Basic Principles of Affordable Housing

Photo Courtesy of Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority

Affordable housing has been a passion of mine since the 80bs and I have studied it through the Urban Land Institute, American Planning Association and American Society of Landscape Architects resources, as well as through reviewing various government policies.

In addition, I have lived in employee housing here since 1994 and am president of my 87 unit HOA.B Our complex was provided completely by a private developer, without public subsidy, in exchange for additional density on the free-market portion of his property.

Our people who live in affordable housing are professionals, business owners, doctors, lawyers, waiters, bankers, builders, and public servants.B Donbt we want to create the most desirable living environment for our friends, neighbors, co-workers and servers?B Doesnbt our community as a whole benefit from excellent living conditions for our employees and their families?

There seem to be some basic premises that are overlooked in much affordable housing and would seem to be a good basis for establishing quality living environments that everyone in a community can be proud of:

1. Housing should help develop a sense of community while maintaining individual privacy.

2. People should be glad to get home, and feel their homes are a sanctuary.

3. People, particularly in our community need storage.B Sports equipment, baby equipment, alternate transportation equipment and seasonal wardrobe storage in a climate that has a 100 degree fluctuation from summer to winter temperatures.

4. People in America are accustomed to space and our employees need space

a. Home offices are the norm not the exception.B Sustainability practices encourage commuting from home.

b. Spare bedrooms are needed to accommodate family members, grown children and their families, and potential aging parents.B Our community does not offer lots of alternatives to the spare bedroom.

c. There is an unspoken delineation between the well-to-do having space and the poor having none.

5. Our community should be emphasizing energy efficient design

a. Building orientation

b. Drive and parking orientation for maximum solar capture

c. Thermal windows and doors

d. High R value walls and roofs

e. Covered parking and accesses to reduce snow removal and maintenance

f. Hi efficiency appliances for individual units and common supply needs

g. Efficient trash storage and removal

h. Grading and drainage to maximize water penetration and retention on site.

6. Our community should be emphasizing long-term sustainability of the investment for the buyers by using the best quality materials to achieve tangible long-term maintenance goals.

7. Our community should be emphasizing and reinforcing a budding industry in recycled, renewable, and recyclable construction materials.

8. Our community should be emphasizing the use of renewable energy resources for our consumptive uses.

9. Long-term maintenance of housing is crucial to the value of the real estate in the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods.B Capital reserves and maintenance budgets are one way to provide the funding, educating homeowners about budgeting and maintenance may help provide the incentives.B Multi-family dwellings have the opportunity to use Associations to distribute these costs.

10. People have cars.

11. People drive and park their cars.

12. Landscapes should be beautiful and designed for maximum enjoyment of residents and ease of maintenance.B This does not mean trees stuck in native bweedsb.

a. This does mean drainage can be directed to bioswales with appropriate plantings for color and interest.

b. This does mean children need to have grass to play on, but grass only needs to be where it is usable.

c. There are many options for landscaping that are neither btract-home turf and a treeb nor bzero-scapeb.B (The correct term is xeriscape)

d. bScreeningb is sometimes best accomplished with good site design and fences, rather than trees which may eventually grow and block sunlight and views.

13. Accesses and doorways should be interior to the building to improve energy efficiency and winter maintenance.

14. All units should relate to the natural environment, allowing real, usable, access to the outdoors b not tiny decks and patios.

15. Open space should be functional, not just 10 or 20 feet between buildings.B Zero lot lines between homes could create more functional and pleasing individual yards as well as bopen spaceb.

16. A density of what? b&b&b&.? Should trigger the installation of some neighborhood commercial amenities (grocery) to lessen vehicle trips.

17. Density is not a dirty word.

18. Provisions for non-related owners and roommates should be intrinsic, donbt design just for families.

a. This means bathrooms.B Americans expect bathrooms, unrelated owners and room-mates need independent bathrooms

19. Mother-in-law apartments that can be rented or used for family are not a dirty word.B Why not allow residents to recap some monthly costs?

In the next chapter, we can address funding and assistance mechanisms for affordable housing including, private, public and philanthropic.

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