Could Good Design Have Prevented the Housing Crisis?

Architect Jeanne Gang and scholar Greg Lindsay have penned an opinion piece in which they investigate the ways in which designers and planners can fix the housing crisis by responding to economic, demographic, and cultural changes.

It is an old story amongst the planning profession: poor urban design leads to an unsustainable community. Multiple unsustainable communities stitched together with an unsustainable highway system leads to unsustainable regions and states. How much of the housing crisis that faced the United States these past 6 years was a result of speculation on housing constructed without sufficient consideration of good urban design and community building is a big debate right now.

Gang and Lindsay wade into the debate by stressing the importance of bringing coordinated multidisciplinary creativity to the planning and governance of our struggling cities and towns. The challenges of the housing crisis have presented an opportunity to understand the myriad demographic, cultural, and economic changes affecting American cities and suburbs; and to create forward-thinking financial, regulatory, and design solutions to address them.

Challenging the accepted definition of what a family is and how to provide multi-generational housing. Challenging the established zoning and separation of uses. These are paramount in making sure that the communities we build have underlying value.

Thanks to Blake Laven

Full Story: Designing a Fix for Housing



Headline Belies Solution

Such a misleading headline from the New York Times. The solution that Gang and Lindsay in their article propose is the use of cooperative form of home ownership for household of modest means. Unfortunately, they don't specify that what's needed are limited-equity (aka "low-equity) cooperatives in which the cost of a share rises according to inflation so the housing stays affordable to the income groups targeted in perpetuity. With housing costs kept under control, households can save for that downpayment needed to buy a home in the private market. Low-equity cooperatives have worked so well that in the late 1960s, the federal government actually returned $30 million in mortgage insurance premiums to low-equity coops because there were no defaults. Limited-equity cooperatives have been the most successful housing program in the nation's history -- but the real estate industry has done everything it can to curtail low-equity coops. That's because all the middlemen are cut out -- real estate agents, title companies, attorneys, lenders. Instead it's housing for protection from the elements rather than being tax shelters.

For a short 1 1/2 page paper on how low-equity cooperatives can help solve and prevent housing crises, visit and scroll down to "Low–equity cooperatives = Housing solutions" where you can view or download the PDF file.

Daniel Lauber, AICP
AICP President 2003-2005, 1992-1994
APA President 1985-1986

Michael Lewyn's picture

compared to NYC co-ops

So how are these different from a typical NYC co-op?

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