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Housing repair funds, 3-D printed homes pitched as affordability solutions

Thursday, January 25, 2018 by Syeda Hasan

For the past several weeks, nine local nonprofits, government agencies and private companies have been mapping out new solutions to the city’s housing affordability problem. Last night, they presented their ideas at the Impact Hub, a co-working space on North Lamar, which organized the effort.

Ashley Phillips, managing director of Impact Hub, said the process has allowed groups that might hold different values to find common ground.

“Here’s something I learned about this group of people that cares about affordable housing in Austin – you have to be radically hopeful, because it is hard,” Phillips said.

An accelerator is an approach probably more familiar to startups than policy wonks. These groups had just three months to work with mentors, tap community resources and map out their projects. Even with the short timetable, some of those ideas are already close to becoming a reality.

David Steinwedell is president and CEO of the nonprofit Affordable Central Texas. The group is preparing to launch a fund that will support housing for people like teachers, musicians and health care workers.

“Our desire is to be able to buy 50 apartment properties and preserve over 15,000 units, and we’re trying to do that over 10 years,” Steinwedell said.

One recurring point speakers made was that tapping the private sector could do more to help with affordability issues. Mayor Steve Adler spoke to the group about it via video message.

“The government might try to find answers to these problems and these challenges, and it needs to do that,” Adler said. “But the fact is that the government’s not going to be able to find all the answers. A lot of the innovation and the creative ideas, the new ways of looking at things, they’re going to come from people in our community.”

In developing their plans, some teams went door to door gathering input from residents. They also consulted the city’s Strategic Housing Blueprint, which seeks to add 135,000 new housing units in 10 years. A handful of groups are focusing on just that – finding ways to increase the housing supply.

Monique Stevenson is the president of Developods, a company that’s looking to build new homes out of shipping containers.

“Our goal at Developods is 300 units per year for the next 10 years, which would allow us to house 3,000 families,” Stevenson said. “We’re going to be doing that through accessory dwelling units, multifamily (housing) and community development.”

Another company, Icon 3D, proposed cutting down on construction costs through the advent of 3-D printed homes. The company’s Chief Operating Officer Alex Le Roux said its technology would allow some homes to be printed in less than two days.

Phillips said the group plans to apply this approach to more social issues. This spring, they’re set to launch an accelerator around workforce development.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News.

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