The National Building Museum’s (NBM) new exhibition on affordable housing, "A Better Way Home," highlights six winning proposals of the Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge, a $20 million grant competition started by Wells Fargo and Enterprise Community Partners in 2019. Set in a quiet corner of the museum’s ground floor, the exhibition presents these six innovative concepts in a non-hierarchical fashion, pairing themed proposals in three stud-framed, house-like installations within a single gallery. With two each in the categories of construction, financing, and resident services and support, the winning schemes aim to transform affordable housing into outcomes more attainable than abstract. The competition gave each winning team $2.5 million to implement their visions, and dedicated the remaining $5 million to supporting programming, administration, and promotion over the course of the two-year competition.
As part of the NBM’s ongoing initiatives toward equity in the built environment—which also include INTERSECTIONS, a season-long series of workshops and lectures—the exhibition highlights the relationships between social justice and construction by exploring proposals that advance equity through financing and built-in support as well as design solutions.
The three categories and the winners are as follows.
The houses in the Mi Casita program, created by the South Texas-based organization CDCB (“come dream. come build”) are meant to grow with their inhabitants. The “Grow Home” concept enables families to build what they can afford now, and add on over time. Organized as almost infinitely configurable boxes, the model allows a lower initial buy-in, with flexibility built in to increase space as budget allows.
Forest to Home, by Forterra, focuses on engineered wood products, specifically cross-laminated timber (CLT), as a vehicle for reducing timber consumption in Washington state. Partnering with Indigenous communities to better understand forest stewardship, the program manages timber harvesting on the way toward building the first modular CLT housing prototype in the US, designed to reduce timber waste as well as construction time.
Forterra Community Development director Jeff Dade holds a piece of sustainably harvested CLT (1), which is the material basis for the Forest to Home modular home prototype (2). Photo © Forterra (1) Michael Schoenfeld/Enterprise Community Partners (2)
The goal of the Health + Housing project by Gulf Coast Housing Partnership is to provide affordable housing with integrated healthcare facilities. Understanding that healthy communities rely on access to both affordable housing and health services to sustain them, the program has sought to establish community-based health services in Jackson, Miss., and New Orleans.
March 2022: Groundbreaking at H3C, the second Health + Housing pilot site in New Orleans which will host a clinic and commercial space on the ground level and affordable rental homes on the upper floors. Photo © Gulf Coast Housing Partnership
Underwriting for Good by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods is a financial program that promotes equitable access to mortgages by looking outside the traditional lanes of creditworthiness. Based in New York, and begun during the 2008 financial crisis, Underwriting for Good has created a regional model that has national implications.
Resident Services and Support:
Designing Trauma-Resilient Communities, by the nonprofit developer Preservation of Affordable Housing, uses principles of trauma-informed care—recognizing how past traumas can affect present mentalities—to guide affordable housing design, management, and services through collaboration between residents and staff.
The Homecoming Project, started in the Bay Area by Impact Justice, provides six months of free housing to people transitioning out of incarceration, pairing them with homeowners to cushion their re-entry into communities. Hosts receive a stipend to offset their costs, while participants benefit from rent-free living that allows them time to build up savings for future security deposits to be able to rent their own homes. But it’s not just free housing; the program offers support throughout each participant’s timeframe that can include family reunification, legal services, employment, and education, among others.
A Better Way Home is free to all and is on view at the National Building Museum through May 8, 2023.
Correction: This article previously misidentified the goal of the Health + Housing project.