What is an Attainable Housing Model for Cities Nationwide?

Robert Steuteville

Wednesday, May 15th, 2024

Two single-family lots (each about a third of an acre) were filled in with 16 courtyard units in Atlanta, creating a model for attainable workforce housing. Finley Street Cottages (FStC) consists of two historic houses, duplexes, accessory units, and guest houses grouped around a private courtyard—and no off-street parking. On the one hand, it’s transformative; on the other, it maintains the neighborhood's character.

According to public officials, the project is a creative response to the city’s housing crunch. “Finley Cottages is an example of the kind of housing innovation the private market is advancing to help make housing more affordable in Atlanta,” reports Joshua Humphries, Director of Housing and Community Development for the City of Atlanta.

FStC brings together diverse races and ages, notes Matthew Bedsole, Assistant Director of the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development Housing Innovation Lab, “When you live in a place like this, and you have a courtyard in the middle and the greenspace, and it is a part of the neighborhood feel,” he says, “you really do start to see the type of community that can emerge.”

This “micro-community” is a model for the built environment, economy, and social life “as a relational solution in our society for living … in proximity to your neighbors,” explains Justin Bleeker, executive director of Grove Park Renewal, a housing nonprofit.

The design of FStC pays attention to details that allow community to take root. The shared public space with amenities is one example. Also, the porches offer a transition between public and private spaces to facilitate a connection to the public street and the private green.

FStC combines a wider variety of housing types than is typical in a cottage court. On the Finley Street frontage, new three-story duplexes are side-by-side with the historic single-story houses without looking out of scale.  The cottages offer generous outdoor space, and still achieve 23 units per acre. That shows what is possible without off-street parking. 

A heavy rail transit station is within walking distance, and the cottages leverage abundant on-street parking in the neighborhood. The development promotes transportation alternatives—particularly robust on-site bicycle and e-bike infrastructure. 

“This level of compact, gentle development is completely compatible with the surrounding one- and two-family homes,” notes the design team.

“FStC demonstrates that attainable rental housing possibilities are achievable through incremental zoning reform,” the team explains. “Specifically, it was made possible via modifications to Atlanta’s zoning to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Reduced parking requirements were also critical to maximizing housing opportunities in this existing two-family zoning district. The savings achieved by providing no off-street parking will be passed on to the residents. These savings are a key piece of the affordability puzzle, because even when rents are set through Inclusionary Zoning, parking mandates on workforce housing make the total cost of living unaffordable.”

The project was difficult to get entitled, but the firm views FStC as a pilot that will facilitate similar small-scale developments. “We’ve streamlined the zoning approach and are providing stock architectural plans specifically calibrated to our zoning to greatly simplify and expedite this delivery process of attainable housing,” the design team explains.

The Finley Street Cottages are an example of how to build transformative infill in historic neighborhoods. This approach could be implemented in a wide range of cities. It’s a tangible, repeatable solution that addresses the housing affordability crisis.