Contest Aims To Find 'Model' Home Design For Cape's Young Professionals

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Housing and homelessness , Affordable housing

Chatham Architect Leslie Schneeberger is one of a number of local house designers and architects participating in a contest to find a model home design that suits the needs of the Cape's young professions while at the same time being affordable and efficient. TIM WOOD PHOTO

It's no secret that housing is a problem both locally and Cape-wide. The hot market for seasonal homes has driven costs beyond what's affordable for most working people, and the supply of modest, reasonably priced homes is woefully inadequate.

Specifically targeting the need for affordable – and livable – year-round homes for working people, Cape Cod Young Professionals, in partnership with the Cape Cod and Islands Association of Realtors is challenging architects and designers to come up with plans for model homes that will be efficient, environmentally responsible, attractive, flexible, and most of all cost effective to build on Cape Cod.

Subtitled “Not your traditional Cape,” the design contest offers a $5,000 prize in each of three categories, and as of July 15 had attracted 45 interest forms submission, including six from individuals in Chatham, Harwich and Orleans, according to CCYP Interim Operations Director Catherine Baker.

Chatham Architect Leslie Schneeberger is a member of CCYP and plans on submitting an entry to the contest.

“We're all a similar demographic age,” she said of the group, “and we see with all the people we work with the need for housing.”

According to a recent Cape Cod Commission report, even working professionals on the Cape don't earn enough to afford the average homeownership costs, which tops $800,000 in Chatham. Even though the number of housing units is growing faster than the number of households, there remains a deficit in the need for year-round housing at all income levels.

The idea behind the contest is to develop “open source” designs that can be adopted for almost any site from Provincetown to Falmouth and built efficiently using common construction materials. Construction cost is a major challenge, Schneeberger said, meaning the cost per square foot needs to be kept low, in the range of $200. That means using seeking efficiencies in use of space and not wasting square footage while keeping rooms livable.

Builders, property owners and real estate agents will have access to the winning plans, which must meet all state and local building codes. Knowing approximate construction costs, as well as the design appearance – which the rules stress must be “attractive” – are a major plus when approaching construction of a home, she said.

“Construction can be daunting,” noted Schneeberger, an associate principal at Siemasko and Vergridge.

Square footage costs, along with land costs, are the biggest challenges the project presents, said Orleans Greg DeLory. Important elements include using commonly available materials with building procedures with curb appeal to attract young professionals and meet the needs of a young family.

“An idea for getting this off the ground would be sponsorships for the initial homes, having businesses step up, sort of a modified Habitat for Humanity approach,” he said in an email. He said he favors the “small house movement” and the Green Team leader for the Cape Cod chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “One of the tenets is green is small,” he said.

Schneeberger, who studied at the University of Colorado and has been with Siemasko and Verbridge for two years, said she works on a lot of custom homes but often thinks about how the various elements could be reworked to make them more affordable.

“This is almost like a dream project,” she said, “something I always thought I wanted to do.”

The designs are not meant to compete with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, which also use standard model homes, but are aimed more at the lower end of the affordability spectrum. There are three categories in the design contest: a one-bedroom accessory dwelling, which can be attached to an existing building or stand alone, with a maximum of 800 square feet; a two-bedroom dwelling of approximately 1,100 square feet; and a three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot house.

With known costs, the plans can be modified to fit the needs of the owner or the site; under the contest rules, changes to the winning designs must be made with the original architect or designer.

Submissions are due Sept. 15. The winner designs will be chosen by a panel of judges who have yet to be named, but will probably be drawn from within the trades, Schneeberger said. Selected designs will be showcased at the CCYP Back to Business Bash Sept. 28 at the Barnstable Municipal Airport.

Although there's a significant need for such housing on the lower Cape, Schneeberger sees the most likely locations for development of homes based on the contest model as being in towns like Falmouth and Yarmouth, where there's more land available.

“Even if a handful of homes get built by this, it will be successful,” Schneebeger said. “Hopefully a lot will get built.”