Living for Everyone (LiFE) Homes: An Introduction

March 5, 2020
Jessica Glorius-Dangelo Sustainability Manager, Project Captain

In the multi-family sector of our business, one of the hottest topics that we are constantly talking to our developer partners and city leaders about is the idea of workforce housing. Workforce housing is commonly defined as a living accommodation that is affordable for workers and is in close proximity to their jobs. Throughout the United States, 4.6 million new cost-effective housing options are needed by 2030 for the workforce population. Some are forecasting that, on average, the urban growth in rental units will have to grow by 10 million units.

Cost-effective/affordable for these residents means monthly expenses, such as rent and utilities, that are less than one-third of a person’s income. Over 31.5% of Americans are spending more than this recommended amount on their housing, according to a Harvard University study. These units will predominantly have to be affordable and near the working centers of the city. On the flip side of this discussion is the cost to build. The price of labor, as well as material, have skyrocketed, making this demographic pricing itself out of the typical developer’s portfolio.

Armed with this knowledge, the Cincinnati division of MA’s Research and Innovation Team has been developing a new housing model that can help build a new type of affordable housing that we are calling Living For Everyone homes, or LiFE Homes. This new model aims to resolve the significant lack of affordable housing stock in our communities, and redefine what affordable looks like in practical applications.

We have created this paradigm shift because we wanted LiFE Homes to not only be affordable, but also eliminate housing-related discrimination based on age, social, or economic status. We believe that LiFE Homes will allow any individual, group, or family to age-in-place in a cost-effective way, regardless of their background. Though the backbone of our idea is the needs of the resident, we also realize the role the developer plays in the realization of our plan. If the plan is not affordable to the developer, then it will fall flat of the ultimate goal of becoming a viable solution.

Our goal is to provide materials that demonstrate to developers that this typology could be realized and prove the point that economical housing solutions can exist that are beautiful, sustainable, and cost-effective. We also believe that this new model can serve the architecture and design industry as a whole. The Cincinnati LiFE Homes concept is being designed so that it is universal, meaning it can be utilized in other regions and climates of the United States. As a guideline, it allows for customization to meet a specific location’s requirements as related to local code, climate, specific client and possible sustainable design certification (if desired).

To serve the residents, developers, and architectural community, the Research and Innovation team is generating a building case study and guidelines for LiFE Homes, using a real site in Cincinnati. We are studying how to resolve the issues between aesthetics, function, and sustainability in a way that emphasizes the economic framework and feasibility needed. Using both design and traditional research methods, the research team is evaluating each step of how the building is developed – starting with who the demographic is and what their needs are. Creating Avatars, imagined residents, that represent the characteristics and desires of the individuals and groups that might live in LiFE Homes, these personas represent single occupants, families, roommates, and the elderly. By utilizing these Avatars, we hone in on the users of the units, and what they want/need in their living quarters, and translate that data into new Unit Prototypes. These Avatars are also generating specific programmatic and design requirements for the common spaces and services provided that we will use to help with the development of Amenity Prototypes.

A key component to our design process and generation of data/requirements is an external review and critique by other members of the firm, developers, contractors, and engineers through the use of Charrettes. Over the course of the project, we have created multiple opportunities for input pertaining to the requirements for the site, unit layout, building layout, MEP systems, and constructability. These encounters allow us to get collaborative feedback, and push LiFE Homes into something transformational, innovative, and realistic.

Over the next several months as we move further into 2020, our goal is to build from the needs of our Avatars into site review and refinement, creating the economic strategy of affordability of how this building could be built, and study the energy models for environmentally sustainable practices. If you want to know more about our project and findings, reach out to our research team to become a part of this new and exciting shift in how housing can be developed at And, stay tuned in the coming months for more information on this process and the various outcomes. The team will generate additional posts about the Avatars, the Unit and Amenity Prototypes, the outcomes of upcoming charrettes, the results of the case study, and finally, the guidelines will be presented last.

Cincinnati Research + Innovation Team Members:
Sari Lehtinen
Corey Black
Jessica Dangelo

Columbus Residential Studio Collaborators
Mark Bryan