Affordable Solutions to Inner-City Housing Woes

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Engaging examples of manufactured homes have popped up on previously abandoned sites in five urban communities thanks to a forward-thinking programmed called the Urban Design Demonstration Design Program, sponsored by the Manufactured Housing Institute...

January 01, 2000

Engaging examples of manufactured homes have "popped up" on previously abandoned sites in five urban communities thanks to a forward-thinking program called The Urban Design Demonstration Project, sponsored by the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), the industry’s Arlington, Va.-based trade association. The overwhelming acceptance of these homes by the community at large has led to spin-off projects in other U.S. cities.

These new kids on the block are prompting city officials, community groups and developers alike, to take a closer look at this type of housing as a practical means of providing desirable much needed, single-family housing for inner city residents-at a reasonable price.

Professional Builder magazine awards the Manufactured Housing Institute its Professional Achievement Award for leadership in demonstrating that manufactured housing is a practical source of affordable housing for today’s inner city residents-giving home ownership a boost where it’s needed most.

Launched in 1998, MHI’s Urban Design Demonstration Project selected five U.S. cities to feature manufactured homes designed and built with the purpose of introducing the concept to local residents, as well as developers, lenders, regulators and funding agencies who typically build and finance city housing. They were Wilkinsburg, Pa.; Washington, D.C.; Louisville, Ky.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Milwaukee. In each case, little or no government subsidy was used to demonstrate the affordability of this type of housing.

Today’s manufactured home is a high-quality, strictly regulated product that must adhere to a HUD-administered federal building code that sets standards for design and construction, strength and durability, transportability, fire resistance, energy efficiency, quality and performance.
MHI contracted with Susan Maxman Architects, Philadelphia to develop a portfolio of home designs to be used in the demonstration cities. A wish list of desirable features, obtained from focus groups held in each target community provided the designers with a clear idea of what each community wanted in style and amenities.

The one- and two-story homes spotlighted by Urban Design Demonstration Project feature large front porches, dramatic roof pitches, volume ceilings and in one case, a full basement. A variety of exterior finish materials allow each home to blend in well with its existing neighborhood.

"There are thousands upon thousands of vacant lots in urban areas today," says MHI President Chris Stinebert. "Historically, it has been difficult to get site-builders interested in them. Our goal with the Urban Design Demonstration Project was to show that this type of housing offers a viable option for inner city residential development."

Built entirely in a factory under controlled conditions, manufactured homes arrive on site in nearly move-in condition with doors and windows in place. They can be locked almost immediately, thereby eliminating theft of materials.

The key objective for the Urban Design Project, according to Stinebert, was to present the public with examples of manufactured homes that were not only architecturally compatible with their surroundings, but were also priced at or below prevailing market prices for their neighborhood.

The Urban Design Demonstration Project also addressed the necessity of reevaluating outdated, discriminatory zoning policies that restrict the use of manufactured housing in urban areas. And, most important, according to Stinebert, are the lessons to be learned from the Urban Design Demonstration Project. MHI has joined together with HUD to develop a set of informational guidelines to assist future developers.

"We hope to offer a road map that others can benefit from," says Stinebert.

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