5 Takeaways from the Discussion on PLACE

What does a “sense of place” mean when it comes to communities?

“There is no there there,” wrote Gertrude Stein in her 1937 memoir Everybody’s Autobiography when talking about her former childhood home in Oakland, California. What makes a community have a “there” is connection, culture, vibrancy, human-scale design — a collection of sometimes hard-to-define attributes that create a neighborhood in which people want to live or work, raise a family, encourage others to live…

“Rancho Mission Viejo’s next phase is all about having a smaller, more compact home that is density driven. But in their master plan community they work hard to deliver a sense of place: They still run cattle on their land and have quite a roundup once a year for anybody who wants to sign up. To me this is placemaking — when you’re selling the idea of what your land is all about. Even with the smaller homes this is what you’re buying — a lifestyle and a vibe.” Scott Adams


From a builder’s or developer’s perspective it can be even more difficult to create that sense of place when it pertains to affordability and attainability. There are a lot of barriers to overcome: government regulations, zoning, NIMBYism, lack of leadership, density requirements. “There’s not one simple answer to solve these problems,” Vahe Avagyan, senior associate at RCLCO Real Estate Advisors, told the audience at the Housing Innovation Alliance’s recent Live Roundtable held in Denver. “To build attainable housing we need to address all of these issues.”

Rick Mandell explained that, “Attainability doesn’t mean the same thing in every market. It varies by MSA. Denver’s home prices are 78% higher than they were in 2007, while Orlando’s are just 2% higher.”  

Avagyan laid out the business case for building attainable housing. The goal, he said, is to chip away at the problems by focusing on the things that builders and developers can solve and not on the ones they can’t. “Lack of density, industry leadership, understanding what attainable housing actually means, and thinking of new ways to be efficient – these are things we can make headway on.”

Here are 5 takeaways from the discussion on PLACE: 

  1. According to analysis by George Casey, there’s the opportunity for an additional five million attainable homes over the next five years. The right product mix has yet to be determined, but the Housing Innovation Alliance believes this scale will satisfy new and pent up demand for better homes.
  2. There’s a mismatch between supply and demand. Homebuyers say they’re okay with smaller size homes; yet, homebuilders have been delivering larger and larger homes — even through the current market cycle. Most building industry leaders polled said there was a 20% to 60% demand for attainable housing. When asked how many were delivering it, just under 40% said they’re not delivering any attainable products. The majority said they were delivering just under 10%.
  3. To purchase a home in an attainable price range for their market, a majority of homebuyers say they are all right with higher density and/or a smaller lot. But they don’t want to give up on finishes and good appliances, and they don’t want to budge on location.
  4. Builders need to push density with a “missing middle” product — anything that can serve the attainable price points for the missing middle class of America — such as a mix of townhomes, stacked flats, traditional condos, even single family detached. Designing this way helps to create a sense of place.
  5. Adding attainable housing into a larger MPC offers homebuyers the outdoor space — parks, community picnic and grill areas, clubhouses, hiking and biking trails — and other amenities that create a sense of space and place. People are buying a lifestyle and a vibe.


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