Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Innovation in Affordable Housing

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)


The need for quality affordable housing has never been greater. At its best, housing can help strengthen the social and physical fabric of communities and neighborhoods. It is the hope of HUD and its office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) that by initiating and funding this competition, a new generation will advance the design and production of livable and sustainable housing for low- and moderate-income people through research and innovation.

Wave Energy Prize

A student presents her design for a HUD affordable housing challenge. (Photo courtesy of HUD)

PD&R worked with the Office of Public and Indian Housing to issue a call for interested public housing authorities. The housing authorities were evaluated on a first-come, first-serve basis. For the inaugural 2014 competition, HUD partnered with the Housing Authority of Bergen County (HABC) in New Jersey.

HABC offered a challenging project for the competition—an historic American Legion building situated on 1.5 acres. HABC wished to maintain this historic building while providing affordable housing for homeless veterans. Challenge participants needed to consider design, community development and financing elements in order to provide an all-encompassing solution that would allow HABC to meet its goal. They also needed to understand the needs of the intended residents, the zoning restrictions and leveraging opportunities. The types of solutions sought through the competition were ideas and visualizations related to architecture, landscape architecture, planning, urban design and real estate finance.

The total cash prize for the 2014 Innovation in Affordable Housing challenge was $15,000. Non-monetary incentives were also used to motivate participants. Finalists were invited to travel to Washington, DC (two members of each team received travel funds) and present in front of a panel of esteemed experts in the field of architecture, affordable housing and community development. This was an excellent development opportunity for the finalists as they entered the job market.


The competition succeeded in introducing the next generation of architects, planners and others to the important and expansive nature of affordable housing. The competition received 7 submissions from teams that were composed of graduate students from a wide range of disciplines. Each team had to include three to five students and at least one had to be from a non-design background. Examples of eligible disciplines include architecture, urban planning, law, public policy, business, finance, real estate, and engineering. The runner-up, which received $5,000, was a joint team from New York University and Columbia University. The winning team, which received $10,000, was from Ohio State University. HUD decided to run the challenge again in 2015.

The acting Executive Director of HABC attended the final presentations, and many staff members viewed it via webcast. The ideas presented by finalists are being kept in mind as HABC works with architects and developers on the site.

Areas of Excellence

HUD recruited a jury of five experts in the field of architecture, affordable housing, and community development. The jury was asked to evaluate the proposals on three main factors: environmental, financial, and social. Each main factor contained seven to eight sub factors. The jurors were also encouraged to look for innovation throughout the proposal. In the future, HUD will designate a head juror who can guide the process.

The competition ran in two phases:

Phase I

Multidisciplinary teams of graduate students submitted their first-round electronic proposals. A schematic design level site plan and other details were required. The evaluation criteria emphasized understanding of and provision for community services, planning context (including zoning) and economic considerations related to affordable housing development, as well as design. The submissions were to include a narrative of two to four pages and two electronic design boards.

The panel of jurors evaluated all submissions and chose four finalist teams to move on to Phase II of the competition.

Phase II

Finalists were challenged to further refine their solutions, incorporating more detail, developed floor plans and analyses (economic, energy, etc.). The finalists traveled to the site for a walk-through and meeting with HABC staff. The site visit offered finalists the opportunity to examine the site first hand and speak with local officials and community members.

The final jury and award ceremony was held on May 6, 2014 at HUD headquarters in Washington, DC. Student finalist teams each prepared a 15-minute presentation and two design boards. They presented in front of a live audience, a webcast audience and the panel of jurors. After all the finalists presented, the jurors deliberated and former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the winners.

Area of Excellence #2: "Announce Winners"

A webpage dedicated to the competition was created on An initial announcement of the competition was sent to PD&R's listserv and recipients could sign up on the webpage to receive further competition updates. Throughout the recruitment phase, information was sent to these self-selected individuals. HUD also hired a contractor to help with the competition and aid in solicitation and outreach.

Both before the registration deadline and during the competition, blogs were posted on the HUDdle to keep the general public and the potential student participants informed. Articles covering the competition site visit and the final awards ceremony were included in the Edge, PD&R's online magazine. HUD also issued press releases announcing the finalists, and later the winners.

The competition team learned that more outreach to graduate schools was needed in future years, because some students claimed they did not know about IAH until after registration closed. In addition, the schedule was revised for the second annual competition in 2015 to better accommodate academic schedules.

Challenge Type


The overall goal of the HUD 2014 Innovation in Affordable Housing challenge is to foster innovative problem solving and solutions. The challenge also endeavors to promote an interdisciplinary, team-work way of problem solving and generating ideas that is not the typical academic approach to looking at a problem in this topic area. In order to promote creative thinking and innovative ideation, the challenge required teams consist of students with different backgrounds. This creates a real-world approach for students to solve development problems and promotes new and creative ideas by encouraging competitors to partner with experts in diverse disciplines. It promotes a form of collaboration that results in new innovations and outside-the-box thinking. Some of the ideas generated in this ideation challenge included physical, financial, and social solutions for affordable housing for veterans in Bergen County, New Jersey.

The structure of this challenge also encouraged the development of creative ideas by using a two-phase organization. In the first phase, teams were encouraged to focus on the ideation element of the challenge. This allowed competitors to focus on the design of their solutions. Those who advanced to the next phase were able to further refine their ideas and include more detail, as well as economic and environmental analyses. This iterative approach to judging and challenge structure can be useful when a problem is best addressed by both creative thinking and the careful implementation of new ideas.

Legal Authority

America COMPETES Act

Challenge Website

Current year of competition: