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Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues
News & Media
Dec 2, 2019

Investing in Affordable Housing: Emerging Housing Models

By Emily Arnold (BSBA ’20), Kenan Scholar

“You only see two types of housing developed now: single-family homes and mid-rise apartment buildings. Between these, we’re missing every housing arrangement that makes affordable housing work.”

So declared Aaron Lubeck, principal at University City, to kick off the “Emerging Models in Affordable Housing” breakout session at the Investing in Affordable Housing Symposium. The event was hosted by the Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies and the Kenan Scholars program on Nov. 22, 2019 at the Kenan Center in Chapel Hill. The symposium brought together people with a variety of experiences in affordable housing to learn about solutions for the future.

While many communities promote their inclusivity, single-family zoning laws and other policies frequently prevent people with lower incomes from moving into those communities. Parking mandates, density maximums, and minimum lot areas are just a few of the regulations that prevent affordable housing growth.

Lubeck said an area can only create enough affordable housing to serve all of its low-income population when its zoning laws allow it. In one week alone, he saw ten projects fall apart because of regulations buried deep in Durham’s housing codes. Until single-family zoning laws are eliminated, Lubeck said, cities will not be able to solve their affordable housing crises.

Derrick Barker, co-founder and managing director of Domos Co-Living, followed Lubeck with a presentation of his company’s co-living model. Domos works within zoning laws to create shared spaces and decrease rent for tenants. Barker said that, since 66 percent of renters have at least one roommate anyway, co-living is a natural extension.

“We provide the furniture, and people rent by the room. That’s why we can charge a lower price for rent,” said Barker.  He noted that, while this model is usually used for university apartments, it works just as well for the working population. His company imposes no income caps on renters, making it easy for anyone who can pay the rent to live in one of the company’s buildings.

After both panelists shared their information, symposium attendees had the chance to discuss other innovative housing solutions. One attendee mentioned the importance of livable design in affordable housing, especially for the elderly. Another spoke on the role of micro units in increasing housing supply. Others shared examples of projects that have created affordable housing from functionally obsolete real estate.

Both Lubeck and Barker promoted the idea that urbanism is meant to be inclusive, and that zoning laws should encourage that inclusivity. Although, said Lubeck, “the loss of exclusivity feels like persecution” to homeowners wary of new neighbors, creating a more economically diverse city benefits everyone.

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