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Competition Seeks Affordable Housing Prototype

Brent Warren Brent Warren Competition Seeks Affordable Housing PrototypeAn aerial view of the Hilltop neighborhood, via Franklin County Auditor.
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Can a new house be built on a vacant lot in Columbus for less than $170,000? And can that design be easily replicated or adapted to fit into a different neighborhood, on a different vacant lot?

A new competition is offering a prize of $5,000 to the person or team that comes up with the best answers to those questions. And the winner will get more than just prize money, they will have the opportunity to enter into a contract with the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation (COCIC) to actually build two homes; one on the Hilltop and the other in Whitehall.

“The goal is not to end up with pretty drawings at end of this process,” said Isabela Gould, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC). “A lot of competitions, they are fantastic, but they stop at the pretty pictures…we wanted to bring to the table not just ideas, but solutions.”

She said the idea for the new competition – called Next Home 2021 – grew out of her organization’s experience with the Parcels into Places initiative. For that competition, applicants submitted ideas for vacant parcels that could be completed for less money than it would take to build a house (most were in the $10-to-$30,000 range). The result was eight completed projects in different neighborhoods around Columbus, including several community gardens, a pocket park, an urban forest, and a shipping container arts space on Mt. Vernon Ave.

The NDC is the sponsor of the Next Home competition, working in partnership with COCIC, the City of Columbus Land Redevelopment Division, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Columbus, and the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio.

The two new homes will be built on parcels held by the Central Ohio Community Land Trust, which is structured to encourage long-term affordability.

The homes should be a minimum of 800 square feet in size and under 35 feet in height, but beyond that there are not a lot of restrictions on what they should look like or how they should be built.

“We’re asking for models of adaptability,” said Gould. “Show us a matrix of what could this solution do if you were to replicate it and scale it up.”

If that means multiple units on one parcel, or some other idea that is not technically permitted by zoning regulations in Columbus or Whitehall, that’s ok, she added. “I am really happy to see that our partners are open to challenging current zoning…we’re encouraging applicants to push the limits.”

Gould acknowledges that just building a home or two will not make much of a dent in the region’s affordable housing gap, but she is hopeful that the ideas generated from the competition will inspire even more people to get involved.

“All of us, we want to see something happen for real, that’s why we tried to attach a budget and dollars and give ourselves this challenge,” she said. “We want to expand the conversation and bring others to table, even past this competition.”

The deadline to register for the competition is May 21. For more information see nexthome2021.org.

AIA Columbus will be hosting a panel discussion on the initiative called Housing the Next Million on April 22.

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