connery, who focuses on epic partnerships with a 'how-might-we?' foundation to scale disability-forward community development.

Policy

Trailblazers '23: Igniting The Super Power Of 'Co' In Housing Solutions

We talk with The Kelsey co-founder and ceo Micaela Connery, who focuses on epic partnerships with a 'how-might-we?' foundation to scale disability-forward community development.

August 16th, 2023
Trailblazers '23: Igniting The Super Power Of 'Co' In Housing Solutions
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In housing, there are challenges and there are challenges.

One of them is a human talent pipeline. One big enough and capable of setting housing's course toward a better, more prolific future. For both the challenges and the challenges, people are lynchpins to both solutions to housing's crisis, and to resiliency in their absence.

We worry so much all the time about who it is housing, its challenges, and its opportunities fail to draw into their ranks. We fret about those missing people, the ones smart, determined, and resourceful enough to tackle the hard problems and get all the work done ... ones choosing other livelihoods instead.

But then, it's we who may miss the opportunity to leap for joy and celebrate and support those this calling has drawn – recently, yesterday, today -- into its fold of brilliant, driven, impactful human forces of nature. They're exactly the ones we might hope would make housing and its messy pile of challenges their destiny. You can't make them up.

People like Micaela Connery and her growing team of "pioneers" at a growing design, development, capital, policy, learning, construction, and technology incubator of housing and place solutions called The Kelsey.

The Kelsey, recognized earlier this year as a Top 10 finalist among 2023 Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability innovators, is based in San Francisco, and its ambition is nothing short of changing how the residential real estate and construction community thinks of, invests in, designs for, commits to, plans, and develops disability-forward homes, more livable to everyone.

Ivory Prize judges saluted The Kelsey here in April.

The Kelsey advances disability-forward housing solutions that open doors to homes and opportunities for everyone. Co-led by people with and without disabilities, The Kelsey co-develops affordable, accessible, inclusive housing and leads advocacy and field-building efforts to create market conditions so inclusive housing becomes the norm." – The Builder's Daily

When we talk about disability-forward housing and inclusivity becoming the norm, we're in the realm of the challenges nested in the macro challenges so sorely needing solutions. We're also in the realm of extraordinary opportunity to accomplish solutions to the challenges that stand as housing's most daunting.

Among milestones, The Kelsey has unlocked $170 million in financing to fund  two new Bay Area communities, representing 240 new homes due to open in 2024 to residents with and without disabilities, a real-world-in-real-time living and learning and discovery center for what will come next.

The what will come next evolves structurally, as The Kelsey co-founder and CEO Michaela Connery tells us, on three strategic pillars aimed to build, learn, propagate, and scale a transformative disability-forward residential design, development, and investment movement.

We'll hear about the The Kelsey's three strategic pillars in Michaela's own words in a moment, but first an aside for context:

In late-July Brookings Metro senior fellow Jenny Schuetz addressed a special Senate committee on aging with data to help illustrate the magnitude of challenges, and policy recommendations needed for a nesting-doll array of them.

Within an overview on housing's vaunted crisis of supply-constraint related affordability issues, Jenny Schuetz's testimony included this passage:

The overall housing shortage and lack of diverse housing options are not simply natural outcomes of market forces. Local governments across the U.S. have adopted policies that make it difficult to build more homes where people want to live. Zoning rules such as apartment bans and large minimum lot sizes decrease the amount of new construction, especially of small, moderately priced homes. States and localities often impose complex discretionary development processes, such as requiring multiple public hearings or lengthy environmental reviews, that make new housing more expensive."
Zoning rules that prohibit all structures except single-family detached homes create direct barriers to building accessible homes. Single-family homes are less likely to have accessible features, such as a no-step entry into the home or a bedroom and bath on the main living floor. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are becoming increasingly popular among older homeowners as means to allow family members or caretakers to live nearby. Historically, duplexes and triplexes have enabled multiple generations and extended families to live together—an important source of informal caregiving. Many older adults and people with disabilities need or prefer fully accessible apartments in elevator buildings. Yet all of these diverse structure types are illegal to build on the majority of residential land in communities across the U.S.9 About 12% of Americans—32 million people—are living with a disability, but less than 5% of homes are accessible for people with moderate mobility difficulties. The lack of small, accessible homes in many neighborhoods limits the ability of older adults—80% of whom live alone or with a partner—to right-size their home while staying in the same community." – Brookings

The sweep of data points Schuetz brings to bear to support Federal, state, and local policy recommendations lays out in quantitative terms the scope of the focal point of The Kelsey team's recognition of the challenges and its public, private, and community-sector based array of solutions.

The first, Micaela Connery tells us, is open-sourced learning (all of the following passages quote directly from Micaela).

Value Stream 1: The Playbooks

As we have developed these first communities, we've focused as well on what we call 'playbooks.' We've learned a lot about what it looks like to do disability-forward housing and what that looks like for parts of the process around community engagement, disabled representation in the design and development and community process. Also, what that looks like for the built environment in terms of design,  architectural and built environment features, such as location site, dwelling units, all of that.
And then it also explores what it looks like from an operations perspective, even though we haven't fully opened ... but defining at least that of what it looks like then to operate and staff and run these communities in an inclusive and accessible and community-focused resident-centered way.
That work over the last couple of years has helped us create different playbooks. The largest is our housing design standards for accessibility and inclusion, a codification of everything that we've done in our first two projects. Further it's home to what we've learned – even if we haven't done it -- that should be thought about in disability forward housing. We're open-sourcing all of that so that other designers, developers, builders, architects, policymakers can use and in creating their own communities. Our hope is that strategies that we've worked hard to come up with and define with the community are strategies that should be open to the industry and should evolve as a standard to the industry for for creating more inclusive housing options, and so that's the housing design standards for accessibility and inclusion."

Value Stream 2: On The Ground Technical Help

Our next strategic focus is in-person, on-the-ground, on demand, helping people who say, 'we've seen the open-source resources, but we want you to help us in a certain phase of the project, or on a certain policy goal that we're trying to pass, or in a certain community engagement phase that we're working on, or a certain feasibility study. We're looking for your expertise.'
They tend to be small community-based organizations that don't have the capacity. Or it might be a larger developer who doesn't have the expertise or specific area of focus. The Kelsey, in either end of that spectrum, can fill in that gap within an organization and provide our expertise on this disability-forward housing, in a defined chunk of the development phase.

Value Stream 3: Co-Development

The third bucket focuses on full co-development. This capability would address a local team who might say, 'I don't want you to just come in for a phase. I'm not looking for just RFP support or community engagement or a feasibility. I want to build The Kelsey with you. We're looking at evolving more of those as well in different geographies,  Birmingham, Ala., for instance, where we've been working for the last eight months with the community there to really begin to think about what it would look like to build a community of The Kelsey from beginning to end. We'd build disability-inclusive, affordable accessible housing community in that in that city."

The Power of Local Co-Development

All of that work is done in partnership with local developers. We know these disability-forward elements super well. However, we might not know the building inspections person in X city,  so we can be smart and work with locally-embedded developers to share competencies and capacities to make development happen. We don't want to just parachute into somewhere. We'd rather come in in partnership with somebody who really knows that market, and can also have spillover effect that they might develop this community with The Kelsey, but that they're going to be in that market and other places too, and be carrying some of these strategies into their overall pipeline. So we still do that third category of development as co- development with with really locally based housing organizations."

The Challenge And Opportunity

One of the things that you'll hear people with disabilities remind us of is how much innovation has come from disabled people who have noticed that things have not worked, and they have built a hack to make that thing work for them. Curb cuts as an example. Kitchen tools, slip on shoes, etc., as you know, all commonplace items that were actually developed, conceived by disabled people. And I bring that up because I think what we've developed with designers and architects and builders and engineers, and even our development partners, is that make-or-break  openness to innovation versus a kind of a check the box compliance. So it tends to be really difficult to work with partners who say, that's not how we do it.
The most powerful partners are partners who say, 'let me understand, let me put the user at the center, the resident at the center, and really think about what is the problem we're aiming to solve for that resident and start from scratch of thinking creatively about how to do that and then later add in the constraints of code or what's possible are feasibility or cost.'
We don't operate independently of those things. We still have to have those in mind. But I noticed among partners that people who are 'no' people versus 'how might we?' people –  we use the 'how might we?' all the time.  That's a culture piece as we  look to future development partners, or our committed firms that have agreed to work with. We have discussions that really test 'are you a no person? Or are you a 'how-might-we?' person. That is really a critical difference in the space of what makes a good partner for The Kelsey, and what makes a good partner for this issue. And frankly, probably what makes just a good developer overall."

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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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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