9 Resources for Designing Affordable Housing with Wood

The need for affordable housing continues to be top of mind throughout the United States. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates over 580,000 people are experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States, and 70% of all extremely low-income families pay more than half their income on rent. Meanwhile, a shortage of 7.3 million affordable rental homes available to renters with incomes at or below the federal poverty guideline makes housing increasingly difficult to secure. Every new affordable housing development matters, as does finding economically viable design solutions to meet demand. 

Safe, sustainable, and affordable building materials are critical to addressing the challenge without negatively impacting our climate. The savings associated with wood construction—both mass timber and light-frame systems—allow developers to build faster and more effectively with smaller crews, all of which can translate to cost savings. Wood construction can also support designers’ efforts to create attractive, affordable housing that improves the well-being of residents. The project examples and resources below explore wood’s positive impacts on bringing more affordable multifamily developments to market.

5 Impressive Affordable Housing Projects

1. Nesika Illahee Affordable Housing

Nesika Illahee, which means “Our Place” in the Chinook language, was designed to be more than just an affordable housing development. This light-frame multifamily project in Portland, Oregon, provides income-restricted housing within a warm, healing community that centers on Native American art and traditions.

Nesika Illahee Affordable Housing
Photo Credit: Josh Partee

2. Globeville Affordable Housing & Library

Carefully composed with an eye toward the poetics of its materials, Chicago-based architect John Ronan’s new 173-unit Globeville Affordable Housing complex in Denver took inspiration from the surrounding neighborhood’s industrial past. With bold features like exposed CLT panels, the design reflects the area’s history while offering a new way forward.

Globeville Affordable Housing & Library
Render Credit: John Ronan Architects

3. Freedom House

Transitional housing provider Freedom House engaged local architecture firm Berners Schober on a redesign and new construction to replace a previous decaying structure. The resulting building is an award-winning wood-frame housing and administrative facility that tells a story of warmth, simplicity, and integrity.

Freedom House
Photo Credit: Tricia Shay

4. 355 Sango Court

355 Sango Court is an affordable multifamily project in California with 102 residential supportive housing units for residents with special needs, including formerly homeless people, seniors, and persons with disabilities. The building includes four stories of residential units ranging from studios to 3-bedroom apartments built with light-frame, modular construction.

355 Sango Court
Render Credit: David Baker Architects

5. Shopworks + Trauma-Informed Design

When Denver-based architecture studio Shopworks chooses to design its community projects with wood, its reasoning goes far beyond aesthetics. Projects like Laurel House, Providence at the Heights, the Elizabetta, and the Stella showcase wood as part of each facility’s trauma-informed design, giving residents a sense of community and connection while still accommodating the need for safety and retreat. Wood’s correlation to biophilic wellness benefits makes it a material of choice when designing to the principles of trauma-informed design.

Shopworks + Trauma-Informed Design
Photo Credit: Matthew Staver
4 Informative Affordable Housing Resources

1. Five Prototypes Making Housing More Affordable in America
Developers are thinking outside the box to make housing more affordable, using prefabricated, sustainable building systems—like modular wood construction—to create new multifamily units. Five initiatives, including Orlando, Florida-based architect Trevor Boyle’s Breezeway Home concept for temporary emergency housing, are making housing more affordable in America.
Prefabricated Solutions to Housing Challenges

2. Unlocking Mass Timber Affordability
This engaging webinar showcases successful projects and strategies that have made mass timber a viable and cost-competitive option for affordable housing developments. Valuable insights from an expert panel, including architects from Mithun and Williams + Paddon, unlock the potential for mass timber to revolutionize the affordable housing sector.
Watch the Webinar

3. How Prefab Wood Can Make Housing More Affordable
Building with prefabricated mass timber can be part of the solution for affordable housing. A report from Dovetail Partners and Spiritos Properties explores the benefits of wood construction, including a mix of mass timber and light-frame wood construction.
Read the Report for Affordable Housing Insights

4. Growing Good Homes CEU
This CEU explores how wood structural systems like light-frame construction and mass timber can help address the urgent timeline and budget of the housing problem and how wood’s low-carbon benefits and innovative, flexible applications can help mitigate climate change.
Take the Growing Good Homes CEU

While there is no single solution to the challenges associated with developing more affordable housing, designing and building with wood can help bring projects online faster and more cost-effectively without compromising sustainability, functionality, or aesthetics. View Think Wood’s Project Gallery for more examples and information on designing and building affordable housing developments. 

Have a question about how or if you can use wood in your next multifamily project?

We can connect you with the industry’s leading experts to provide free lunch and learn education or other continuing education resources covering wood design and construction.
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