- Form Follows Families: Evolution of U.S. Affordable Housing Design and Construction
- Volume 16, Number 2
- Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
- Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga
The Value of Incremental Development and Design in Affordable Housing
University of California, Los Angeles
This article criticizes the overwhelming emphasis in the United States on financial approaches in expanding access to homeownership, and it suggests that the focus detracts from a serious consideration of the role of design in making housing affordable. The article also suggests that modest designs that facilitate and allow for progressive expansion and improvement over time have an important role in affordable housing. Although most observers do not think of incremental development in the context of the United States, I illustrate that it is more common than the conventional wisdom suggests. I focus specifically on a U.S. Department of Agriculture-financed program of affordable housing through mutual self-help and incremental development. I show that in the past two decades the program has moved away from its initial focus on modest designs that were ideal for incremental expansion. Consequently, the initial cost of housing has increased, and the program’s ability to target very low-income households has decreased. I discuss opportunities for design-based strategies in improving housing affordability, but I also caution against some emerging directions in design-based thinking.
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