Affordable Doesn’t Mean Cheap: How to Plan Amenities for Low-Cost Housing Developments

Affordable Doesn’t Mean Cheap: How to Plan Amenities for Low-Cost Housing Developments

We’re struggling with a nationwide housing affordability crisis. In response, you may be working to design and develop more low-cost housing. Can you incorporate rooftop amenities and outdoor living experiences while building affordable housing developments?

Absolutely. In fact, it is just as important to provide such features in low-cost housing as it is with market-rate or luxury housing. When speaking about housing, “affordable” should not be synonymous with “cheap.” Cheap housing is poorly conceived and executed. Affordable housing, on the other hand, can and should be indistinguishable as such. You shouldn’t be able to tell an affordable housing project from the market rate standard.

A key part of creating affordable housing that doesn’t look and feel cheap is including high quality outdoor environments. This includes rooftop amenities. With the right approach, you can accomplish results that you can be proud of – and create a community where residents will be proud to live.

Consider these tips when planning amenities for affordable housing:

Understand the Costs Associated with Rooftop Design

You can incorporate rooftop design in non-luxury developments. It is possible to do – and do well. And it’s worth it. Rooftop amenities have a solid ROI. But, if rooftop design is unfamiliar territory for you, it can be difficult to pull off.

The most common mistake is underestimating the cost by too much. Often, cost isn’t even addressed until it is far too late. Once you have the bid documents prepared, it’s too late to make major changes to the building and site design. You can find yourself so far down the road you have to abandon the rooftop altogether to make everything pencil.

This isn’t so much an effect of rooftop amenities being impractically expensive. After all, they continue to be major pieces of successful projects. Instead, it is the result of poor planning. You want to avoid having to scrap the rooftop amenities on your project at the last minute. So, you must have a better understanding of what they cost before the project is bid.

The best approach is to have designers provide rough order of magnitude cost estimates for each of their design concepts. This way, ownership can know and understand what the design will cost before they commit to it. Then, if budgets are out of line, you still have time to course correct before it’s too late and you’re out of money.

Create the Best Arrangement of Space

It’s likely that there won’t be room in your budget for the highest-end finishes and most expensive furnishings. But that’s okay. While they can definitely add to a space, these aren’t the most important things to get right.

The most important aspect of the design is the structure, or form, of the space. Like a building floor plan, the layout of a rooftop deck influences the experience more than the decor. With the right arrangement of space, even a sparsely decorated area can look elegant.

The best way to ensure you get the space right is to focus on use. By designing primarily for the user experience, you can effectively prioritize what matters most. Take into account the best views, the sun exposure, and proportion and scale to create a comfortable hangout spot. Balance the relationship between private units and public or common spaces. Strategically arrange planters, lighting, and other fixtures to have the most visual impact.

Don’t Dilute the Design

When budgets are tight, owners have the tendency to remove costs across the board. They want everything scaled back equally. This approach seems logical but actually does more harm than good.

Instead, seek to preserve the main design ideas by strategically removing entire features. Don’t make everything poorer in quality. Then you’ll just have a bunch of mediocre spaces. Rather than trim costs from all the features, keep the best ones intact and get rid of the others.

For example, Loft Six Four recently designed two rooftop spaces for an urban mid-rise apartment building. We produced a rough order of magnitude cost estimate for each of them. It became clear that the two rooftops were out of range with the budget that was in place. Instead of diluting both rooftops, we advised the developer to keep one and remove the other. That way, they still had one super compelling outdoor amenity, instead of two second-rate ones.

If two fire features is too expensive, keep one and lose the other. Don’t make them both smaller. If you don’t have enough budget for all the plant material, reduce the planter area – not the plant size or quantity. Nobody likes watered-down soft drinks. The same goes for outdoor living experiences. Don’t do that to your design.

Affordable Doesn’t Mean Cheap

Be careful not to make your affordable housing development feel cheap. It’s possible to have successful rooftop amenities on affordable housing projects. Understand cost, get the space right, and don’t dilute your design and you’ll see great results.