A New Neighborhood Approach: Meeting Fort Collins’ Affordable Housing Gap


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Bruce Hendee, RLA

IBE Advisory Board Member


Affordable housing became an issue in Fort Collins shortly after the end of the Great Recession. At that time, a perfect storm of conditions led to a dramatic decrease in the availability of affordable housing that has continued to this day.

In 2014, Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity’s Board of Directors and Executive Director, Kristin Candella, recognized the need to address this shortage of affordable housing stock. In response, the Board set an aggressive goal to build 50 new affordable homes by the year 2020, more than doubling the homes built by Habitat over the last twenty years—an especially challenging task given that all are built with volunteers. The goal required a new neighborhood approach that would yield more homes in less space to keep individual costs down.

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Harmony Cottages perspective.

The Perfect Storm for an Affordable Housing Crisis

As the lingering effects of the Great Recession began to wear off, there were few new housing units on the market. New housing starts had slowed due to the shortage of credit available from lenders in response to tightening legislation from the Federal Reserve. Developers were reluctant to invest in new projects because of the weakened economy and the Construction Defects Law, a new state law that made it easier for builders to be sued in building new condominiums. Construction of new condos came to a halt, putting further pricing pressure on entry-level housing.

At the same time that housing starts were at a dramatic low, Fort Collins was recognized as one of the best places to live and raise a family in America. The city and the Front Range became one of the favored locations to move. Simultaneously, Colorado State University was anticipating significant growth in student enrollment and had over $1 billion in new construction planned over a 10-year period, while Fort Collins-based corporations (such as Woodward and Otterbox) were building major new manufacturing and corporate facilities.

The resulting storm of immigration, lack of housing under construction, and a newly emerging, booming marketplace for jobs created a vacuum in available housing. The shortage caused housing prices to rise and affordability to become an issue.

Cottages and New Urbanism: Maximizing Space & Minimizing Cost

To realize the vision for 50 new affordable homes, Habitat for Humanity decided on a site located at Harmony and Taft Hill Road. But the original land plan contained only 30 lots whereas close to 50 were required to meet the goal. Additionally, the cost of lots would be too high spread over only 30 lots. With a targeted objective of attracting residents making an income in the 35-60% range of area median income, Habitat had to keep site and home costs down in spite of a rapidly escalating residential market.

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Harmony Cottages site plan. Image courtesy of Ripley Design, Inc.

To meet this challenge, Habitat teamed up with a local social impact developer and retained a design team that included two IBE Advisory Board members, Bruce Hendee, ASLA, and Greg Fisher, AIA. The team also included local landscape architecture firm Ripley Design, which has significant neighborhood design experience.

The team was given the charge to develop a denser site plan that added more lots while creating a great community. Design began with an intensive charrette and used a blend of New Urbanism and Pocket Neighborhood concepts, which originated from early neighborhood designs begun by Ebeneezer Howard and Frederick Law Olmsted during the Garden City Movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s. This concept evolved around small garden commons surrounded by cottage-style homes. To increase density, Fisher developed a duplex home style with gabled roof lines that made the duplexes appear as though they were two single-family homes. The community court concept, paired with the unique duplex style, enabled the project to expand from 30 to 48 units, a nearly 60% increase in density. An added benefit was the preservation of 40% open space.

A Collaborative Model for Affordable Energy

A key project requirement was to create highly efficient, low-cost homes. For families earning a low to moderate income, paying for heat often falls to the wayside in the interest of other, more critical needs. Therefore, a design that would keep residents comfortable at a very low energy cost was key.

In consultation with the City of Fort Collins Utilities’ Integrated Design Assistance Program (IDAP), Fisher designed homes with an exceptional building envelope and highly efficient electrical systems. IDAP enabled the team to conduct energy modeling of envelopes to further improve performance. The design process is still underway but has already yielded benefits, including analyzing the impact of the insulation. Spurred by a meeting that IBE facilitated early in the design phase, all insulation was donated by Johns Manville, helping bring down costs.

All homes were designed to accommodate three-kilowatt solar panels without charging residents more for their homes or more in energy costs. Fisher ensured the homes were positioned to ensure maximized rooftop orientation of solar panels. The solar provider, Namaste Solar, has generously offered to donate $1,200 of the cost of every solar panel for the first phase. Kyocera, the solar panel manufacturer, is considering providing reduced-cost solar panels. And, the City of Fort Collins is considering matching financing up to $25,000 toward a solar installation for the first phase through an income-qualified solar program.

The total cost of solar per dwelling unit is approximately $12,000. With initial donations of approximately $5,000, the remaining balance is $7,000 per unit. Two approaches are being considered to cover this balance: a Habitat fundraiser and social impact investment. Through the latter, philanthropic investors would purchase the solar panels and be repaid through a 30% solar tax credit combined with capturing the net difference in energy costs through net metering. Once repaid, the money could contribute toward new social impact investments.

A Youth-Designed Playground

A unique detail of the neighborhood plan is a playground designed in large part by Kinard Middle School students. With the landscape architects and school staff, students researched playground design for children with various disabilities and met at a local neighborhood park to draft designs atop sidewalks and picnic tables. The fresh perspectives they generated greatly enhanced the community design.


The Harmony Cottages project site is now under construction with plans to build six to eight homes per year, based on availability of donations and volunteer labor. With home construction beginning in 2017, estimated buildout is 2023-2025.

To learn more, visit the Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity’s website.


About Bruce

Bruce Hendee is the former Chief Sustainability Officer and an Assistant City Manager with the City of Fort Collins. Bruce is also founder and former owner of BHA Design, a landscape architecture and planning firm located in Fort Collins.

He has organized and directed various efforts in the Fort Collins area, including development of a new division within the City called Sustainability Services. While at the City, he led an effort to create a new Climate Action Plan, a new Economic Health Strategic Plan, and development of a Social Sustainability Department. In 2012, the division was recognized with the Robert Havlick Award awarded by the International City/County Managers Association) as one of the most innovative new city management systems.

As the CEO of BHA Design in Fort Collins, he led the firm in numerous projects along the Front Range including master planning and design for University of Colorado Health, PVH, Harmony Campus, and Medical Center of the Rockies. Other notable projects included the master plan for the Downtown River District, Fossil Creek Park, Spring Canyon Park, and projects with the University of Colorado and Colorado State University.


Go “Off the Rails” with the Urban Lab

Andy.jpgAndy Madrick

Sustainability Associate, Landscape Architecture


On Friday, October 7, the Urban Lab will select the winner of its “Off the Rails” competition. This juried competition challenges innovators to envision the revitalization of a busy, neglected strip in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado—one that is currently limited by the conflict between an active railroad and the adjoining public streetscape. “Off the Rails” garnered submissions from around the globe. Don’t miss this opportunity to be a part of the future of Fort Collins.

When: Friday, October 7, 6-9 PM during Fort Collins’ First Friday Art Walk

Where: Galvanize, 242 Linden Street, Fort Collins, CO

The Urban Lab is proud to announce that it has attracted a national panel of esteemed jurors, an international submission pool, and a high level of community engagement and sponsorship.

International Applicants

“Off the Rails” entrants include students and professionals, from Fort Collins to as far away as China, who contributed ideas as diverse as their backgrounds. This international perspective will lead to a more colorful vision of what the city could become in the near future.

National Jury

“Off the Rails” attracted a national panel of judges:

Mayor Wade Troxell—Mayor of Fort Collins since April 2015, Troxell’s top priorities are: 1) Fort Collins as an innovation community and 2) Civic leadership for youth and young adults.

Hansy Better Barraza—As both a practitioner and an Associate Professor of Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, Hansy is an expert in design methods that embrace social responsibility.

Walter Hood—Hood teaches landscape architecture and environmental design at the University of California, Berkeley. His studio practice, Hood Design, focuses on architectural commissions, urban design, art installations, and research.

Ed Goodman—Goodman’s diverse background includes more than 30 years of interdisciplinary problem solving with experience in entertainment, engineering, community design, marketing, branding, technology, organizational ecology, dreamscaping, experience design, and more.

Local Sponsorship

The Urban Lab garnered an outstanding amount of sponsorship for “Off the Rails” from local businesses along the Mason Corridor, demonstrating the community’s investment in the long-term future of the built environment. With community support, the Urban Lab believes that this competition will set the stage for a more vibrant, more engaging public space along Mason Street.

UniverCity Urban Lab is hosting “Off the Rails” in partnership with the City of Fort Collins and the Downtown Development Authority.

Laying the Foundation for Sustainable, Regenerative, Just Cities: EcoDistricts Summit 2016


katie_color.jpgKatie Vega

Sustainability Associate, Public Health


Sustainable. Regenerative. Equitable. Multi-generational. Community-driven. Collaborative. These six concepts stayed with me after my experience at the EcoDistricts Summit held at Denver University from September 13-15, 2016. The Summit is an annual conference hosted by EcoDistricts, a non-profit focused on developing a new model of urban regeneration and community development. The Summit convenes multi-disciplinary practitioners, researchers, experts, developers, professionals, academics, students, facilitators, and community members to collectively build a vision for a more sustainable and resilient future. IBE assisted in coordinating the Summit’s Research Forum, which took a deeper look at what’s needed to develop interdisciplinary teams across institutions to strengthen the bridge between collaborative research and practice.

As a new graduate and public health researcher, the EcoDistricts Summit was an incredible experience that inspired and challenged us to rise up and tackle existing and developing challenges in our own communities. My degree is in public health, but the Summit connected me to a large, diverse network of placemakers from the public and private sectors. During the three days, I saw firsthand how cross-disciplinary collaboration is the first critical step to better understanding topics like healthy community design, gentrification and displacement, clean energy and climate resilience, district-scale performance metrics, and urban regeneration. By opening the door to contributions from fields other than our own, we gain greater perspective on issues facing our increasingly urbanizing communities and can begin to develop truly innovative solutions.

During plenary sessions, examples of successful cross-disciplinary collaborations were shared from cities like Portland, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. Panelists discussed the relationships that supported these neighborhood and district-scale projects, but most importantly, emphasized the community engagement that drove the efforts. Panelists argued that disinvestment in communities has led to increased gentrification and displacement in our cities and towns. In fact, the number of city tracts being gentrified has reached record proportions—such as in Portland, where 58% of eligible tracts have been gentrified since 2000, and Denver, close behind at 42% (ACS). Panelists shared strategies to create in-placement—from creating more affordable housing below 15% of Annual Median Income to launching Streetwyze, an online crowdsourced data tool that uses civic engagement to prioritize public investment.

One of the most important takeaways from the Summit was the notion that equity awareness should be institutionalized. This idea may seem like common sense, but the truth is that our city departments have placed most, if not all, of the responsibility for public health on a limited number of departments (such as Social Sustainability, Public Health, and the Housing Authority). In reality, departments across cities are responsible for the health of their citizens. A suggested approach is to engage leading community organizations in city planning processes and to invite community members to speak to City Council and individual departments. Perhaps by humanizing each department’s work, all city employees can be inspired to collaborate with fellow departments and community stakeholders to develop solutions that achieve health equity. No one person is responsible for all of the challenges rising in our urbanizing environment. Yet each person, no matter what field they represent, has important skills and experience to contribute toward solutions. This is the call to action that was put forth at the EcoDistricts Summit: We cannot take the weight of the world on our shoulders alone, but together—in collaboration with our cities, placemakers, and community members—we can create more sustainable, resilient, and equitable places.

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The relationship between IBE and EcoDistricts began almost two years ago when IBE was selected as a member of the Fort Collins EcoDistricts Incubator Team. Since then, IBE has been developing its approach to district-scale sustainability approaches in Fort Collins and Denver. As an EcoDistricts Summit partner, IBE participated in the Summit and assisted in coordinating the EcoDistricts Research Forum. Comprised of studio sessions, keynote speeches, plenary sessions, and tours of inspiring developments around Denver, the Summit provided an opportunity to network with community facilitators, professional landscape architects, and students from universities across the U.S., and to connect with a diverse group of advocates for healthy community development.

Resource
American Community Survey (ACS), 2009 – 2013. Retrieved at http://www.governing.com/gov-data/census/gentrification-in-cities-governing-report.html.

Upcoming Event! Better Decisions Faster: The Social Science of Integrative Design

Thursday, Sept. 8, 12-1 p.m. at the Alliance Center in Denver

Cost: FREE

Earn CEs: GBCI, AIA

Join IBE to hear insights from its research paper, “The Social Network of Integrative Design.” Learn how to make the integrated design process expedite the decision-making process and elevate the quality of decisions. Register.

Upcoming Event! EcoDistricts Research Symposium

Sept. 13-15 in Denver

Join urban leaders to explore how district-scale innovation can address critical issues facing today’s cities. On Sept. 15, IBE and CSU will co-sponsor the inaugural EcoDistricts Research Symposium, which will highlight IBE’s collaborative efforts to develop district-scale sustainability solutions that support replicable metrics. Register.