Who would like to live in those stacked up boxes that pass as apartment buildings that we often see in heavily populated countries overseas?
That could be Australia in the future if we are not careful.
With little motivation from planning authorities, and with developers pumping out boxes-to-live-in solutions, home buyers and renters can find themselves with only low-quality options.
Some developers and designers are working to improve the situation as we have seen with organizations like Nightingale Housing and other overseas organizations. There is a groundswell happening but progress seems slow.
These organizations are passionate about the need for quality affordable housing which is part of the mix necessary for a healthy modern society.
One Australian architect is working to find innovative solutions to affordable housing. Mark Wilson of Architects Black and Wilson in Brisbane has initiated an innovative system he calls Flex-Y-Home based on unit number flexibility within a single house.
At the heart of this concept is simplicity, good design for small unit living, and providing the flexibility for changing family needs over multiple generations.
Mark starts with a 6-bedroom home on a small block of land of 400 square meters. The home would need to be of simple, economic but durable construction, after all, it needs to be affordable. In this case, its affordability is supported by its ability to generate income.
Each of the 6 bedrooms need to have their own or shared small ensuite, laundry, sitting/dining area, the arrangement depending on what the market would accept. Quality design of small spaces is a critical ingredient in keeping this both affordable and livable.
The new owner of this home ideally would be a young couple without children, new to home ownership. As they are a family of only two, they can select a small portion of the home for themselves, and close it off to make the remainder of the house a separate rentable unit, or several smaller rentable units. The rent then helps pay off the mortgage.
As their family grows and the mortgage is paid off gradually, portions of the rentable parts of the house could be made available to the growing family as needed. This goes on over the years and eventually the couple, now grandparents are able to reclaim a small portion of the house for themselves. This is a very flexible system.
The challenge of this system, like any affordable housing, lies in the economics of it. This may be helped by partnering with building product manufacturers to provide materials at cost, to be paid in full as sales or rental income happens.
Other affordability solutions could be; dividing the house not into 6 units but fewer but slightly larger units which would lower costs and more could be charged for each rental. Also, rough-ins of services for the kitchenettes and laundries could be done at the start, with these facilities fitted-out as required. If this system is part of a bigger enterprise covering a larger geographical area, under managerial control, the components of the kitchenette and laundry facilities could be designed to be interchangeable and relocated where they were required.
The other ingredient to obtaining affordability is to put this sort of concept into a multi residential system which means each unit requires a smaller portion of land, and infrastructure is shared.
An obvious arrangement would be to have a number of one bed units side by side, the linear configuration running east-west so each unit has north orientation, and the development is one unit thick to enable internal cross-ventilation. The development would be 3 levels with a ground level carpark and two levels of walk-up units above that, all levels separated by a fire rated floor. A small lift would give access to persons with a disability and each unit would have a fully compliant accessible shower and WC. Each single unit would have the space underneath for 2 cars, providing car accommodation for the two units (over two levels) directly above.
Two side-by-side units could be interconnected by a double-layer fire door (enabling 2-way access if the two units are shared) and a buyer could own two of these side-by-side units and rent out the other second one-bed unit until it was needed for children in the future.
In this case, the second unit could then in the future have the kitchen removed and another bedroom easily built in its place, meaning the combined units would have 3 bedrooms. A fourth bedroom could also be easily be built over half of the living area of this second unit, providing 4 bedrooms.
There are solutions available. They just need to add up financially and that is where a lot of the entrepreneurial innovation is needed. Local authorities would also need to be open to innovative design.
Innovation is the name of the game with housing affordability. The entrepreneurial spirit will always find a way if the need is great enough and there is willingness to take some reasonable risks.