The Lyberty Green Apartments may have been a disheartening project for many in Falmouth, but for a select group of housing professionals, it also represented a call to action.
A new housing partnership has sprung up in the wake of the contentious 40B application, convened with the express purpose of creating affordably-priced model housing designed with “aesthetic dignity.”
Housing NOW Partnership is a collaboration of Jill Neubauer Architects, affordable housing developer Michael B. Galasso, The Valle Group, Bernice Wahler Landscapes and Carol McLeod Design, all of Falmouth. Sustainable Energy Analytics of Lexington is also a partner.
During public hearings held by the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals over the course of the last year, Jill S. Neubauer and Mr. Galasso both spoke in opposition to the dense design of the Lyberty Green Apartments, proposed by Westford developer Robert A. Walker.
Ms. Neubauer and Mr. Galasso connected over their shared concerns, and began to discuss ways they could collaboratively address the housing crisis on Cape Cod while also promoting attractive and healthy housing.
“I always say good things can come from anything,” Jill S. Neubauer said during an interview Thursday afternoon, September 28.
Earlier this year, Cape Cod Young Professionals, in partnership with Cape Cod & Islands Association of REALTORS, announced a house design contest, calling for the design of small-scale model homes that specifically meet the needs of young professionals. The contest caught the attention of Mr. Galasso and provided a launching pad for creation of the partnership.
In the last few months, the partnership has produced a concept for a catalog of Housing NOW branded model homes, reminiscent of the Cape Cod cottage movement and the kit homes of the early 1900s.
The catalog includes separate, scalable living pieces and upgrade options, allowing homebuyers to create combinations that serve their particular needs. The separate pieces also allow homeowners to easily expand as their family size or economic situation changes.
The focus on affordably priced housing is new for Jill Neubauer Architects, which was established in 1994.
“We have been so focused on the single-family private residence for my career,” Ms. Neubauer said. “It was really Lyberty Green that spurred this… I said, ‘You know what, it’s time to get involved.’ ”
In addition, Ms. Neubauer was personally inspired to address the housing needs of young professionals, as her nieces and nephews have graduated from college in the last few years. She increasingly discovered through discussions with family that the housing “ideal” is changing for younger generations, as is the concept of a “traditional household.”
These days, some homebuyers may choose to live for extended periods of time with single friends, may never get married, or may have children with multiple people.
“They want a neat, little functional unit,” she said, not necessarily a large plot of land with a single-family house.
In addition to meeting the needs of modern homebuyers, the partnership sees Housing NOW homes as a way of promoting what Ms. Neubauer calls “aesthetic justice” for the less economically advantaged.
The partnership believes that affordable housing units ought to be even more aesthetically appealing than market-price homes, because they are under intense scrutiny from the surrounding community.
“They seem to get critiqued more because of the stigma related to affordable housing,” Mr Galasso said on September 28. The partnership believes high-quality construction can reduce prejudice and judgment when it comes to affordable housing projects.
Housing NOW Partnership also views its effort as a way to improve quality of life for the less economically advantaged, to give them pride in homeownership.
Those with modest income may rarely be exposed to high function and beauty in their architectural surroundings, Ms. Neubauer said. She sees the Housing NOW effort as a visible way of extending dignity to the less economically advantaged.
“Architecture is a civic gesture,” she said, because of its high visibility. “It’s a part of the fabric of the community.”
To that end, although the small buildings are designed with affordability in mind, the partnership proposes to make particular investments in landscaping and open-space features to improve the quality of life for homeowners and tenants. In order to do that, Mr. Galasso said, specialty design firms were also included in the partnership.
The small houses are meant to reflect the Cape Cod cottage tradition, but Ms. Neubauer said her firm “abstracted and simplified” the concept to appeal to modern homebuyers.
Housing NOW homes feature gabled roofs, white cedar shingling and asphalt roofing reminiscent of traditional cottages. However, the tiny houses feature large windows and cathedral ceilings, in order to maximize volume inside the houses and increase the abundance of natural light.
The partnership submitted an application to the Cape Cod Young Professionals for a three-bedroom design, which is actually a two-bedroom unit, titled “live 2,” with an additional one-bedroom accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to the rear of the property.
Mr. Galasso said the accessory unit can be an important source of rental income for homeowners, supplementing their annual income and potentially assisting them in qualifying for a loan.
The “live 2” design measures 865 square feet, and includes a full kitchen, bathroom, mudroom entrance and loft space for storage or sleeping accommodations. A main room serves the multiple purposes of a dining, work and sleeping area. It also includes an additional separate bedroom and bathroom piece, connected by an adjoining breezeway.
Homebuyers would also have the option of purchasing a smaller single-bedroom unit, titled “live 1,” which measures 573 square feet. The accessory dwelling unit measures 403 square feet, and is located behind the main building with a patio space between the two.
Lead architect Ryan T. Austin said the partnership made every effort to include built-in furniture units to ease the initial investment for homebuyers. The cottages include a multi-purpose table area for “eat/work/play,” storage spaces and an “infinity bench” that serves the purposes of a dinner table chair and sofa.
The catalog also includes upgrade options that can be added to the main buildings as separate structures. Those include an adjoining office space called “work 1,” an extra bedroom called “sleep 1,” and smaller parts such as an outdoor shower, greenhouse or shed.
The Housing NOW homes are designed to fit on a lot as small as 7,500 square feet, although properties that require a septic system would likely need to be 10,000 square feet, Mr. Galasso said. The cottages could either be built on-site or adapted for modular construction.
All together, the estimated construction cost for the “live 2 + adu” three-bedroom concept is $224,436. Individually, the “live 1” home is designed to cost $101,598, the “live 2” would cost $153,105 and the accessory unit would cost $71,331.
Housing NOW Partnership states that the homes are designed to be affordable for households earning between 80 and 120 percent of the Barnstable County median income.
When it comes to energy efficiency, Housing NOW homes are designed to meet both basic building code and Massachusetts stretch energy code. In addition, the cottages can be adapted to meet Net Zero Ready Home standards, meaning the homeowner would have no utility bills.
Although Housing NOW Partnership used the Cape Cod Young Professionals contest as a starting point, the group plans to move forward with release of the catalog even if it is not selected as the winning design.
“I think we’re going to be leaning in and staying in this type of work,” Ms. Neubauer said of her firm in particular.
The partnership has already begun searching for small properties suitable for Housing NOW homes, particularly in high-density urban areas situated near public amenities. In addition, the group hopes to have the Housing NOW building plans pre-approved by the building departments in each town on Cape Cod, to reduce permitting costs and the construction timeline.
Cape Cod Young Professionals received 48 applications for the design contest. This week, the organization selected four finalists in three categories, including Housing NOW Partnership. Longfellow Design Build of Falmouth was also selected as a finalist in the three-bedroom category. First place winners in each of the categories will be announced at the CCYP’s Annual Meeting on November 1.