Understanding Affordable Housing: Key Facts and Economic Impact

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go and not be questioned.”

Maya AngelouMemoirist, Poet, & Civil Rights Activist

Designing affordable housing is not only a major focus of RMC’s work, but one of our passions as well. We believe everyone deserves an uplifting, welcoming place to call home. We also believe that thoughtfully crafted, environmentally sensitive, community-oriented housing energizes the streetscape and enhances neighborhood connections by setting a positive, welcoming tone.

But first, let’s talk about a few important facts surrounding what affordable housing means, who it’s for, and how it impacts our nation’s economy. 

The Challenge

Did you know that:

  • The shortage of affordable housing costs the American economy about $2 trillion a year in lower wages and productivity.
  • The U.S. has a shortage of 7.3 million rental homes that are affordable to renters with extremely low incomes.
  • There is currently no state or county where a renter working full-time at minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment.
  • Housing ownership is a key ingredient in increasing economic mobility and ending intergenerational poverty. The BIPOC community is particularly challenged in this regard due to a legacy of discriminatory policies.
  • Minimum-wage workers, students, educators, healthcare workers, fire fighters, police officers, and seniors are among those who may also qualify for subsidized affordable housing.


A Solution

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, each dollar invested in subsidized affordable housing boosts local economies by leveraging public and private resources to generate income—including resident earnings and additional local tax revenue—and supports job creation and retention.

How is this achieved? Let’s talk design.

Enhancing Neighborhood Connections

Before we begin to design subsidized affordable housing projects, we ask ourselves how these buildings can revitalize and support their surroundings.


Before we begin to design subsidized affordable housing projects, we ask ourselves how these buildings can revitalize and support their surroundings. In the case of Samish Commons, located on the former Aloha Motel site in Bellingham, the vision was to transform this austere section of the neighborhood into an Urban Village. An Urban Village’s primary goal is to become less automobile focused by adding residential and mixed-use buildings, green spaces, and other features that accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. Samish Commons achieves this by providing 171 subsidized affordable apartment units over three buildings, including a building for seniors and one for families. Bellingham Housing Authority’s (BHA) new office adds the mixed-use component, and a forthcoming early learning childcare center supports the community. Passersby Samish Commons are offered glimpses into the courtyard, transparent entries, and community spaces. In this way the project’s lively presence interacts with the neighborhood by being a good neighbor itself.

In 2017 RMC and BHA hosted a meeting for the surrounding neighborhoods. They showed us some of the architectural renderings and told us they wanted to create attractive, affordable, multigenerational housing. They showed us the inner courtyard concept and ideas for green spaces, and it looked very approachable and inviting. The neighborhoods knew this was much-needed housing, so we were all very engaged. When you get that level of collaboration between the community and the architects, owner, and developer you can accomplish a lot. It was a very respectful relationship. Samish Commons was supported by the neighborhoods because our voices were included.

Anne MackieBoard Member, York Neighborhood Association

A Welcoming Environment


Rather than locating subsidized affordable housing away from city amenities, we weave them into the urban fabric, so users have access to public transportation, jobs, and community resources. When these projects are built to achieve higher population density and located near mass transit, the environmental and climate benefits significantly increase through reduced vehicle use, lower carbon emissions, and improved air quality. This is also vital to supporting residents. At Eleanor Apartments, an 80-unit affordable senior housing project, Mercy Housing’s ethos of health, wellness, and community was an important part of the design. Located on the fringe of downtown in the York historic residential neighborhood, the project brings new life to an underused corner. To engage people at the street level, the design includes semi-private access to ground-level units, a rain garden ideal for stormwater retention, a P-patch, and a plaza with seating and shade trees. By providing a variety of community rooms for different activities, the project encourages socialization and uplifts those who call Eleanor Apartments home.


Wrap Up

By placing human dignity and the good of the community at the center of design, subsidized affordable housing projects help shape our cities by contributing to their health, vibrancy, and productivity.

For more information on our affordable, multifamily housing work,  contact us at contact@rmcarchitects.com.


Photography by Benjamin Benschneider

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