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A New Home for Working Families

Winning community design
August 2019

Related Midwest will construct the winning design for a community to open in 2022.

A new typology of an affordable starter home is on its way in Chicago. A division of the Chicago Housing Policy Task Force has announced that the Adaptable House by Greg Tamborino, AIA, was selected by the jury as the winner of the Disruptive Design competition.

Tamborino’s design will create an innovative, sustainable prototype that transforms vacant lots into affordable multifamily housing for the next generation of homeowners while accessibly building wealth for working families.

The competition asked architects from all over the world to submit their concepts for affordable, owner-occupied single-family or two-flat homes that included a wealth-building component (rentable unit or live/workspace). After receiving 133 entries in the first phase, the jury selected three finalists.

Finalists spent six weeks refining their initial designs with feedback from the city of Chicago’s Department of Buildings and the Department of Planning and Development. They also presented their initial and final designs to residents of West Humboldt Park and Bronzeville—the two communities in which the homes are to be built. Jurors considered community feedback on the final designs, as well as their own expertise in construction, design and public health to make their decision.

Tamborino’s new take on the Chicago worker’s cottage creates a flexible two-flat with an accessible first-floor that could be an apartment or live/workspace that could be easily reconfigured to adapt to the homeowner at any stage in their life.

“The house is ‘disruptive’ because it reimagines the usual starter-home model,” juror Amy Mayer of Related Midwest says. “When you’re young, you can own the one-bedroom on the first floor, renting out the second unit. As you get older and have kids, you can move upstairs to the two-bedroom; and, as you age, you can live on the accessible first-floor again.”

The first-floor office can accommodate a work-from-home or start-up business.

“The design was sensible with a clever floorplan,” juror David Baker says. “The large backyard offers a lot of potentials,” Frydland adds.

Tamborino will receive $20,000 and will complete a set of construction drawings. Related Midwest will build two of his designs—one in West Humboldt Park, and another in Bronzeville—to be completed in 2020.

The desire for affordable housing is present in both the gentrifying and underserved Chicago neighborhoods. In gentrifying areas, land values rise with desirability; in underserved areas, depreciated property and land values produce an appraisal gap that prohibits new development.

Construction of new affordable, owner-occupied housing is expensive and only becoming costlier. As the cost of construction and labor increases and incomes grow at a slower pace, the affordability gap between what young professionals, small families or first-time homebuyers can afford and the cost of construction becomes apparent to both developers and buyers—it is no longer practical to build starter homes. Subsidies, while helpful, cannot be the only long-term solution to this issue.

Disruptive Design asks architects to develop a flexible residential structure that can accommodate various lot sizes and densities, as well as entrepreneurship and aging in place. Architects must innovate for affordability, utilizing new construction materials and methods, and providing single-family homes that offer opportunities for live- work situations, growing families, accessibility and a new focus on the “gig” economy.