It really begins with design. Then they find a way to build what they want to live in. Not surprisingly, other people want to live like they do. Their projects are waking up transitional neighborhoods in San Diego with eye catching infill, and creating a new mystique around small, multifamily buildings. They are privately funded and market rate. By design, most are also affordableby local standards. The typical structural type is wood frame over a concrete podium.
These are the kinds of places we will also want to live, because they’re generous with shared space and they make low density urban neighborhoods cool. They are uniquely fitted to leftover urban lots. Best of all, they are low cost, and therefore “naturally” affordable. Still, building these projects is a challenge for recent architecture program graduates. Here’s a list of typical reasons:
They’re neither big nor small.
Transitional urban neighborhoods in the west really want to be single family, and they all hate this kind of thing.
Plan reviewers are baffled by them.
They drive contractors crazy.
The number of trades involved will blow the budget.
They won’t get financed, because they just don’t pencil.
There’s no market.
The list goes on, but the San Diego group has overcome all of the above, project by project. One reason is that they have to do it to graduate. Another is that they have institutional support. Yet another is that they are self described code nerds, dedicated to mastering the nuances of zoning and construction regulations. They also understand the business of construction finance.
But perhaps their biggest advantage in changing the conventions of development is sweat equity. They have found ways to monetize their own labor (including design), and the labor of others who might be future residents. Many graduates live in their original multifamily infill projects with their own families and friends. But one graduate, according to Perez, has built more than 400 units, and owns a percentage of them.
Graduates are known for microhousing, which really just means apartments with square footage as low as 250. (Most affordable units are in the range of 600 square feet.) Most of their microunits actually seem much larger, primarily because of high ceilings. Little cheats help—like loft space over bathrooms, where the square footage does not count, or bath and toilet areas with sliding doors.