It’s never been so easy to find great examples of urban infill housing projects.
All across America, new homes, multifamily developments, and mixed-use projects are breathing new life in underutilized and abandoned urban spaces. Today, scores of millennials and others favor the car-free conveniences of a walkable, sustainable urban lifestyle … provided affordable housing is available.
That final caveat is often the operating challenge for urban planners. How do you revitalize city neighborhoods with infill housing projects that meet code requirements and generate the kind of profit that attracts developer dollars?
Two Infill Perspectives
David Neiman, AIA, principal at Seattle-based Neiman Taber Architects, specializes in designing affordable housing in “the little leftover spaces that are difficult to develop using conventional models.” One unconventional model is congregate housing. Congregate housing is a stylish next-generation update of rooming houses, boarding houses, dormitories, and single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels. The two-year-old Yobi Apartment, an infill project in Seattle’s fashionable Capitol Hill district, illustrates the approach.
“The Yobi Apartment is a four-story, 14,000-square-foot building with 45 micro apartment units. The units range from 147 to 288 square feet,” Neiman says. Average rent for a studio in the area ranges from $1,400 to $1,800 a month. Congregate housing units rent for about $1,000 a month.
“One of the keys to making microhousing work is simplicity. You want to build them simply and efficiently, and that’s all about wood construction. Light frame wood construction is the way to do these projects,” Neiman explains.
Neiman also likes the thermal properties of wood. “Wood makes it much easier to build an efficient envelope,” he says. Based on energy use per person, the Yobi is 70 percent more energy efficient than conventional housing, according to Neiman.
For Jason R. Shepard, AIA, a principal and director of multifamily housing at Atlanta-based Dwell Design Studio, the goal is similar but the approach is different.
“I always ask about rent structure first,” says the CEO and creative director, a multifamily and mixed-use development specialist. About 60 to 70 percent of their work is infill driven, Shepard says.
“Most of our developers prefer to work with wood. A lot of our projects are five stories of wood frame over two levels of concrete podium,” Shepard says. “Most jurisdictions want retail services at ground level. Podium design supports that. We’re starting to see more wood frame wrap projects. We just finished one in Nashville and are working on ones in Charlotte and Savannah now. The wood wrap achieves more density, minimizes construction costs, and helps offset land costs.”
For Shepard, the development economics of wood are compelling, especially when the rent structure pencils-out to a mid-rise project. “Wood frame has very few limitations,” he says. “Anytime you can build with wood, you should. It’s a cost effective means for building infill projects.”
To learn more about maximizing density using wood-frame construction, visit here.