The 2020 Ivory Prize Winners
Symbium, a California-based software company, makes complex planning regulations more understandable for homeowners and municipalities through applications like “Build,” which helps California homeowners identify what types of ADUs are allowed on their property. Credit: Symbium Corp.
The Ivory Prize recognizes and provides material support to "ambitious, feasible, and scalable solutions to housing affordability." Presented annually by Ivory Innovations, an academic center at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, the award recognizes innovative technologies and strategies that increase housing affordability.
The Ivory Prize categories for 2020 were Finance, Policy and Regulatory Reform, Construction and Design, and Public Sector Outstanding Achievement, recognizing 5 winners and 15 finalists. The five winners and selected finalists participated in panels hosted by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. This year’s winners have expanded affordability through innovative ideas that include using a form of security deposit insurance to replace traditional security deposits, making it easy for homeowners to interpret zoning requirements, and reducing costs through offsite construction strategies. Ivory Innovations will add two new Ivory Prize categories in 2021, for COVID-19 and Racial Inequality issues, marking the tumultuous and consequential events that arose in mid-2020.
Rhino, a New York City financing startup, won the 2020 Ivory Award for Finance. Rhino promotes rental “insurance” policies as a replacement for traditional security deposits. Traditional security deposits remain in a bank account without accumulating interest, with little benefit to the landlord or the tenant. Many tenants find that coming up with the typical security deposit payment of one month’s rent in addition to the first month’s rent is a barrier to attaining a unit. Rhino hopes to address this problem by offering inexpensive insurance plans that protect both the landlord and the tenant in case of emergency. Rhino serves as an agent that creates plans for renters and landlords and partners with property management companies. Under a Rhino insurance plan, renters pay $15 per month as insurance against damage to their rental unit, which goes into an account that accrues interest for the renter. Renters, in turn, can use this money to cover unexpected expenses such as unemployment or medical bills.
Policy and Regulatory Reform
The 2020 Ivory Prize winner in the Policy and Regulatory Reform category was Symbium, a San Francisco-based startup hoping to ease the housing affordability crisis for homeowners and municipalities by simplifying and clarifying confusing planning and zoning regulations. One practical way Symbium does this is through Build, its software for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Build helps Californians understand what type of ADUs their local zoning regulations allow them to build on their property as well as help them design the ADU itself. Symbium also hopes to help municipalities with its new Build+ software, which allows governments and businesses to "plan out” zoning regulations and rules on an electronic map.
Construction and Design
The Construction & Design winner is Entekra, a manufacturing company with offices in California and Ireland, and its Fully Integrated Offsite Solutions® (FIOSS®) concept, which uses offsite construction methods and strategies to reduce onsite construction time and labor. The FIOSS process completes much of the construction work, including preconstruction work, design, and engineering, entirely offsite at Entekra's offices. Entekra then delivers its products to the construction site, leaving the onsite assembly, detailing, and finishing for the onsite construction team, speeding and simplifying the building process.
Public Sector Outstanding Achievement
There were two recipients in the Public Sector category. The first, 1,000 Friends of Oregon, championed that state’s passage of House Bill 2001 in 2019. House Bill 2001 expands the number of housing typologies and choices in Oregon’s mid-sized cities by allowing multiplex development in areas zoned for single-family homes. In addition, municipalities in the Portland metropolitan area must permit nontraditional housing types such as multiplexes, cottage clusters, and townhomes.
A coalition of grassroots and nonprofit organizations headed by 1,000 Friends of Oregon mobilized quickly in support of House Bill 2001. Through networks established over years of cooperation, these affordable housing advocates, environmental groups, and municipal entities demonstrated the need for better housing regulation in Oregon cities, winning over hesitant homeowners and lawmakers.
The second recipient in the Public Sector category was the city of Minneapolis; specifically, its Minneapolis 2040 Plan, which will gradually "upzone" the city’s planning and zoning codes. Upzoning is a planning methodology that increases the number of housing units by allowing the construction of taller and denser building types. Minneapolis’ 2040 Plan received national attention when the city first implemented it in December 2018.
Finding Solutions for Now and the Future
The Ivory Prize recognizes some of the housing industry’s most creative and inventive ideas. Although the housing industry ended up looking much different than most people expected in January 2020, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, industry professionals rallied and generated new ideas during an unprecedented time. The Ivory Prize highlighted leaders and companies who are meeting these ever-changing challenges in groundbreaking, innovative ways.
Ivory Innovations. n.d. “The Ivory Prize.” Accessed 20 January 2021; Ivory Innovations. n.d. “About Us.” Accessed 20 January 2021; Ivory Innovations. 2020. “Ivory Prize 2020 Winner Announcement Livestream.” Accessed 11 February 2021.×
Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley. 2021. “Past Event: Symposium on Innovations for Housing Affordability.” Accessed 20 January 2021; Ivory Innovations. n.d. “Areas of Focus.” Accessed 20 January 2021.×
Luis Ferré-Sadurní. 2019. “What if You Could Rent an Apartment Without a Security Deposit?” The New York Times, 2 October. Accessed 20 January 2021; Jordan Crook. 2019. “Rhino Looks To Replace Renters’ Security Deposits With a Small Monthly Fee.” TechCrunch, 1 October. Accessed 4 February 2021.×
Symbium. n.d. “Symbium.com.” Accessed 20 January 2021; Andrew Westrope. 2020. “Symbium Opens Service for Analyzing Zoning, Building Codes,” Government Technology, 3 March. Accessed 22 January 2021; Symbium. n.d. “Symbium Build+.” Accessed 22 January 2021.×
1000 Friends of Oregon. n.d. “1,000 Friends of Oregon” (Home page). Accessed 22 January 2021; State of Oregon. n.d. “Housing Choices (House Bill 2001).” Accessed 22 January 2021; Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. n.d. “House Bill 2001: More Housing Choices for Oregonians.” Accessed 22 January 2021.×
Michael Andersen. 2019. “Here’s How Oregon’s New Bill to Re-Legalize ‘Missing Middle’ Homes Statewide,” Sightline Institute, 10 January. Accessed 22 January 2021; Ivory Innovations. 2021. “Terner Center Symposium on Innovations for Housing Affordability,” YouTube video, 19 January. Accessed 4 February 2021.×
City of Minneapolis. n.d. “Welcome to Minneapolis 2040: The City's Comprehensive Plan.” Accessed 22 January 2021; Diana Budds. 2020. “Will Upzoning Neighborhoods Make Homes More Affordable?” Curbed, 30 January. Accessed 22 January 2021; Miguel Otárola. 2018. “Minneapolis City Council approves 2040 comprehensive plan on 12-1 vote.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7 December. Accessed 22 January 2021; Patrick Sisson. 2018. “Can Minneapolis’s Radical Rezoning Be a National Model?” Curbed, 27 November. Accessed 22 January 2021.×