Innovative and collaborative approaches to the growing challenge of housing affordability were the focus of Housing + Innovation: Lessons from the Ivory Prize, a half-day symposium we hosted recently at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
At the event, four winners and five finalists for the inaugural 2019 Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability spoke on three panels: one focused on innovations in construction and design, one on innovations in finance, and one on innovations in public policy and regulation. The day ended with a panel featuring key officials involved with recent efforts to address housing affordability in Oregon and Minneapolis, which have both limited single-family zoning, and Massachusetts, which is not only considering changes to laws governing local zoning but is marking the 50th anniversary of Chapter 40B, the state law that limits the ability of communities to stymie development projects that include affordable units.
Kicking off the event, Clark Ivory, CEO of Ivory Homes and founder of Ivory Innovations, an entity at the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business, which co-sponsored the event, noted that, “Affordability is no longer a coastal problem. Places across the country are grappling with shrinking affordability. Incomes aren’t growing as fast as housing costs.” Solving this crisis, he added, will require both innovation and collaboration.
Speakers on the first three panels came from private, public, and non-profit entities from across the country. They described a range of innovative activities including: new approaches to modular construction, converting shipping containers into affordable units, providing new pathways to homeownership, using surplus land, and encouraging the development of more accessory dwelling units. During the last panel, speakers not only described notable policy changes but also outlined the political strategies they used to secure changes, and the lessons that others might draw from their efforts.
Reflecting on the discussions, Andrea Brennan, director of housing policy and development for the city of Minneapolis, noted that, on their own, none of the policies or new approaches to construction, design, and finance would be the “silver bullet” that solves the housing problem. But, she added, taken together, they could combine to be the “silver buckshot” that might prove to be effective.