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Community Development Corporations are commonly not-for-profit organizations incorporated to provide programs, offer services and/or engage in other activities that promote and support community development. CDCs typically serve a geographic location such as a neighborhood or a town.
Such is the case for the Northern Community Development Corporation of North Carolina, serving the rural counties and communities of northeastern NC. In 2009 it partnered with the Black Family Land Trust to fund the planning and startup administration for an affordable housing project in Winfall NC. Private land on the Perquimans River was committed to the development, to be marketed to individual homeowners, 50% market rate, 50% affordable. A portion of the project site existed as a community park, boarded by the Windfall Town Hall building with an additional 3 acres of vacant land, formerly a slag dump, surrounded by neighboring farms and homestead properties.
The project met the mission objectives of the sponsoring non-profit entities: for NCDC, to increase low income housing opportunities and workforce homeownership; providing equitable socio-economic opportunities for minority populations. It also met the land conservation objectives of the Black Family Trust to provide educational, technical and financial services to ensure, protect, and preserve African American land ownership.
With the property pledged to the project, funds were allocated by the partnership to hire an architectural firm well experienced in the planning and design of affordable house plans for small lots in the character of Traditional Neighborhood Design (architecturally consistent with the historical character of the surrounding communities). The funds also provided for the consulting services of a renowned landscape planner, site designer, author and lecturer who would conceptualize the overall plan development plan.
The master plan of the site as well as the individual house plan designs were provided by GMF+ ASSOCIATES, architects, and Randall Arendt of Greener Prospects. Some of the final presentation designs are shown on this site. What wasn’t anticipated was the political ambivalence that upended the good intentions of the humanitarian and conservation objectives of the non-profit sponsors, the diligence of the design professionals and the generosity of the land-developer.
Throughout the course of the planning studies there were meetings with the mayor, town council, fire department, public works, surrounding land owners and other interested parties. Review of the preliminary plans at the meetings brought out concerns for specific details of the project such as fire truck street access, separation distance between dwellings, the overall density of the development, parking, sidewalks, and so on. At each meeting the questions raised were addressed and agreed remedies augmented into the plan for its final approval.
Final approval was never brought to a vote. Today, one year later, copies of the plans languish in the drawers of the city officials. None of the parties involved in the creation of the project are motivated to start the shovels digging. It is certainly true that the current economic downturn has contributed to dampening the momentum. But the lack of motivation of the governing officials of the town has put the project on definite hold. We hope that the economy will improve and the town officials will have some new blood in the near future.
Redevelopment planners are facing a new challenge for replacing deteriorated single-family houses with new homes that conform to Traditional Neighborhood Design standards, including that prospective buyers cannot qualify for the selling price of the new home. A sagging economic climate has made getting financing to purchase a new home increasing difficult for more and more prospective homeowners. The cost of construction has not dropped enough to make new homes more affordable. The result is many builders are unwilling to invest in new construction for urban in-fill properties.
Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority recently took a proactive approach to meeting this challenge. It is based on the assumption that if it could offer to their single-family builders new TND house plan that was less expensive to build, the construction cost could come down to a selling price that would enable today’s homebuyer to qualify for its purchase. Willing builders would jump at the chance, right?
How do they find a satisfactory house plan that meets the design standards of traditional neighborhood design and costs less to build?
Here are ten ways to accomplish that objective:
1. Reduce square feet. A 3-bedroom house on a small lot can be as small as 1,200 SF without being too small to be comfortable. Neighborhood streetscape density can dictate the maximum space between houses and the appropriate house width. This considera-
tion along with minimum room widths can increase the minimum to around 1,300 SF.
2. Reduce room separation walls. Open kitchens to dining areas; living rooms and foyers; hallways and laundry space.
3. Reduce bathrooms. Historical house plans from the early 20th Century typically had one full bath for a whole house. Today we can design for a single full bath located in the hall convenient to all the bedrooms, with chambered areas for multiple use; a powder room on the first floor is sufficient unless there is a bedroom.
4. Reduce building offsets. Straight walls use less lumber to construct; long walls are more cost efficient that short walls; a square is the most efficient building shape.
5. Modest size bedrooms are okay. Give priority to large spaces in the open areas where the family gathers as a group. Historically speaking, house plans typically had small bedrooms, in Europe they still do.
6. Concentrate plumbing into one quadrant. Minimize the length and number of drainage and water lines.
7. Avoid unnecessary windows and doors. Design for window balance and proportions on the front profile as viewed from the street, other sides of the house can have one window per room.
8. Reduce the number of shingles on the roof. Keep roof slopes the minimum necessary to achieve historical architectural style; avoid dormers.
9. Minimize porches and details. TND architecture will certainly deal with a covered entry porch. Strive to keep it simple and locate it as close as allowed to the sidewalk.
10. Locate house with space on one side to park at least one car off the street. It is desirable to leave enough space to construct a detached garage at a later time.
NRHA sent out an RFP in July, 2011, to local architects and builders, to develop new house plans that would meet affordability parameters based upon a published preliminary plan that its in-house architects derived. The resulting construction plans would be published in its on-line HOUSE PLANS LIBRARY where pre-approved urban plans are displayed for purchase from the architects and designers who own the copyrights. It remains to be seen whether the plans will found “acceptable” by builders for speculative projects or their own marketing agenda. Dozens of ready-to-build urban plans can be purchased from on-line plans websites.
It is worth comment what other planning approaches may be available to spur house construction action toward affordable products in the urban setting. What is the likelihood of success with the NRHA plans it is developing?