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Information for PHAs

Introduction and Background

The Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition is an exciting initiative from HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R). Now entering its eighth year, the competition invites teams of graduate students from multiple disciplines to submit plans in response to a real life affordable housing design issue.

The goals of the competition are:

  • To encourage research and innovation in affordable housing that strengthens the quality of life, social and physical fabric of low- and moderate-income communities and neighborhoods.
  • To increase practitioner capacity to produce more livable and sustainable housing for low- and moderate-income communities through best practices in building design and construction.
  • To foster cross-cutting teamwork within the design and community development process.

After the submission of initial applications, a jury of five industry representatives will select the student team finalists. These finalists, comprised of four teams, will visit the site of the affordable housing design and planning project they are addressing, and further refine their applications. Several weeks after the site visit, all jurors and finalists will travel to Washington, D.C. for the final competition event at HUD Headquarters. At this event, finalist teams will present their revised project solutions in front of the jury and an audience. Following the presentations, the jury will deliberate and select the winners and runners-up. The winning team will receive $20,000, the runner up team will receive $10,000, and the remaining two teams will receive $5,000 each. If pandemic conditions are unsafe for travel, a virtual final competition event will be held.

PHA Involvement

PD&R will work with a PHA that owns and operates a site that is designated for the student teams. PD&R will work with the PHA to develop the necessary project briefing materials, including a comprehensive problem statement, background information on the project, community information, and relevant existing design proposals. The PHA will also help facilitate a site visit with the student finalist teams. All expenses will be covered by PD&R, but the PHA will need to have some staff time available to host the event. If pandemic conditions are unsafe for travel, a virtual site tour will be organized in place of an in-person site visit.

PHA staff will be invited to the final competition event at HUD Headquarters. PD&R and the PHA partner will sign a Memorandum of Understanding outlining all responsibilities of each party.

PHA Benefits and Criteria

  • The PHA will not receive any financial compensation for their participation. While there is no guarantee that the PHA will receive implementable ideas, it is anticipated that the PHA will receive some useful and innovative plans.
  • The PHA shall be located within driving distance to a major airport to accommodate site visit travel.
  • The PHA shall include a description of the physical site. The site can be a currently vacant parcel requiring new construction, or an existing housing development in need of infill, renovation, or expansion to achieve stated community goals.
  • The PHA shall provide HUD with sufficient written background information to provide students with adequate information for producing their initial site plans. Photos and site maps are strongly preferred, as they would facilitate the planning process.
  • The PHA shall provide a clear problem statement to PD&R to ensure the students’ full understanding of the issues that need to be resolved.
  • The PHA must define a goal for a project that aligns with the Department’s mission.
  • The PHA must have staff time available and sufficient capacity to answer questions about the site development and to help facilitate the student visit to the site.
  • If pandemic conditions are unsafe for travel, a virtual site tour will be organized in place of an in-person site visit. The PHA must have staff available to help facilitate a virtual site visit.


Outreach to graduate schools and creation of the design issue and competition materials will take place in October, and the competition will officially launch in early November 2020.

PD&R expects to have a PHA on board by early October 2020. The site visit will occur in early March 2021, and the final competition event at HUD will be held in mid-April 2020. If pandemic conditions are unsafe for travel for either the site visit and/or the final event, a virtual site tour and/or final event will be organized in place of in-person events.

PHA registration will open Thursday, October 8th, 2020 at noon ET.
Registration for PHAs will close on Friday, October 16, 2020 at noon ET.

To apply to host the 2021 competition, please send an email to IAH@huduser.gov and respond to the following:

  1. Are you planning to address an affordable housing challenge using a new or existing project?
  2. Is your housing authority accessible to an airport? Where is the closest airport?
  3. Provide any preliminary details about the site (new or existing construction, acreage, what you anticipate to be the student challenge).
  4. Provide illustrations of the plot of land (for new projects) or photos of the existing project to be used.
  5. Provide an annual report or some other demographic information about the community and surrounding area, and any other supporting documentation for review.
  6. Provide contact information for someone that can provide further information, if needed.

Please note: The selected housing authority will be asked to provide a PHA employee (e.g., Executive Director, Deputy Director, etc.) or recommend a member of the community that works with the PHA to provide affordable housing and/or on affordable housing issues (e.g., developer, city counselor, county commissioner, etc.) to serve as a competition juror.

Webinar Information

Informational Webinar for Public Housing Authorities