The Longer-Term Benefits of Better Housing

Higher-end features may seem tough to pencil into affordable housing budgets. But that may be short-sighted.

In 2022, a trio of companies completed ground-up development on a new 100 percent affordable housing project in San Francisco. The 167 units in two buildings, encircled by a pedestrian walkway, were oriented to maximize sunlight in their courtyards, where residents can barbecue while their children play. Less visible features include a filtrated central fresh air supply system and low- and no-VOC products to improve air quality, stainless steel entry gratings to reduce debris and a solar hot water system.

The community, at 290 Malosi, replaced a 75-year-old, barrack-style structure as part of the HOPE SF community development initiative, and LDP Architecture, Mercy Housing California and The Related Cos. of California won a Bronze award in the Best Development & Design: Affordable category of MHN’s 2023 Excellence Awards for its transformation.

The fact that 290 Malosi was among 21 entries offering a variety of different exterior and interior features is evidence of a continued focus on creating affordable housing that could just as easily be rented as middle-income or in some cases even higher-end units. Those features will likely include stainless-steel appliances and pull-down kitchen faucets, but that’s no longer enough, as Diana Mosher discusses in “Designing Affordable Housing for an HGTV World.” In fact, once considered upgrades, they’re now expected accoutrements in affordable housing.

Higher-end features may seem tough to pencil into lower-income housing, but that may be short-sighted, Albert Milo of Related Urban Development Group told Mosher. Cheaper materials and processes can lead to faster wear and higher maintenance costs. “This not only jeopardizes the reputation of the developer but also diminishes the potential for long-term financial returns.”

And there are ways to ensure it fits the budget, including earlier interior design consultation to ensure adequate budgeting and bulk buying for uniform treatment of units. The result is healthier, safer and more desirable properties that attract and retain residents—another recipe for improved returns.

Of course, public partners need to be on board, making upfront communication—and sometimes education—a necessity. Some cities have already made this a focus, like San Francisco, which launched HOPE SF in 2007 to replace dilapidated public housing with higher-quality mixed-income communities. But further conversations are necessary, including focus on less obvious but important benefits like reduced Medicaid costs due to solid construction that pairs internal climate moderation with improved ventilation.

Safer, healthier, more pleasant living conditions—who could argue with that?

Read the March 2024 issue of MHN.

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