Meet the young people fixing the affordable housing crisis one idea at a time

Ivory Innovations gets students, experts involved in finding solutions to nationwide issue

Ivory Innovations and its director, Abby Ivory, are pushing businesses and students to solve the Affordable Housing Crisis.

Ivory has a personal background on impact investing.

She said her father runs Ivory Homes, a large home-building business in Utah. He watched his daughter working overseas on a number of different issues and eventually asked, “Why don’t you try tackling a domestic issue: housing affordability?”

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From that, Ivory Innovations, housed at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, was born a little more than four years ago.

Ivory Innovations brings together stakeholders of public and private organizations to support solutions to the national housing affordability crisis.

“The initial thought was, how do we invest in companies that are helping change and innovate and drive affordability?” Ivory said.

Through conversations with experts from across the country, Ivory and her team realized how policy and regulatory reform have such an intense impact on housing affordability. The team brainstormed ways they could combine that way of thinking with the investment side of things.

One idea that was birthed from the brainstorming process: the Ivory Prize, an annual award recognizing ambitious, feasible and scalable solutions to housing affordability.

“Each year, we go out and look for people who are doing, you know, great things in this space making ... change, innovating and driving affordability. Most importantly, you know, we’ll go find them and we’ll award, we’ll come up with a top 25, top 10. And then we’ll award one of these companies $70,000 each year, but then what we end up doing is working with the companies in a pretty intense way,” Ivory said.

One thing the organization focuses on is getting the next generation involved in solving the issue. One way they do that is through another initiative known as Hack-a-House, a 24-hour brainstorming challenge where students are asked to come up with a solution to housing affordability based on the prompt they’re given.

Last year’s winner went to Kit Switch, which went on to start a company with their business idea, which focuses on adaptive reuse, or the process of turning existing buildings into affordable housing.

“What we do is we help create tools to place apartments inside existing buildings, effectively what that looks like, is a kit of parts for us. So you can imagine things like a panel that actually acts as a kitchen panel, or one that acts as a door panel with a door opening. And we’ve really designed this kit specifically for adaptive reuse or the process of turning existing buildings into housing,” said Armelle Coutant, one of the winning team members.

When it comes to construction, Kit Switch says their assembly is quick, pricing is upfront and affordable and material waste is significantly reduced.

Kit Switch founders say, at the end of the day, their goal is to create more housing.

Ivory said while the process may be uncomfortable, it’s important to make sure the goal is reached.

“Change is always hard for people and a lot of times ... more housing means change. And so, you know, helping people find the truth within the change, I think, is important,” Ivory said.

With initiatives like The Ivory Prize and Hack-a-House, Ivory and her team drive experts and students to figure out creative solutions for many different areas of housing issues, such as finance, construction and design, policy, COVID-19 and racial inequality.

The Ivory Prize is now open for nominations. Companies can be self-nominated or nominated by other groups. Ivory Innovations is seeking solutions that innovatively drive housing affordability in individual communities and across the country.

Click here for more information.

Solutionaries” is a new digital show that focuses on solutions-based journalism.

Episode 2, which tackles affordable housing and highlights those working to solve the crisis, drops Sept. 20.

You can watch Episode 1, “Policing in America,” here.

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