For the Love of People November 14, 2022

Four ways to develop healthy, affordable homes

Key takeaways from the Healthy Affordable Housing Toolkit.
Graphic art that depicts factors influencing housing affordability

Supported by a grant from the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) Foundation, a team led by researchers at Perkins&Will spent over a year investigating ways to improve housing affordability while creating better living environments. The resulting 138-page Healthy Affordable Housing Toolkit shares strategies from developers, stakeholders, and residents, which can be applied to subsidized or market-rate housing. Here are four takeaways:

Combine housing with another beneficial program.

The ground floor of a building typically has great potential for a public-serving program. Northtown Library and Apartments in Chicago, owned and developed by Evergreen Real Estate Group, includes 44 units of affordable senior housing on two levels above a public library. “It’s a genius idea and everyone should be doing this,” says Stephen Messinger, co-author of the toolkit. “We know that people live longer, healthier lives if they have access to other people.” Housing that is designed to promote interaction can improve psychological outcomes and reduce loneliness and isolation, which elderly people are especially vulnerable to.

Design the most energy-efficient building possible.

One way to reduce the cost of housing is to lower and stabilize utility bills, which can fluctuate wildly and are often a substantial portion of monthly expenses. “COVID has shown us that people who are living on the margins are the least likely to handle a health or financial shock,” says Messinger. Sustainable design strategies can offer additional quality-of-life benefits beyond lower energy costs and thermal comfort, including better indoor air quality and a quieter environment.

Affordable housing above a library promotes interaction and life-long learning.
Make room for spontaneous connections.

It’s tempting to shrink square footage to reduce costs. But flexible spaces—with enough room to connect at a safe social distance—are important for social interactions, which the researchers found improves health and satisfaction in multifamily housing. Within units, an open kitchen, in lieu of a galley kitchen, allows the space to perform double-duty for entertaining. A slightly wider corridor or slightly bigger laundry room can become a gathering area. At Northtown Library and Apartments, residents pull out their chairs into a flexible space at the end of a common corridor to socialize over coffee during the colder months, and go out onto the community terrace when the weather permits.

Look for community linkages.

Affordable housing is part of a larger ecosystem of services that people need to thrive, such as access to public transit. Consider how your project fits into the community’s larger plan and infrastructure system. For instance, is there a bike lane or rainwater collection system to hook into? “Since you’re building something that will last for 50 to 100 years, it’s a big opportunity to develop for the future and add value,” says Messinger.

Check out the toolkit:
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