The Alley Flat Initiative

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Austin Community Design and Development Center
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

Our mission is to improve the quality of life for all by providing sustainable design, planning and development services to low- and moderate- income individuals, families and neighborhoods. Recognizing the high cost of quality green design services, ACDDC was created to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, sustainable design. ACDDC employs a mixture of advocacy, education and design provision to reach our mission. Through partnerships with local Universities and grassroots affordable housing providers, ACDDC has become part of the infrastructure for systemic change.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Microsoft Office software has been indispensible in the development of The Alley Flat Initiative, a campaign to make sustainable, affordable housing a reality in Central Austin. <br /> <br />With rising home prices and rising energy costs, a significant portion of Austin households are concerned about being priced out of the housing market (HousingWorks Poll 2008).  In recent years, the cost of housing in Austin has risen dramatically, while the income of its residents has not increased proportionately.   From 2000 to 2005, property taxes in East Austin rose 125%, forcing many long time residents to move out of the central city due to a lack of affordability. <br /> <br />The Alley Flat Initiative (AFI) is an award-winning collaboration between the Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC), the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation (GNDC) and the University of Texas Center for Sustainable Development (UTCSD). This collaborative combines grassroots housing ethics with innovative research skills to develop green, affordable housing options that enrich Austin neighborhoods, and provide students with a venue for community engagement that profoundly enriches the student’s education and the lives of low-income households. These alley flats mitigate the forces of gentrification and environmental degradation by providing affordable, sustainable housing on underutilized urban lots in central Austin. <br /> <br />Alley flats are small secondary units that can be built by homeowners on their underutilized lots to generate additional income and/or house family members. They provide an outstanding opportunity to create affordability and increase density without disrupting the character of our neighborhoods. Alley flats are designed to use 40% less energy and 20% less water than a minimally code compliant home. A recent study conducted by the UTCSD estimates that there are roughly 42,000 lots in Austin that could immediately support secondary units, thus creating a huge opportunity for The Alley Flat Initiative to address the need for sustainable, affordable housing.<br /> <br />Microsoft Office software has helped The Alley Flat Initiative grow from a class project to a citywide delivery system.  In the early stages of the program, students used Microsoft Word to document their research for the Initiative, create reports and flow charts to summarize the information they gathered, and ultimately write a working paper to make a compelling argument that alley flats are a sustainable solution to the incredible need for affordable housing in Austin.  This paper has been used to educate potential funders, generate public awareness, well as document the development of the Initiative.  Student work produced with Word has helped us to aggregate a vast amount of research and present it to potential funders in a clear, convincing manner.<br /> <br />After the first alley flat prototype (which was awarded five stars from Austin Energy’s Green Building Program) was built last summer, students at UT used Excel software to analyze energy performance data to make sure the flat operated as efficiently as projected.  Recent student work also used Excel to develop a financial model for The Alley Flat Initiative designed to help lower income homeowners understand the financing behind building an alley flat on their lot.  Since financing affordable housing can be quite complicated, building a user-friendly model to help outline the complex layers of considerations in this process was a high priority.  Students used Microsoft Excel to create spreadsheets with various formulas that people could plug basic information in to in order to understand the financing behind their alley flat.   By plugging in numbers such as income, rent, square footage, and interest rate into this spreadsheet, homeowners can use the model to determine whether or not building an alley flat is a financially feasible option and if it is feasible, what size and type of alley flat might best fit their needs.<br /> <br />But possibly the most helpful piece of Microsoft software has been Powerpoint.  As the Alley Flat Initiative has grown, the need for support from city officials and from design volunteers has become clear.  We have used Powerpoint to engage city officials by creating presentations that convey key pieces of information about the Initiative, its potential as a long-term solution to the affordable housing problem in Austin, and the struggles developing affordable, green housing in Austin. <br /> <br />The Alley Flat Initiative also recruits design volunteers to help us develop a pattern book of alley flat designs that are available to participating home owners at very little cost.  Powerpoint makes it easy for us to create professional, dynamic presentations that outline the need for alley flats, summarize our findings, and convey the successes of the first alley flat prototype with both photos and graphs in a captivating and easily understandable way.   Microsoft Office enables us to bring our research and design work together in a way that engages potential advocates and clients, ultimately expands the depth and breadth of The Alley Flat Initiative’s impact on the City of Austin and beyond.

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery
Supporting Work Files