Solutions to North Texas Affordable Housing Crisis, Pt 3

 We need solutions to the North Texas housing crisis before it’s too late

We need solutions to the North Texas housing crisis before it’s too late

In Part I we learned that there is a Housing Crisis in North Texas

In Part II we learned that New Construction Not Helping Housing Crisis in North Texas

In Part III we learned about the first-hand Struggles of Finding a Home in North Texas

Now let’s talk about solutions to this crisis.  Notice I said “solutions” with an “s” because there isn’t just one fail-safe, simple way that this housing crisis will be solved.  It’s going to take many different methods and changes to see real improvement.

 

Expect & Accept Change

As I’m finishing this article I’m listening on the TV about all the devastation that Hurricane Harvey has caused in Texas.  If you think new construction in the D/FW Metroplex has become expensive, cumbersome and lacking in quality lately, just wait until builders, contractors, suppliers, materials, and labor flock to the Houston area.

However, this could be a tremendous opportunity to open our eyes to new forms of home building.

Modular home construction can be part of the solution.  (No, no, no … I’m not talking about mobile homes or trailer parks, so just get that out of your mind right now.)  I’m talking about well-built homes that are created in a controlled environment that provide all solutions and benefits of site construction but at a much faster time frame, more supervision, and quality checks for a greatly reduced price vs. site built new construction.

 

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, said Albert Einstein. This is the home building industry of today

We have to change our mindset when it comes to homes and construction.  Change has to take place and we have to accept that.  No one likes change, but doing things the way they currently are in new home construction is just the epitome of insanity.

Don’t Think Like a Texan

Texans love their beer, BBQ, guns, and land … nothing wrong with that, but not everyone needs land.  Where in the Texas constitution (and its million amendments) does it say it’s the right of every Texan to have 6,500 square feet of property (or more)?

We need to get past the mentality that every home needs a large yard.  Sure there can be some yard, but on average, the typical tract home offers more than 30 feet of yard space, and that’s not including the 20- to 30-foot front building line setback.

If it were allowed, having homes with reduced front setback and smaller backyards could help create a more affordable property.  This happens in other areas of the United States and around the world.  It’s not a new concept, but it’s a concept that needs to be implemented in Texas.

Land is at an all-time high price point right now.  Density needs to be increased in order for developers to make their deserved margins.  By reducing the size of the homesite, density can be increased, the lot basis of the home will be reduced and home prices would decrease.  Parks and community areas for playgrounds, walking trails and neighborhood activities could be created to offset the reduced sizes of the individual yards.

If real change is going to occur and solutions are going to be possible then we have to change the mentality that every home needs a big yard.

Blight Busting Solutions

“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.”  

Agent Smith, The Matrix

There is a lot of truth in that.  We all know it.  We all pass by it every single day.  It’s urban blight.

Developers go into areas and build these “big box” shopping centers and strip malls and massive impermeable parking surfaces.  Residents in the area are excited because a new store is going to be three minutes closer than the older store that sells the same thing.

After a few years, the parking lot needs repairing, the stores are out of business and there is another area three minutes away that has better stores.  Now all that’s left is an abandoned shopping mall or strip mall or grocery store left to rot.

I say, bust the blight!

Sure it takes money and creativity, but re-purposing areas of D/FW that are abandoned and left to rot could be a fantastic opportunity to build a new community of homes.

 

Soon grocery stores and large parking surfaces will be obsolete – one of many solutions could be to use blighted areas for urban residential that is affordable?

With Amazon breaking into the grocery delivery business, how many large grocery stores are going to sit vacant?  Those large buildings and parking surfaces would be a perfect spot for urban housing.

Hopefully we aren’t the “virus” that Agent Smith called us.

Go Small … Not Tiny

We’ve seen the shows, and we’ve imagined what living in a 300-square-foot home would be like.  While it might seem cute and fun, I’m skeptical that the Tiny House Movement is truly sustainable.

Do people really think they are going to live happily ever after in a home the size of a trailer?  I’d wager that in five-to-ten years we’re going to hear the stories of tiny house failures.

 

However, there are solutions to glean from this movement.  One is realization that we don’t need large spaces in which to live.  Another is that smaller homes can still be packed with many amenities.  The epiphany that many are having about the benefits of downsizing can greatly impact the North Texas housing crisis.

One solution to the housing crisis would be to create an affordable product under 1,000 square feet.  If a builder could produce a line of homes 700 feet to 1,000 square feet for under $250,000, it would go like gangbusters.

Young professionals and empty-nesters don’t always need three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a study in 1,500 square feet.  It’s not always necessary to have a private master bathroom, guest bedroom, attached garage or formal dining area.

We need builders to get creative with floor plans and materials to be able to provide a quality, smaller home that isn’t just a bunch of wasted space and added costs.

What we learn from the tiny house era is that we really don’t need a bunch of extra space.  If we have more space we will just fill it with more stuff.

Shake Up City Hall

Herein lies the biggest hindrance to creative affordable housing of all.  The bureaucracy and idiocracy of stubborn municipalities with antiquated zoning laws and restrictions, impact fees, and outdated mandates that are absolutely killing progressive solutions and ways to increase urban density while keeping home prices affordable.

 

Local municipalities in D/FW need to stop being the problem and start being part of the solution when it comes to innovation and housing.

I’m calling you out, D/FW mayors, city councils, zoning boards, and anyone standing in the way.  Shame on you all for being more concerned with keeping your jobs and positions rather than being willing to be progressive and innovative when it comes to affordable housing.

You are all on notice!  Get on board with change and new ways of thinking or get out of the way.

Public Transit

Wherever these new affordable homes are going to be built they have to, have to, have to have access to quality public transit or it won’t work.  These new communities are going to be for everyone — Millennials, young families that don’t want to be in the ‘burbs, empty-nesters — and not everyone will want to have their own vehicle.

 

Location and access are so important to making this new concept in homes and neighborhoods a success.

Where To Start With Solutions

No one said revolutionizing the affordable home market was going to be easy. So where do we start?

While researching for this article I came across so many innovative companies.

  • Blokable: think Legos of home building
  • Kasita: more in Tiny Home vein but really exciting what they’re doing in Austin
  • ExpressModular: very stylish designs for fraction of site-built construction

Okay, I’ve thrown some solutions out there.  What do you think?  It’s a daunting task isn’t it?  No one said it would be easy … but it is necessary.

When sharing my ideas with other solution-hungry developers and builders, I always get the same push back.  “It’s too hard dealing with City Hall.”  “No one is going to want to lead this initiative.”  “It’s easier doing the status quo.”

It’s happening — just today it was announced that Berkshire Hathaway’s Clayton Homes purchased Oakwood Homes, Colorado’s largest privately held home builder, and their 18,000 homesites.  The modular home construction revolution is beginning.

I would love to see an ambitious developer in the D/FW area to take a chance.  Start with a development with minimal yard sizes, a large neighborhood park, home sizes from 700 to 1,500 square-feet, no attached garages, innovative floor plans, designs and materials.  Increase density while not creating an apartment complex. Create access to public transit, walking trails, shops, entertainment and other points of interest so that the development is attractive to everyone.

Can it be done?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Inevitably all affordable homes increase in value and soon become un-affordable to many in the market.