Developers & Architects: Developing an Affordable Housing Partnership

Developers & Architects: Developing an Affordable Housing Partnership
March 26, 2017 Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz
affordable housing partnership

When designing and building affordable housing, the importance of a healthy partnership between architects and real estate developers cannot be overstated.

Given the complexity of the affordable housing development process—involving community needs, sustainable design, numerous location considerations, government approvals and many other critical details—teamwork on these projects is essential to ensure their ultimate success.

Architects Play a Key Role in Development

Developers usually call architects late in the development process, even though it would be to their and their projects’ benefit to work with an experienced architecture firm from the start, especially during the pre-development phase.

Design should not be an afterthought. Architects experienced in affordable housing can provide the best design possible, expedite the permit approvals and help developers avoid numerous project-related problems and obstacles.

An experienced architecture firm has intimate knowledge of the local permit process, zoning restrictions, building codes and environmental concerns, as well as connections and strong relationships with key administrators in agencies and planning boards. These connections are especially valuable to developers and investors.

Architecture firms that wish to collaborate with developers need to be invested in improving communities. A reputation for having good and productive relationships with the local agencies can only help move the projects forward.

Can’t We All Get Along?

Traditionally, architects and developers have been at odds with each other, with each side feeling misunderstood or undervalued by the other side, and with both pushing and pulling and locking horns as a result. Ironically, these conflicted relationships—along with economic, social, political and cultural forces—are fundamental to the shaping of a city. After all, what is ambition without creativity? And what is creativity without ambition?

But times are changing. A growing number of architects are teaming with real estate developers, while more developers are realizing that architecture is more than a marketing tool or the icing on the cake of a project, understanding the true value of good design and the solutions it offers.

Architects can raise the value and lower the long-term costs of affordable housing projects.

Good design is powerful, too. It can make a person choose a space that costs $3 per square foot more than another space. Well-designed projects also can boost developers’ reputations.

Furthermore, affordable housing being developed nowadays looks very different from the boxy public housing projects built decades ago.

affordable housing partnership

Today’s affordable apartments and homes are more stylish and winning design awards. These buildings are conceived by architects who understand that housing is more than columns and walls—affordable housing is a community asset.

Mutually Beneficial Partnerships

An ideal partnership benefits all partners, and the resulting alliance is stronger than its individual parts. Well-crafted partnerships rely on the strengths of each partner and provide opportunities to share costs, risks, and rewards.

Affordable housing developers routinely partner with a variety of different organizations, from government agencies to community development corporations to architecture firms. These partnerships give developers access to talent and experience relevant to their projects.

Whether you are an architect or a developer, a partnership that grows out of a shared vision provides support when needed and effectively resolves conflict can go a long way to ensure successful outcomes in affordable housing development.


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