Finding the Right Location: A Guide to Choosing Land for Interim Supportive Housing

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How many times have you wandered past a fenced-off or boarded-up vacant lot? Any time a piece of land remains vacant, it’s a squandered resource. DignityMoves’ unique model of using agile, relocatable housing units converts that squandered resource into what our communities desperately need: interim supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.  

Building an interim supportive housing community requires thoughtful land selection and cannot just be dumped in the middle of nowhere, far from everything. Instead, a thorough evaluation of the project site is essential before embarking on any new project, as it can significantly impact the project’s timeline and budget, as well as its success. Here are key considerations for site selection of your interim supportive housing community to meet the needs of both the community and its future residents. 

The Essentials of Site Selection

    • Duration is Key: Opt for land available for five years or more, offered as a philanthropic gesture at a nominal fee. Do you know any property owners who want to be part of the solution and play a role in addressing the humanitarian crisis on our streets? Given the setup and relocation processes involved, anything less than five years undermines the project’s viability. Flexible lease terms can accommodate both parties’ future needs, ensuring a partnership built on mutual understanding and respect.
    • Accessibility is Non-negotiable: The site must be convenient for public transportation and close to essential services. This supports residents in maintaining employment, accessing healthcare, fulfilling other critical needs, and fostering a sense of autonomy and connection to the community.
    • Zoning for Success: The land should be zoned for residential or mixed-use to streamline the project’s launch. Proper zoning avoids legal pitfalls and ensures the housing initiative can proceed without unnecessary delays.
    • Infrastructure Matters: Nearby water, sewer, and electrical connections significantly reduce setup costs. Proximity to these utilities is a major factor in the project’s financial feasibility and timeline.
    • The Ideal Layout: Flat and paved terrains are preferable for ease of development and compliance with accessibility standards. However, if necessary, creative solutions can adapt to slight gradients or unpaved surfaces.
    • Operator Feedback: Operators have a significant role to play and should be involved from the outset when reviewing potential sites to help inform the project’s design and identify potential challenges. They can also provide insights into the day-to-day operations of the site and help build trust and buy-in from the community.
    • Site Scorecard: Create a site scorecard that evaluates the site’s physical characteristics, existing infrastructure, and environmental conditions. This analysis should include site visits, surveys, and consultations with experts.

Size and Scalability

An ideal supportive housing community accommodates 50-100 residents, striking a balance between cost efficiency and personal touch. In our experience, the ideal site SF is about ½ acre or about 20,000 SF.  Such a size leverages economies of scale in construction and service provision, maximizing the impact of every dollar spent.

Creativity in Site Locations

Look beyond the conventional: rooftops, oddly shaped lots, and areas already frequented by people experiencing homelessness can all transform into safe, supportive spaces. Engaging with local stakeholders might also unveil locations prone to encampments, indicating a potential site that benefits both the landowner and the community.

The Power of Online Tools

Utilize state databases and digital mapping tools such as the Department of General Services (DGS) Surplus Lands database or Lightbox ® to uncover hidden gems. You an also find available Surplus Land on the APR Dashbord here. It’s also worth checking that the selected site is not within a floodplain! A parcel next to a closed retail giant or an unused corner of a municipal property might be an ideal spot for your interim supportive housing community.

A Win-Win Situation

Building an interim supportive housing community requires creative and thoughtful participation from all parties, and there is much to gain. Landowners and developers can benefit from potential tax incentives and comprehensive insurance and from the unique opportunity to contribute to one of the most significant social causes of our time. Finding a site that works for everyone is not only possible but within reach.

 

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At DignityMoves, our mission is to operate in the spirit of openness and collaboration. We are thrilled to launch a series of insights from our Open Source Playbook, starting with a journey into site selection for interim supportive housing communities. Join us as we unravel our learnings and methods to date, setting the foundation for transformative community projects. 

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