MacroUnits: Answer to Affordable Housing Crisis?

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A young developer in the Bay Area, oWow, is planning to unveil an emergent home typology to address the need for sustainable “workforce housing” in response to the expanding affordability gap.

oWow is creating “MacroUnits”, affordable and adaptable homes, that will compete with micro units, co-living, as well as the standard one and two-bedroom apartment. These are highly-efficient, factory-built, 750-800 square-foot units that can transform from 1 to 4 bedrooms, depending on the need for affordability, and are designed to accommodate anywhere from one individual to a family.

“We are excited to provide a new housing product that leverages adaptability, density, and modular construction practices to provide affordability by design,” oWow Director of Architecture Jeremy Harris said in a statement. “This is a workforce housing solution that is designed for the people who are teaching our kids in schools, put fires out in our houses, keep us alive in our hospitals, or have to commute 2-3 hours to build our cities.”

Today, traditional developers find it difficult, if not impossible, to build non-subsidized apartments for the middle class, and are typically motivated by the unsustainable returns of high-end, amenity-rich, high-rise construction types. As a result, the affordability gap in the Bay Area continues to widen and the rising costs are pushing the working middle class out of city centers entirely.

“Our mission is focused on creating innovative and affordable homes for the working people to live where they want, how they want, where locals can stay local,” oWow CEO Danny Haber said in a statement.

Some innovative solutions have surfaced over time, such as co-living, micro units, or ADU’s, which have provided a variety of opportunities for working class affordability. SB-35 is a recent creative solution that utilizes California policy to influence the supply of affordable housing. This legislation incentivizes developers to provide more than 50 percent of their units as affordable housing, and in return receive zoning relaxations such as 35 percent higher unit density, reduced parking, reduced setbacks, increased building stories, and streamlined entitlements which can be approved by-right without the influence of NIMBY or other lobbying hurdles.

Since MacroUnit typologies provide such high-efficiency and flexible density, with up to four rooms and lower factory-built construction pricing, all units can essentially qualify as affordable housing by design. oWow intends to build MacroUnit developments that all qualify for SB-35 and provide between 50-100 percent affordable workforce housing units. These units will be built in factories, all with replaceable parts, which can be ordered and shipped for delivery to any developer to build and expand workforce housing across the country.

“MacroUnits are built intelligently, designed for market adaptability, can build more economically using modular construction, and ultimately enable people to have greater access to housing opportunities in the cities they work in,” Danny Haber said in a statement.

oWow is looking to solve the housing crisis, one home at a time, and build its first MacroUnit development with 50 percent affordable housing, by 2021.

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