Shelter is one of humanity’s essential needs. Unlike our fellow mammals, we are not equipped to survive without a roof over our heads. It is also a critical component of community life. The shelter we create for ourselves is the building block for every community we inhabit, whether it be in a city, a town or a suburb.
Historically, shelter was often provided by employers to employees from the time of the feudal system in medieval Europe to company towns in the early 20th century. In America today, vestiges of that approach remain in pockets of our society. There is still teacher housing at some private schools. Some universities, such as Columbia University in New York, provide apartments for their faculty, rented to them at below-market rates.
However, these days most housing costs are driven by the free market. Currently the median housing price in the U.S. is approximately $190,000, the median US rent is $950, and the median income is $52,000. If you do the math, a year’s worth of mortgage or rent payments leaves the median-income resident with $30,000 per year for all expenses other than shelter. This does not even address the 14.5 percent of our population who live below the poverty line ($24,000 annual income for a family of four).
We have had the opportunity to design over 1,000 affordable senior housing units for Catholic Charities in the Baltimore area. Many of these residents subsist on Social Security, and move from unsafe substandard housing into a fully accessible, new, well maintained community. Their sense of relief is palpable and the environment we design is intended to meet all of their needs.
In Howard County, housing prices are so high that teachers and firefighters cannot afford to live there. The Cottages at Greenwood was a unique opportunity to design universally accessible affordable housing at a price point they could afford. This enclave of 10 homes is a unique example of for-sale affordable housing designed for both environmental and social sustainability.
Building the value of a community through developing affordable housing is also key. The redevelopment of the Barclay Old Goucher neighborhood with Telesis is a perfect example. This neighborhood in Baltimore City had been through a lot of disinvestment. There were numerous abandoned properties, several failed housing projects, and a general sense of abandonment.
Marks, Thomas Architects was asked by urban developer Telesis to respond to an RFP from the city in 2006 and we have been working together in the neighborhood ever since. The first step was to identify the properties available and develop a master plan. A long range strategy of developing affordable housing both for sale and for rent was developed by Telesis. A total of 30 for-sale units and 100 rental units were built. Development is continuing. The face of the neighborhood has changed dramatically and now individuals are buying and renovating homes themselves. The new apartments and houses are well managed and Telesis continues to work with the residents to build community in the neighborhood.
In the state of Maryland alone, $25 million of public investment in affordable housing development creates 8,211 jobs, generates $936 million in local investment, creates $23.5 million of new state and local tax revenue, and provides 5,775 new homes. In the long run, providing stable housing positively impacts the health of our children, the efficacy of our school system, and the future of our country.
Designing high-quality affordable housing projects is one of Marks, Thomas Architects’ passions. Reach out to us for a deeper conversation about these issues.