National Housing Market Outlook

4 Ways Middle Schoolers Want to Expand Affordable Housing

Devyn Bachman photo
Tracey Peyton
Jody Kahn
Dillan Krieg photo

Devyn Bachman

Tracey Peyton

Jody Kahn

Dillan Krieg

November 24, 2023

Tasked with making affordable housing more accessible, a group of students impressed our team of housing experts with four unique ideas.

John Burns Research and Consulting (JBREC) partnered with SuitUp, a nonprofit that develops students’ career awareness, to mentor students through brainstorming and presenting their housing concepts.

Community engagement and mentoring are critical tenets of JBREC’s culture. To support participation, all associates may use eight hours of paid time annually to volunteer in ways that matter most to them.

Inspiration without roadblocks. The students were not bogged down by timeworn takes on the challenges of supplying more affordably priced homes. They generated these four approaches, each with merit:

Environmental Family: a cooperative neighborhood of tiny homes

Students envisioned a neighborhood of affordable tiny homes with a wide range of community facilities. They were inspired by photos of tiny homes, including a few kits available for purchase online.

  • Each tiny home would include a small kitchen and a half bath with a toilet and sink.
    • Showers could be provided in community facilities, such as those common in dormitories and gyms, to keep the home prices low.
    • Kitchens would be small, with larger shared kitchens nearby to encourage neighbors to cook and eat together while also keeping home costs low.
    • Instead of private backyards, shared playgrounds and open spaces provide for community recreation and reduce home costs by reducing lot sizes.
    • Building on underused or donated land from businesses, schools, or churches could also reduce costs.
  • Students planned for the environmental impacts of the tiny home community. They wanted solar panels on the homes to generate electricity, community gardens to grow fresh foods, multiple drop-off bins for recycling, and containers for composting and capturing rainwater.
  • Measure of success: Number of villages built and people living in the tiny homes

The Hive: reducing construction costs with off-site construction

Students envisioned a neighborhood of affordable rental homes 3D printed off-site to counter high construction costs. They saw that one of the key factors keeping housing unaffordable was high construction costs and resolved to find a solution.

  • Students decided that off-site 3D printing homes (or components) could be one of the best ways to reduce costs.
    • Harnessing technology and the efficiency of off-site manufacturing could reduce costs and speed up the home-building process.
    • Communities could charge significantly reduced rental rates, improving affordability without compromising profitability for builders and operators.
  • Students had the environment and energy costs top of mind and planned to use recycled materials for these homes to reduce costs. They would equip these homes with solar panels to lower both carbon footprints and energy costs for the residents.
  • Measure of success: Completing the community on budget and residents enjoying below-average utility costs

Bayonne and Beyond: converting underused industrial buildings to residences

The students explored converting industrial buildings into an affordable, modern community of open loft-style townhomes and condominiums. They were inspired by captivating images of abandoned brick warehouses in their Bayonne, NJ, community near their school and open park areas.

  • Financial incentives offered by local governments would encourage investors to revitalize dilapidated commercial properties.
    • Commercial buildings would be divided into spacious loft-style homes with 2–3 bedrooms.
    • Amenities would include communal rooftop gardens, shared laundry facilities, and proximity to school and open green spaces, fostering community gatherings and enhancing urban living.
  • Students believed it was essential to enhance the aesthetics of their neighborhood, establish a secure atmosphere, and simultaneously offer cost-effective housing choices for families within their community.
  • Measure of success: Number of abandoned commercial buildings converted to multi-unit homes occupied by local families

More Affordable Housing: rent or own apartments with low maintenance features and local subsidies

The students’ final concept is close to today’s apartment buildings but with a few twists:

  • Income thresholds: Prospective residents must not exceed a certain income when moving into the property, but the rule would no longer apply after moving in.
  • Residents can buy or rent units depending on their financial situation.
  • Subsidies: Local governments would subsidize the first year of rent or mortgage payments. The money saved could be used to furnish the home.
  • The units would include affordable but good-quality materials.
    • The students sketched out floor plans for their presentations. The designs had fewer windows to lower construction costs but hardwood instead of carpet to save on maintenance spending.
  • Sweat equity: Future tenants or homeowners would be eligible for reduced rent or purchase price of their unit if they helped construct the property.
  • Lower monthly costs: Residents must pitch in to complete building maintenance to forgo a monthly homeowner association payment.
  • The students’ marketing plan included messaging about the need for lower-cost but high-quality housing on TikTok.
  • From the mouths of the students, “Affordable housing is important because ALL people should have access to housing that is safe and in good condition.”

The shortfall of affordable housing is a serious nationwide issue that often feels insurmountable.

Potential solutions face hurdles, such as zoning restrictions, the need for subsidies or special financing programs, and NIMBY (not in my backyard) sentiment. Finding workable solutions will require vision, motivation, and political will. We applaud the students who participated in our SuitUp challenge and proposed four paths to solving the housing problem, which could help create and foster communities while also reducing their environmental impact.

The JBREC team wishes all readers a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday that will conjure fond memories of connection and home, whatever form that living space and community takes.

SuitUp is a 501c3 educational non-profit that increases college and career awareness and preparedness for students in underserved communities through innovative business competitions. Through SuitUp, students experience solving a realistic corporate challenge, such as designing a new product for Nike or creating a new phone case for Apple. They interact with corporate volunteers who coach them on marketing, financing, and strategy before helping them pitch to live judges. By the end of the program, students can see the corporate world as part of “their world” and know that job titles, such as CEO, VP of Marketing, Business Development Manager, etc. are now in their grasp. Since inception, SuitUp has served over 14,500 students and engaged 11,500+ corporate volunteers. For more information—and to organize a virtual volunteer activity—visit https://www.volunteersuitup.com/.

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About The Author

Devyn Bachman photo
Devyn Bachman
Chief Operating Officer
Devyn oversees daily operations for our business and ensures we are equipped to best support our clients and partners nationwide. She is responsible for aligning all PALS with our vision, leading strategic initiatives, and maximizing resources to achieve our Evergreen goals. Devyn is also a national housing expert who is available to provide our clients and associates with the most timely and accurate insights into current and future market conditions.
Tracey Peyton
Tracey Peyton
Vice President of People Development & Culture
Tracey promotes, drives, and oversees career growth and culture throughout the organization making John Burns Research and Consulting “A Great Place to Work.”
Jody Kahn
Jody Kahn
Senior Vice President of Research Surveys
Jody delivers timely and accurate insights on housing market trends at the metro, regional, and national levels. She combines statistics and commentary from JBREC’s independent surveys with data trends, forecasts, proprietary indices, feedback from consultants, and decades of housing experience to give clients insights that support business decisions.
Dillan Krieg photo
Dillan Krieg
Research Analyst I, Surveys
Dillan produces and analyzes our for-sale survey reports, including our Builder Survey, Real Estate Agent Survey, Land Survey, and Master-Planned Community Survey. He also covers the 6 major Northeastern markets for our monthly Metro Analysis and Forecast report and assists in our Short-Term Market Rating process.

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