The affordable housing crisis in the United States is affecting more people than you might think.
For many Americans, across many income spectrums, a modest apartment is a cost burden and out of reach. There are multiple factors that have contributed to this affordability crisis. Wages have not kept up with rents, fiscal policy has favored homeowners, cars and transport are expensive and take up valuable real estate space and then there’s the rising cost of building affordable housing.
Experiments are being conducted to grapple with this problem in cities around the globe. Berlin is freezing rents, Minneapolis is working towards more affordable housing through updated zoning regulations, New York wants to produce quality affordable housing through careful design, California has passed a law permitting the construction of ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units ) and many cities, including San Francisco, Boston and Milwaukee, are recapturing highways to provide more land for housing close in. All of this is leading to affordable housing innovation.
Entrepreneurs are working hard to make a difference too. Thibault Manekin founded Seawall Development, a real estate development company, focused on a particular housing niche – affordable housing for teachers. Seawall’s first project, the $20 million Center for Educational Excellence, is an adaptive reuse of a 100,000 square foot vacant factory building. In its reimagined form, the building houses 40 apartments for teachers along with 30,000 square feet of collaborative office space for a variety of non-profits that underpin the success of the school system. Seawall approached the development process collaboratively. They saw this as an opportunity to listen to educators and provide them with affordable, well located housing, shared with like-minded people. And bringing them together with education focused non-profits allowed for further collaboration and sharing of resources. The teachers provided design input for their apartments, chose the amenities for the shared resource center and even chose their own rents based on salaries.
“Everything that we’ve ever done has been built inside out” says Thibault “And what we mean by that is that we start with the end users, the people that are going to be living and working in our buildings. It’s important for us that they have a sense of pride, of authorship and ownership in what’s being created.”
Listen to my interview with Thibault to hear more about Seawall Development’s unusual and wholistic approach to real estate development.
Union Craft Brewing, Baltimore, courtesy of Seawall Development.