Headlines Around the Upstate
Affordable Housing Doesn't Have to Look Affordable
Community development efforts throughout Greenville County have been heralded over the past 10 years for the vision, energy, collaboration and execution of well thought-out plans. Both the City of Greenville and Greenville County Redevelopment Authority implement the dual role of master-planning communities that need revitalization, and the execution of the plans through partnerships with area non-profit and community-minded for-profit developers and agencies.
Neighborhoods that were on the brink of extinction have been resurrected. The removal of blight, high crime areas and poor infrastructure start the process. The insertion of new housing, rehabilitation of existing housing and installation of street improvements continue the transformation. Finally adding sidewalks, green space and improved walk-ability recapture the neighborhood spirit that existed in years gone by.
Often times, strategies in other areas have forgotten an important element that Greenville is determined not to forget; the importance of good design and quality construction while maintaining affordability.
As President and CEO of Homes of Hope, I sum up the strategy like this, "we don't build affordable housing with cheap materials; we build it with cheap money". Since 1998 Homes of Hope, a Greenville, SC based non-profit organization, has developed more than 300 affordable homes for low-income families while also providing job training/mentoring for over 250 men overcoming addictions. Homes of Hope has largely used contractors for its new construction efforts who also build custom homes in the high-end market. This unique strategy has also become the norm for the other area non-profit housing providers such as—Genesis Homes, Allen Temple CEDC, Greenville Housing Futures and the Upstate Homeless Coalition.
The utilization of architectural firms largely known for their commercial developments and/or high-end residential homes has proven to be a key component in affordable housing development. These firms bring the creativity necessary for quality design and construction with limited financial resources and the mandate to keep the homes affordable for the traditionally low-income families in the targeted neighborhoods for revitalization.
John Edwards with Neal-Prince Architects has worked on several developments with Homes of Hope, most recently a mixed-income development called Chicora Crest. "In recent decades, the construction of affordable housing by infill of vacant lots and parcels within an existing neighborhood context has become a major component of community development activities. Until recently, this approach was often taken with little attention paid to design - thus often producing architectural results that were incompatible with the community it was intended to serve."
Edwards continues, "Homes of Hope's goal in producing the single-family dwellings at Chicora Crest was to not simply produce homes but to improve lives by reinforcing the architectural character of the culturally vibrant Haynie-Sirrine Neighborhood. Five key components of achieving this authentic compatibility were 1) designing to enhance the pedestrian orientation of the urban street grid; 2) maintaining the neighborhood's traditional building setbacks for porches and façade elements; 3) designing to compliment the geometry of the existing homes in the neighborhood and its surroundings; 4) detailing the homes in keeping with the surrounding predominant architectural styles and 5) maintaining a density equal to or slightly greater than the balance of the neighborhood."
He concludes, "Achieving these character defining qualities is important because, more than any other building type, dwellings possess the power to become mirrors of their occupants. Thus a home's physical character is inextricably linked to self-esteem and to community pride. It is important to avoid poorly designed affordable housing that will always be "affordable" simply because it is unattractive and thus undesirable. Therefore we collectively sought to build less expensively – but endeavored to do so without sacrificing good architecture and craftsmanship. Homes of Hope has helped Greenville to give hope to a community in need and has set the stage for neighborhood success instead of simply perpetually warehousing our low to low-moderate income citizens. Truly the unique partnerships between non-profit organizations, whose missions are to assist low-income communities and high-end builders and architects, have made Greenville stand out for its excellence in community development."
Joel Van Dyke with Freeman & Major Architects is also currently working with Homes of Hope on two developments that will incorporate LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) into affordable housing. He adds "There are many ways to define "affordability" in housing, but a definition that does not include the cost of ownership is deficient. Poor design and/or construction of the thermal envelope of the house are two key areas where the cost of ownership can be significantly impacted. "
Van Dyke continues, "Making homes affordable also extends to the design of the home. A well designed home should allow for changing life-styles and life needs by creating flexible space that can be used efficiently in various ways. Rooms should be able to easily "multi-task." Using the "left over" spaces like stair landings and hallways to also meet other functional needs helps to maximize the use of space. I often extend stair landings an additional 2 to 3 feet and create a built-in reading nook or study area."
He concludes, "A good building design is only effective if it is constructed properly in a manner that will prevent water intrusion into the building. Water intrusion and condensation inside the wall assembly can destroy a structure very quickly. Therefore, qualified, well trained craftsmen are essential to the long-term affordability equation."
The bar is set high in Greenville and the definition of success now includes the transformation of "special emphasis" neighborhoods into just "neighborhoods" again, like they were 40 years ago. The vision includes the "de-stigmatizing" of affordable housing and of the families that live in it. Side-by-side, housing would be simply smaller or larger, brick or vinyl, one or two story—and no longer will those who pass by be able to determine a family's income by the look of their home.
Design standards, energy efficiency standards, and quality construction techniques all combine with the power of the non-profit organizations to attract resources for affordability. Subsequently, this produces an affordable product that looks as good as the market-rate housing nearby, and hopefully, eventually, next door.
Don Oglesby is the President/CEO of Homes of Hope, a Greenville, SC based non-profit organization providing affordable housing for low-income families while also providing job training/mentoring for men overcoming addictions. He has resided in Greenville since 1989. Also an ordained minister, he earned his Master's Degree in Theology in 2000. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org