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Redefining Affluence How Affordable Housing Can Elevate Communities Beyond Expectations

European aesthetics meet pragmatic American beauty

By now the refrain is familiar: “Village Mayor M#$%phy now wants to add more ‘affordable housing’ – keep electing officials who want slums and you will get them”

This could be a quote from a planning commission meeting in an affluent Westchester County enclave or a social media post trying to drum up opposition to a proposed housing project. The number and frequency of articles reflecting this sentiment seems to grow daily. Law suits, council votes, attempts to sway the public, all based on fears and assumptions.

Are quality, value and affordability mutually exclusive?

One place to look for answers is Europe, and the Netherlands in particular. The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe and has a highly urbanized population, with around 90% of the population living in urban areas.

According to the World Bank, the Netherlands had a population density of 528 people per square kilometer in 2020, while the New York City metropolitan area had a population density of 326 people per square kilometer in 2019.

The Netherlands has been successful in creating affordable and high-quality housing by adopting a subsidized housing system that prioritizes the needs of tenants.

The country’s approach to affordable housing involves a combination of public and private investment, long-term planning, and design innovation.

Here are some ways the Netherlands achieves beauty and quality in its affordable housing:

  • Sustainable and energy-efficient buildings: The Netherlands has strict regulations and incentives for energy-efficient buildings, and affordable housing units are no exception. The country’s subsidized housing system encourages the use of sustainable building materials and practices, as well as the installation of energy-efficient appliances and heating systems. This not only helps to reduce energy costs for tenants but also has a positive impact on the environment.
  • Design innovation: The Netherlands is known for its innovative approach to design and architecture, and this extends to affordable housing as well. The country has a long history of experimenting with new construction techniques and materials to create efficient and sustainable buildings. Some of the innovative design features in affordable housing units include passive solar heating, green roofs, and energy-efficient windows.
  • Integration of affordable housing into existing neighborhoods: The Netherlands’ approach to affordable housing involves integrating it into existing neighborhoods, rather than isolating it in separate areas. This allows for social cohesion and helps to avoid stigmatization of low-income residents. By integrating affordable housing into existing neighborhoods, the Netherlands has been able to create mixed-income communities that are diverse and vibrant.
  • Focus on tenant needs: The Netherlands’ approach to affordable housing puts a strong emphasis on meeting the needs of tenants. Affordable housing units are designed with the needs of residents in mind, including features such as accessible entrances, elevators, and community spaces.
Amsterdam – photo collage Wiley Simms & Various

Taking a similar approach, the Urban Villa™ project looks to change perceptions

A new consortium of architects and builders is taking on the challenge, starting in the New York Metropolitan and Westchester County area.

Bringing a wealth of combined expertise to bear, the group aims to combine timeless beauty, sustainable energy efficient techniques, and design innovation to create affordable subsidized multi-family projects that will change the perception and reality of this important area.

The name is based on the historically accurate idea that a Villa was more a community living space and system than a single family mansion and that the quality, upscale experience and image can be replicated for modern affordable community needs.