Housing prices are soaring again, and there’s a desperate need to build more housing, especially affordable housing. As we try to figure out how to make housing more affordable, it makes sense to look at how to improve everything that goes into the cost of producing it: Simplifying financing, and getting better terms. Allowing more density. Streamlining the zoning and permitting processes. Lowering land acquisition costs by prioritizing public land for affordable housing. Retaining subsidy with a property for the long term. Removing the profit motive from operations.
It’s no surprise that along with these approaches, many in the housing world are also looking for ways to make the construction of housing itself less costly. After all, construction costs are between 50 and 70 percent of the cost of a new housing unit.
Technical solutions that focus on the building process have the advantage of appealing across political persuasions and sidestepping difficult conversations about density, funding priorities, and the right to housing. In addition, as a climate reckoning looms, processes that might be less wasteful, more energy efficient, or more disaster resilient are also going to be increasingly relevant.
Experiments to lower construction costs, from reusing shipping containers to 3D printing walls, have been happening for years. But are any of these approaches able to provide meaningful savings at scale? And if not, what will it take to get them there?
In our latest Under the Lens series, which will run over the next three weeks, we’ll talk with affordable housing developers who are putting some of these methods to the test, and we’ll explore the implications for the field.