The most important houses being built in America right now are affordable houses.

Jonathan Tate, principal at the New Orleans design firm Office of Jonathan Tate, launched the Starter Home program to build middle-class homes in increasingly expensive parts of the city. One single-family home by the firm is part of a duo that riffs on traditional New Orleans shotgun houses.

Whenever we decide to cover a house, we ask a question: Does this home present a new idea about how design can improve someone’s life in a way that transcends its specific circumstance? From the most cleverly constructed tiny home to a brilliantly reconceived interior to an architecturally daring structure, the houses we cover and the people whose stories we tell present design ideas that are relevant at any scale or on any budget.

But when we started planning our annual Made in America series of stories, we decided that the most important homes being made here right now are affordable homes. Even before the pandemic, 38 million households in the United States—nearly one in three—spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs (a common benchmark for affordability), and the number of people without housing of any kind had been growing in cities across the country. Now, the economic fallout from Covid-19 could leave millions facing eviction in just a few months. Add to that the people displaced by storms, wildfires, and other climate change–related disasters, and you have an unprecedented housing crisis.

“Instead of trying to compete with the developer/builder types with capital and resources, we looked for opportunities that were cheap and economical,” says New Orleans architect Jonathan Tate.

Photo by William Crocker

Rather than dwelling on the many causes that brought us here—from the commodification of housing in the 20th century to deepening income inequality now—we decided instead to focus on solutions.

We’re telling the stories of architects, developers, policymakers, and activists fighting to provide people with homes. In “How to Build an Affordable America,” we look at multiple approaches to creating homes for everyone from the most vulnerable populations to essential workers to the middle class. 

One of four sited in South Los Angeles, a starter home designed by Lehrer Architects and constructed for roughly $200,000 occupies an infill lot provided by the city.

One of four sited in South Los Angeles, a starter home designed by Lehrer Architects and constructed for roughly $200,000 occupies an infill lot provided by the city. 

Photo by Farhad Samari

Focusing on the latter, New Orleans architect Jonathan Tate has turned overlooked lots into homes for middle-class buyers increasingly priced out of the city. In Los Angeles, Michael Lehrer and his team have managed to build a series of starter homes for less than $200,000 in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.

On the policy front, former Denver city councilmember Albus Brooks advocates for higher-density development across all price ranges and equity reviews for pandemic recovery efforts. We also speak with people calling for revisiting the long-discarded idea of federally built public housing, including architect and former New York City planning commissioner Vishaan Chakrabarti and U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who last year introduced the Homes for All Act, which proposes the construction of 12 million new units in the next decade.

Made in America: J.D. Harrison of CR8 Design Studios in his South Carolina workshop.

Made in America: J.D. Harrison of CR8 Design Studios in his South Carolina workshop.

Photo by Mike Belleme

See the full story on Dwell.com: Affording America: The Right to a Home
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