Archive: affordable housing

September 25th, 2008 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Business & Economy | 1 Comment

Future of Never Sold Housing and some underlying dynamics behind the financial crisis

It looks now, about mid-day Pacific time on September 25 that a deal is either concluded or nearly so for Washington DC to provide the $700 billion or more in relief that Wall Street apparently needs to sustain liquidity and keep the economy going. Arguments still rage about whether this is a good idea, a bail out or not a bail out, just a downpayment on a much large sum, or indeed whether a crisis is imminent. No matter. The deal is nearly done.

What might be useful is to examine for a moment one of the most significant of the underlying dynamics of the housing market in the U.S., dynamics that will not be changed in the least by this deal. The dynamic is the mismatch between the homes that are built and the ability of people to actually afford them.

Consider the following three stories. A couple of weeks ago I was in Bend, Oregon to deliver a keynote speech as a futurist speaker to the Oregon Bar Association. While in Bend, I noted in the local paper the Bend Bulletin a headline, “Homeless student numbers increase.” (Sep. 11, 2008, page C1, online only by subscription) It turns out that in Oregon there were 15,859 homeless public school students in 2007-2008, and the number will be up this year. Over the past five years the state has seen a 93% increase in homeless students. They live in cars, outdoors, in motels, or shelters, for the most part.

It is obvious why this would be happening, but startling none-the-less. The second story appeared in the Seattle papers, regarding a new homeless tent encampment called by its organizers “Nicklesville” after the Seattle mayor. It should be noted that this is an unfair slam on Mayor Nickles, as Seattle is fairly attentive to the homeless problem, though overwhelmed by it. Here is a photo from the encampment’s website (yes, homeless encampments have websites these days).

Nicklesville homeless encampment in Seattle

Obviously the camp is a play on the Hoovervilles of the depression. Their intent was indeed to evoke that memory, and to actually prepare for a larger need. Though Seattle and surrounding suburban towns actually support an official tent city, in this case the city of Seattle issued eviction notices yesterday, and the village is supposed to come down on Friday, September 26.

Finally, take a look at this house, for sale not far from where I live.

Never Sold House

This very nice house, which we have toured, went on sale about two years ago, at $899,950. Currently it is listed at $799,000. The developer-builder faithfully cuts the lawn, holds an open house (he acts as his own realtor) every other weekend or so, and still no buyer. Thus has been born a new category in real estate, the “Never Sold House,” a term I believe I first heard used by James Howard Kunstler. The house is 3200 square feet, large but not huge by modern standards, 4 bedrooms, lovely finish work.

In these three stories we see exhibited a powerful underlying dynamic which, if not changed, will continue to be a huge problem. We have lots and lots of people who need homes. And for years we have had, and continue to have builders and developers building homes which are mostly too large and too expensive for the vast majority of the population to buy. The creative financing of the past several years was not so much a way to help home buyers as it was a way to help developers clear too much inventory of too expensive homes. And it all came crashing down.

The countryside is dotted with Never Sold homes just like these. One study I saw suggest there may be a surplus of as many as 20 million of these homes in a decade and a half, homes too big and too expensive for a population that will not want them and does not need them.

This is a real problem for the future.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet TV show host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.

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August 19th, 2008 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Business & Economy, Environment & Energy | Comments Off

Future of Urban Living and Building – update

In a blog post last week we discussed an innovation in urban housing, and presented a video interview and tour. The full tour, in 4 video episodes, is now available.

The video series can also be seen at YouTube.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet TV show host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.

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August 12th, 2008 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Business & Economy, Environment & Energy | 2 Comments

Future of Sustainable Affordable Housing – A Prototype

The future of housing in the United States, and the world, is one of the most important issues we face. In the U.S. housing has been hit with a perfect storm:

1. Demographic changes including an older population, smaller households, and a younger population with differing values – all of which mean a mismatch between what is built, and what is needed in the future.
2. High energy costs, and a need to reduce the carbon footprint, which again means a mismatch between what is built and what is needed.
3. High income inequality, and lower relative incomes for most of the population – which again means a mismatch between what is built, and what is needed in the future.

On a global scale, some regions of the world face similar issues, while others simply face a need for more housing in the face of population growth.

Confronting these needs is an industry historically slow to innovate or change. It seems apparent that new models of smaller, more affordable, high-volume production housing is needed.

Recently we had a chance to tour a model of such new housing, which was on display in downtown Seattle. We visited and taped an interview as the demonstration ended a several month run.

In the video which you can see below, we learned about the prototypes built for the Unico Properties Inhabit project . The two units on display were designed by a team of architects from Hybrid Seattle Architects and Mithun Architects, also of Seattle. The prototypes were manufactured in a factory, and displayed in downtown Seattle. The design was inspired by the concept of using shipping containers, though the units are all original construction.

We talked with Tammie Schacher, AIA LEED AP, and Principle in Mithun. Tammie was a lead in this design project. Mithun is among the international leaders in sustainable urban design, both residential and commercial. The firm originally caught our eye at Futurist.com because of their involvement in a sustainable, affordable housing project in Seattle called Highpoint, and also because of an award winning concept they developed for vertical agriculture in central cities.

Tammie had a great story to tell about the entire Unico Inhabit project. The prototype you will see, by the way, was just fully permitted for a 66-unit development in Seattle to be built in the coming months. The video interview and tour comes in 4 parts…

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

The video series can also be seen at YouTube.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet TV show host and founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.

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