March 28, 2019

How Can People-Oriented Design Become the Norm in Affordable Housing Development?

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A complex mix of barriers can stand in the way of even the best ideas for affordable housing design and development. Our research and experience have taught us that improving affordable housing design does not rely solely on better designers or design principles—though both are essential—but also on the tenacious leadership and skill of developers who understand the complex affordable housing eco-system. 

After nine years of organizing the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute (AHDLI) and extensive interviews with people across the field, we’ve learned what tools can help developers usher good design through the process.

To equip developers to make sustainable, resilient, equitable and community-focused developments the norm in affordable housing—no matter how tight the budget or timeline—we’ve launched Design Matters

We know well-designed, affordable homes can provide a foundation for improved health and reduced environmental impact while strengthening community and connections to opportunity. However, without the right tools, quality design can quickly become an add-on item, relegated to the bottom of the agenda.

But design doesn’t have to be at odds with the development process. 

Over the past nine years, AHDLI has brought together the nation’s top development and design talent to tackle real affordable housing challenges and train developers to deliver more value to their residents and further their missions through thoughtful design. 

Red Dawn Foster, a 2018 participant in AHDLI shared, “It’s much bigger than affordable housing—it’s about improving the quality of life. Participating in AHDLI and using these tools helped to apply language to the instincts that I already had. I can now really communicate our vision. Now we are looking for the right design team that can really communicate our vision.”

Now, as AHDLI enters its 10th year, Enterprise is launching Design Matters to extend the curriculum of AHDLI across the affordable housing field, equipping developers everywhere to build thoughtful design into any budget. 

The toolkit provides research-driven insight into the value of good design, and offers developers flexible resources that can be adapted to housing developments of any scale or context. Through videos, case studies, templates, and interactive worksheets—all based on the core learnings of AHDLI and the experience of dozens of developers—Design Matters will help developers strike an artful balance between budget and big picture and powerfully advocate for better outcomes through the development process. 

Developers have a major part to play in achieving impactful, community-oriented designs despite complex policy, construction, and finance constraints. People-focused affordable housing developments start with design. Design Matters aims to provide the tools to shape this next generation of affordable housing. With Design Matters, we can make best practice common practice.

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