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Big Spaces, Luxury on Back Burner of Multifamily Design

In a recent NAHB Multifamily Web seminar moderated by Rick Mercer, a director at Wood Partners, a panel of expert architects explored how changes in the business climate have affected what’s being built.

Among their observations:

  • Mark Humphreys, AIA, CEO of Humphreys & Partners Architects, said that HUD’s 221(d)(4) insurance program for construction or substantial rehabilitation of multifamily rental housing is responsible for financing a much larger segment of multifamily production than ever before, and that is having an impact on the size and scope of what’s being built.

    Humphreys noted that that there is a trend toward higher densities and smaller units, especially for student housing, and he suggested that those goals can be achieved through floor plans that have fewer long corridors.

  • Niles Bolton, AIA, and CEO of Niles Bolton Associates, suggested that moving too rapidly toward smaller units would put a new community in competition with smaller units in much older buildings. He suggested that designers should take a longer-term view, and not just build what seems desirable right now.

    Niche housing — such as housing for seniors or military housing — is still being built, according to Bolton. He also noted that the demand for affordable housing — specifically housing built under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program — will undoubtedly grow as the recession continues. He cited the need for affordable rentals adjacent to military bases, not only for military families, but for unaccompanied soldiers on temporary duty who need to rent something as basic as a bedroom or an efficiency unit.

  • David Senden, principal, KTGY, noted that while the Gen Y group wants small units in hip spaces where the neighborhood is the amenity, it is a generational preference, and generations change. He suggested that a more contemporary design aesthetic — with efficiency built in — will hold up over time.

    Senden also pointed out that the design process is influenced by today’s movement toward smaller, unique projects, often located on infill or difficult sites, with zoning challenges. He suggested that some redevelopment agencies have money, and are able to build even in today’s economic conditions. Public-private partnerships are still possible, and green building techniques and products give new communities a competitive advantage.

The panel also discussed the design implications of sustainability, the expanding limits of wood-frame construction and the need to put over-the-top luxury on the back burner for now.

For more information about listening to a rebroadcast of the "Innovative Stratgies to Success" webinar, e-mail Sheronda Carr at NAHB or call her at 800-368-5242 x8168.

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