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Cityscape: Volume 16 Number 2 | Article 1


The goal of Cityscape is to bring high-quality original research on housing and community development issues to scholars, government officials, and practitioners. Cityscape is open to all relevant disciplines, including architecture, consumer research, demography, economics, engineering, ethnography, finance, geography, law, planning, political science, public policy, regional science, sociology, statistics, and urban studies.

Cityscape is published three times a year by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Form Follows Families: Evolution of U.S. Affordable Housing Design and Construction

Volume 16, Number 2

Mark D. Shroder

Michelle P. Matuga

The Value of Incremental Development and Design in Affordable Housing

Vinit Mukhija
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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