Enabling New Economies for Affordable Housing through Architecture and a Public-People Partnership

Americans do not have a right to housing.

Our nation is facing an affordable housing crisis, where 20.5 million households are rent-burdened.1 Without publicly-provided housing, it is left to the private market, creating a commodity-based approach to housing tailored to our capitalist-driven society. Housing in the US is treated as an economic asset, responding to socially-harmful incentives instead of the human right that it is.2 How can we enable a new economy into housing through the addition of skill, knowledge, and sweat equity of the community to bring forth a new public-people partnership?

Beyond direct housing policy, another major contributing factor in the production of and access to affordable housing is land use regulations. The US has a long and complicated relationship with its land through boundaries such as zoning, city lines, neighborhood boundaries, school districts, police precincts, election precincts, and historic “Residential Security” boundaries that have left lasting repercussions. While these very intentional, invisible boundaries remain unseen, their effects are very powerful. How can we challenge these boundaries?

Situated in Detroit, this thesis proposes to bring architecture into this equation in tandem with a public-people partnership, enabling a new economy for a productive and replicable model for affordable housing. The practice of architecture cannot be disconnected from the policy dictates its form, abundance, and practice. How can policy and architecture work together to create a more productive model that works to de-commodify housing? How can a public-people partnership enabled through architecture introduce a new capital for a cyclical economy into housing? How can we occupy our city’s invisible boundaries with an architecture that retaliates with a challenge to the current accessibility to housing and the land it sits on?


Ahmad Abu-Khalaf. JCHS’ State of the Nation’s Housing 2019 Report Shows that Renters Remain Widely Cost Burdened Even as Burden Ratios Declined Slightly. June 2019. Accessed: https://www.enterprisecommunity.org/blog/jchs-state-nations-housing-2019-report-highlights-continued-affordability-challenges#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20report%2C%202017,to%2011%20million%20in%202016).
2 George Monbiot, Robin Grey, Tom Kenny, Laurie Macfarlane, Anna Powell-Smith, Guy Shrubsole, Beth Stratford. Land for the Many, Changing the Way our Fundamental asset is Used, Owned and Governed. A report to the Labour Party, June 2019.
Faculty Advisor:
Jose Sanchez