It is no surprise that American cities are currently suffering from a housing crisis. As many homes stand vacant, it becomes evident that what many major metropolises are missing is affordable housing. The average cost of constructing a home is around $428,000, and with rents rising faster than wages, these are less plausible options for many Americans.

 

Faced with challenges such as construction costs and policy, there is no single solution to the crisis at the moment, but some startups are trying to step in to intervene. One such startup is the Seattle-based company Node. In order to ease the cost of living for working- and middle-class residents in cities, there needs to be cheaper homes created at scale, and quickly. Node’s approach to this is modular, prefabricated homes that can be flat-packed, à la Ikea furniture. The homes can be assembled within days rather than weeks, and the walls snap together with metal brackets without the use of nails or screws. In essence, the structures sound like sheds but are distinguished by their beautiful woods, expansive windows, and modernist aesthetic. The best description for the system, according to Node’s co-founder and chief operating officer Bec Chapin, is that “it’s Legos.”

 

So far, homes sold are in the $250,000 range, which isn’t much lower than conventional construction. In the future, Node hopes to integrate all the materials, including water and electrical systems into factory-made assemblies to cut down the on-site labor costs. This, in turn, can contribute to significant price reductions for buyers. 

 

Prefabricated housing addresses the construction cost aspect of the housing crisis, but other battles remain. Housing regulations and zoning laws are barriers to affordable housing. Approximately 28% of people in America live alone, but many cities and neighborhoods ban the construction of multi-unit buildings through exclusionary zoning. Over twenty cities are changing zoning laws to encourage the addition of in-law units and backyard cottages. Whereas the construction of new apartment buildings tends to draw protesters, backyard cottages are popular for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it avoids a lot of housing politics, such as the American aversion to population density. Another reason is that it puts money in the pockets of homeowners by putting an additional unit on their property.