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Driving Housing Production: Accelerating out of the Turn

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Photo credit: Charlie Larkman

Everyone has a unique view about why solving the housing underproduction crisis should be so simple. A contractor will say it is about addressing the labor shortage. A developer might say that we need to align on more favorable regulations and policies. And others in homebuilding might say it is about accessing favorable financing. Although they all may be correct, no single solution is going to be a fix all.

At the Missing Middle Housing Fund (MMHF), we like to think about shoring up our workforce housing ecosystem with an analogy. Have you ever watched a pit crew furiously tend to a racecar in the middle of the Indy 500 or a NASCAR race? Every member of the crew has a highly specialized job that focuses on an optimized part of the car – tires, engine, fuel, body, the driver. Each piece of the whole is critically important for efficiency and winning the race. If the car has the best carburetor money can buy and top of the line fuel lines, but has engine belts from the 1960’s, it won’t run, and ultimately the team won’t be able to compete.

This collaborative and highly synchronized pit team can serve as a model for how the industry should operate and grow. Building more workforce housing for less cost and time requires aligned financing, design, materials, workforce, and policy – all working together seamlessly.

Middle income earners (80% to 120% of AMI) cannot afford most market rate housing rents or mortgages, or make tremendous sacrifices to do so; but they also don’t qualify for affordable housing – they make too much money. And since the “guts” of housing at all price points costs roughly the same – drywall, plumbing, foundations, financing, permitting, etc. – building homes for middle income earners doesn’t make financial sense. The team and process, unlike racecars, is not optimized for success.

The MMHF believes in a future where ALL parts of the housing ecosystem collaborate like that race car’s pit crew. Right now, we’re losing the race – we don’t build nearly enough housing for Oregonians and the impacts are seen everywhere. The future is bright, however, if we consider innovations that prioritize:

  • Middle income housing

  • Innovation that reduces time and cost

  • Broad and new collaborations across ALL parts of the housing ecosystem

Oregon is overflowing with innovation. We need to identify, support, connect, and scale the best of those innovations. And we need to acknowledge that we will fail, often. Changing such a big “system” is hard, and we need to actually DOUBLE our production. Learning fast is key.

So, here are the four areas of innovation we need to invest time, creativity, and resources in. If we focus on one, the “car” still won’t run. We need help moving them ALL across the finish line.

  1. Financing and funding – loan funds, equity investments, incentives, infrastructure

  2. Assembly methods, materials, supply-chains, and designs

  3. Workforce education – new workers, increased productivity, technology

  4. Regulations and policy – zoning, permitting, fees, land

Over the next few months, this blog will highlight innovations in each of these categories.

The scale of our challenge is vast. It demands an “all hands on deck” pit crew mentality. We need as many doers as possible, since, unfortunately, there’s no manual or silver bullet for our housing underproduction crisis. A home is foundational to individual, community, and economic prosperity. Together, we will WIN the race. We have to.

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