Avenue CDC's modular housing unit

An Innovative Approach to Affordable Housing & Financial Security for At-Risk Urban Neighborhoods

Avenue CDC Houston, Texas

Equitable Neighborhood Development

With support from NALCAB, member organization Avenue Community Development Corporation (Avenue), an affordable housing and community development nonprofit based in Houston, has embarked on a program to create affordable, prefabricated homes for low- and middle-income families, starting with a pilot project in the predominantly Hispanic Northline neighborhood. The project aims to create a sense of community with existing neighbors and to prove the viability of accessory dwelling units as a model for increasing density in Houston.  For Avenue, this pilot project is about finding new ways to deliver affordable homes, since housing prices are soaring faster than salaries, and many Houstonians find themselves “cost burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. 

In 2018, with financial backing from a NALCAB Equitable Neighborhood Development grant, Avenue partnered with modular designer and building expert BoxPrefab to create a pilot prefabricated (also known as modular construction) project design built off-site and placed at 813 McDaniel St. in the heart of the Northline neighborhood. The 1,300-square-foot three-bedroom, two-bath home was completed in 90 days, or half the time frame of a similar site-built project. Its design, while new, helps to maintain the aesthetic of the existing neighborhood. 

The success of the pilot project sparked interest in constructing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the community as a means of creating affordable housing on existing home sites and helping residents remain in their homes by providing an additional way to generate income. To further contribute to this goal, Avenue aims to provide financing options for homeowners for ADU developments while reducing costs to create rental properties that would financially support the owners.  

Modular construction ADUs are built off-site in an indoor facility allowing for increased construction control that eliminates weather delays and structural damage associated with outdoor building sites. They can be added to an existing section of residential housing, such as a garage apartment, added as an accessory unit in the backyard, or serve as the main structure on an available plot of land. Not only are these ADUs durable, more affordable and sustainable, but when it comes to Houston flooding, units built on raised helical pier foundations mitigate the dangers of rising water that frequents the region.   

A further advancement to the Northline program came in the Spring of 2020 when the Rice University School of Architecture approached Avenue to partner on the ADU project. In a studio classstudents took on the fabrication of the ADU shelland they will be working on finishing the interior and assisting with the installation of some of the ADU systems. Avenue took charge of the foundation preparation and will be working with contractors on mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.  

This project being constructed at one of Avenue’s communities in the historic First Ward neighborhood of Houston is expected to reach completion by summer 2021. Although the ADU project with Rice University is not taking place physically on Northline soil, it is part of the Northline Equitable Neighborhood Development Program and important insights from it will be applied to the Northline neighborhood where they hope to build a second ADU unit in late 2021.  

“As the modular home project advances, Avenue’s goal is work with additional nonprofits to create up to 50 prefab homes….,” said Mary Lawler, Executive Director for Avenue. “These scalable homes will be within the range of affordability for families priced out of Houston’s housing market. Using the off-site process, we intend to reduce turnaround time on new homes, allowing us to work more quickly and provide more homes for the communities we serve.” 

Thanks to the aid of NALCAB, skillful architecture students at Rice University, and input from Northline leaders; Avenue is on the path to making a positive impact not only in the Northline community but also for the entire city of Houston as they continue to provide affordable housing, build healthy communities, and encourage economically diverse neighborhoods in Texas’ largest city.