LA issues challenge to design more affordable, small-scale, middle-class housing

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As Los Angeles continues to deal with a shortage of affordable housing, the city and its Chief Design Officer, Christopher Hawthorne, issued a callout for low-rise housing designs aimed at middle-class and working families. Low-rise multi-family housing units would typically be two or so stories.

The city has zoned about three-fourths of its residential land for low-rise housing, and more than 400,000 lots in Los Angeles are single-family residences. The city aims to encourage building more multi-unit buildings for three or four households in these areas.

“There has been sort of a hole in the housing policy donut, if you will, in Los Angeles,” Hawthorne tells KCRW. “There's a big amount of space in the middle.”

The city has asked contest participants to think about how they can support greater rates of homeownership and break the housing “stalemate” in Los Angeles, as Hawthorne put it. The challenge’s organizers are seeking designs that might appeal to communities fearful of overly dense development.

According to Hawthorne, low-rise housing with three to four units per lot can offer benefits for residents, including a stronger sense of community, more help for local businesses, and new paths to owning homes. They also say that fewer single-family homes will reduce an individual family’s carbon footprint.

The organizers also note that more single-family homes than ever are vulnerable to wildfires, and they plan to place this housing in more “strategic” locations.

The callout, titled the “Low-Rise: Housing Ideas for Los Angeles” challenge, is free to enter, and officials are accepting submissions until February 12, 2021.