List



Summary

Strong economic, demographic and household trends reveal a tremendous pent-up demand to use homes for employment, pressuring the marketplace to accommodate all types of live-work units. Yet for the past half-century, live-work units have essentially been made illegal or discouraged in most places. Changes to zoning and building codes, as well as management and permitting procedures, are required to allow the full spectrum of live-work options to be restored.

 Back to All Publications
 Download the PDF

Definition

Live-work unit, Flexhouse: A dwelling unit on its own lot that contains, to a varying but limited extent, a workplace component.


History of live-works

Live-work units are among the oldest forms of housing. For centuries, our cities, towns and villages included shophouses, often referred to as the original live-work unit, in which work, commerce and housing all took place on the same property. However, the advent of the industrial revolution, advances in transportation technology, new settlement patterns, and the fact that most zoning codes required separate and single-use zoning all contributed in some fashion to the slow erosion of this type. By the mid 1950s, live-works essentially became illegal or highly discouraged in most places.


The Case for live-works

In the past 30 years, the rise of the internet, telecommuting and the entrepreneurial spirit of workers across generations have begun to force a reversal of this trend. Many factors are contributing to this renewed demand. Fast advances in information technology and telecommunication improvements have also made both home-based businesses (HBB) and working from home much more feasible in recent years. Furthermore, commuting has become an unpleasant chore, with the average American spending seven days per year doing it. Finally, our desire for a smaller carbon footprint, reduced transportation costs, greater work flexibility and autonomy, a better quality of life, and less reliance on oil have also increasingly fueled the return of the live-work unit.

Equally important, strong economic, demographic and household trends are revealing a tremendous pent-up demand for the use of homes for employment, resulting in a pressuring of the marketplace to accommodate all types of live-work units. A quick glance at US Census data clearly favors this growing market for such mixed-use opportunities.

  • The number of people working from home is steadily increasing, and at a faster rate than expected. The percentage of workers who worked at least one day from home increased from seven percent in1997 to 9.5 percent in 2010. The percentage of those who work exclusively from home increased from 4.8 in 1997 to 6.6 in 2010. Extrapolated to 2014, those figures are more than 10 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
  • “Small is big” in our economy, as the number of people who would find live-work units desirable keeps growing. Sixty-two percent of all firms, 48 percent of establishments, five percent of all employees, and 4.5 percent of all wages paid are represented by organizations employing 1 – 4 people.
  • HBB are increasingly prevalent (estimated at 20-25 percent of the market) and continuing to grow.
  • The next 30 years will bring demand for more than one billion square feet of nonresidential space, or almost twice what exists now. Seventy percent of new nonresidential space will be redevelopment on existing developed lots.

Live-Work Units described

There are three overarching types of live-work conditions within our built environment (excluding mixed-use buildings):

  1. Home occupation: where most codes, with minimal requirements, allow up to 25 percent of a home to be dedicated to a workspace.
  2. Live-work units: the focus of this paper with the four main sub-types as described below.
  3. Work-live units: a mixed-use unit that contains a commercial, office or light industrial component. The work component exceeds 50 percent of the dwelling area, resulting in stricter code requirements for health and safety reasons.

Live-work units are, by definition, flexible in their use and configuration. Due to the many American lifestyles, we propose four models of live-work units named by their lot disposition. Their urban location is crucial to their viability and they are presented in order of their suitability from the most urban to the most rural conditions.

  1. The Live-Within Type has a workplace and living area completely overlapping, such that the demarcation line can be adjusted continuously and on a daily cycle. This is the perfect business incubator type, with double functioning spaces that can be built roughly and cheaply.
  2. The Live-Above Type has the workplace below the residential quarters. The separation between the two functions is complete, allowing the commercial section to be independently leased out for limited use.
  3. The Live-Behind Type has the workplace in front of the residential quarters, thereby liberating the rear part of the lot for a conventional house. The demarcation between the two uses is complete, allowing the workspace to be leased to a separate entity for limited use.
  4. The Live-in-Front Type is a single-family house where the workplace is typically behind the living quarters, along a rear alley. The house is intended to be fully compatible with a conventional house, with freestanding work quarters suitable for restricted uses. The demarcation between the two uses is adjustable to changes in the family life.

Impediments

Simply stated, the American dwelling has not kept up with the times, and the building industry has failed to respond in a comprehensive way. Moreover, despite the urgent need to increase our livework options, there is still a steep regulatory hill to climb and overcome. Specifically, local zoning regulations are still too limiting, and building code requirements too expensive, onerous and inefficient. The unintended results of interpreting a live-work unit as a commercial building (for fire, life-safety, egress, construction type, and HVAC system requirements) often also make its form inefficient and awkward. Code requirements are typically far in excess of any low-risk hazard that may be present in the workspace, making livework units less affordable and inclusive.


Solutions

People have had to make do and reconfigure their dwellings as best they can, but it is not sufficient. Arguably, our codes should allow some degree of workplace in every unit. The live-work type has repeatedly proved that it is a wonderful way to bring small businesses back to the main streets, retrofit existing buildings, convert industrial districts to neighborhoods, and create a variety of mixed uses in sustainable communities. Live-works provide unparalleled opportunities to enhance a community’s vibrancy and sense of place. They create potential for a more balanced social life, allow for co-working spaces where unstructured social interaction can take place, and provide flexible workspace in a real business environment. They also offer many options to incubate a business. It’s an inherent way to provide affordable housing and, as important, affordable work spaces. Finally, artists are significant contributors to local economies and culture, often labeled urban pioneers of revitalized neighborhoods. Live-work units can also provide affordable artist lofts.

In the absence of new codes, there are provisional changes to existing codes that can facilitate the building of live-work units.

  1. Create mixed-use zoning categories. Permissions to build live-work units should not be based on a lot being zoned either for commercial or residential use, but rather the degree of mixed-use intensity (restricted, limited and open use categories).
  2. Distinguish between the different types of live-work units based on their type and use classification.
    • a. For the restricted use category, the work place would have no required physical separation from the residential spaces. As a result, parking standards, signage standards and building code standards would be purely residential in nature (Live Within Type). The re-use of extra rooms in the house implies a smart adaptation to today’s working environment and family arrangements and is the Leanest, most cost-effective strategy to implement.
    • b. For the limited use category, the work place is physically separated from the residential spaces, but both are under single ownership (Live-Above, Live-Behind and Live-in-Front Types). This is a little costlier and may imply the rehabilitation of a garage or accessory unit with health and safety standards equivalent to that of a garage within a house. A 2-hr fire separation would be required, but there is no need for a second means of egress, or sprinklers or special HVAC systems. Handicap access would only be required for the commercial areas. Parking must be controlled and signage may be slightly larger but pedestrian-oriented.
    • c. For the open use category, the work place is physically separated from the residential area (Mixed-Use Type and Work-Live Types). Virtually any legal occupation is allowed, provided it has no noxious effect on noise, vibrations or pollutions beyond the boundaries of the lot.
  3. Adapt building code requirements. Most municipalities have adopted the International Code Council (ICC) regulations and live-works have recently been reclassified under the residential component of the ICC, rather than the commercial component, which has led to a relaxing of standards, as commercial requirements tend to be far more rigorous. However, while progress has been made, it has not gone far enough yet. Consider the hierarchy of live-works as described.
  4. Align management control. Under the current ICC code, the owner must live and work in the building. If any part is leased, the space must then meet the commercial code requirements. Modify the requirements to align with the livework types and provide the required flexibility in the use, rental and sharing of space (number of related members living under one roof, or allow for the full ownership/rental options).
  5. Simplify the permitting process. Make live-works more inclusive and affordable by making the permitting process less cumbersome.
  6. Grow the home-based business classification to accommodate live-works. Strategies include: permitting a greater percentage of the home to be used as work space, allowing for the retrofit or conversion of rooms in the home (reuse of basements, attics, garages), legalizing accessory units, allow the conversion of parking areas and underutilized spaces into work spaces, etc.

For the Lean Urbanism, a re-alignment of the full spectrum of live-work options is required to restore a highly viable model that was successful for centuries and that is clearly not being met under current conditions. The future is very bright for live-works, with economic and demographic indicators all pointing in this direction. In fact, live works may very well be the dominant form of dwelling in the future, as commuting becomes the exception rather than the norm.

Marina Khoury

Marina Khoury

A partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company and Director of its Washington D.C. office since 2007, Marina Khoury is a licensed architect with 20 years of professional practice. Her 17 years at DPZ have brought her extensive national and international experience in sustainable development, community planning and form-based coding throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East. She was the project director for Miami 21, and was instrumental in helping to successfully transform the City of Miami's use-based zoning code into the largest-known adoption of a form-based code. She speaks widely on issues related to smart growth and creating affordable, sustainable, and walkable communities. Having lived in Florida until 2007, Khoury served in a number of community leadership positions. She became the first female architect appointed to the City of Miami's Urban Development Review Board in 2001. She taught as an Adjunct Professor at the Design and Architecture High School (DASH) from 1993-1999 and was a member of their Advisory Board from 2000-2007. Marina is an active member of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), and a Board member of the CNU-DC chapter from 2007-2012. She currently serves on the following Boards: Sustainia Council, the Resource Council for the Form-Based Code Institute (FBCI), the Center for Applied Transect Study (CATS), and the Transect Codes Council (TCC). She is a member of the New Urban Guild and a LEED Accredited professional. Marina earned two masters degrees, in architecture and urban planning from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after attending the “Ecole Speciale D'Architecture” in Paris, France.

More Posts - Website

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  Publications

November 23rd, 2016

Tool Survey – Existing and Proposed

Lean Urbanism is a way to restore common sense to the processes of development, building, starting small businesses, community engagement, and acquiring the necessary skills. The Project for Lean Urbanism is collecting and developing tools and daylighting techniques to enable and encourage those activities. This collection is the result of a survey to identify tools developed elsewhere and to track ideas for those that are needed. As tools are developed by the Project for Lean Urbanism, they will be made freely available on this website.

November 4th, 2016

The Pink Zone – Where Small Is Possible

Summary

The Pink Zone is a powerful tool for concentrating resources on the task of enabling small-scale, community-centered development and revitalization. It defines an area of focus, leverages a suite of available tools, and provides a platform for the community to gather resources, make commitments, and work together on projects that enhance community character and allow existing businesses and residents to remain and profit from the improved quality of life. The Pink Zone tool will be developed and refined in a series of pilot projects, and then released to the public.

August 18th, 2015

Lessons from PHX – Embracing Lean Urbanism

Summary

The City of Phoenix has become a model of Lean Governing, demonstrating the benefits of community revitalization when a municipality enables and encourages the work of creative entrepreneurs, small developers, neighborhood leaders, and community organizations. Along the way, it has employed and refined a number of principles and techniques that other cities can use to revitalize their neighborhoods. Phoenix is demonstrating that small projects can lead to big results.

August 13th, 2015

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism

Summary

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism defines the “terms of art” and other useful words and phrases that have emerged from extended discussions on the online Lean Urbanism discussion group and at Lean Councils. The first section is dedicated to these terms, and the second presents a selection of helpful quotations.

July 29th, 2015

The Katrina Cottage Movement – A Case Study

Summary

Appealing, context-aware designs for small-scale homes in small-scale neighborhoods grabbed national attention during the 2005 Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina. Though it took far longer for the ideas to find traction than anyone imagined, trial-and-error progress has produced models worth emulating, and just in time to address new realities in housing demand in post-recession America.

April 15th, 2015

Lean Urbanism and the Right to the City

Summary

The potential for a natural partnership between Lean Urbanism and social-justice groups is self-evident and should be explored. A growing movement of social-justice organizations across the world are coalescing behind the concept of “the right to the city” as a means to garner support for a wide range of social issues that can be characterized by a belief that everyone has a right to design and shape their community. These groups have the energy and determination to alter the status quo of financial and regulatory structures that prevent people who lack access to resources and capital, such as millennials and immigrants, from becoming active in small-scale development. But these groups often also lack the technical knowledge to achieve such goals. Lean Urbanism can provide tools and know-how that these groups need.

April 15th, 2015

Regulatory Barriers to Home Construction and Rehab

Summary

Regulatory barriers make housing less affordable to millions of households in the US and abroad. If regulatory barriers were reduced, small developers could provide housing at more affordable prices. This article assesses the current state of knowledge about the effects of federal, state, and local regulations on the supply and cost of housing.

April 7th, 2015

Low-Fat Vanilla Finance – A Simple Financial Model

Summary

New developers should create their own financial models. Only by doing so will they truly understand the variables and how each affects financial performance. This paper attempts to walk new developers through a financial model that includes development budget, annual return, and capital return. It is simple enough to create but sophisticated enough to present to investors and lenders. It represents one small residential rental building — not condo, and not office or retail.

April 6th, 2015

Lean Financing – Alternatives to Institutional Capital

Summary

Financing Lean Development requires both institutional and non-institutional sources of capital. This paper focuses on project equity from non-institutional sources. Years of observations and anecdotal conversations with developers of small, innovative projects suggest that Lean Development is coming of age, but it has significant hurdles to realizing its potential, and financing is among the more difficult to overcome. Understanding the motivations, requirements and techniques for working with non-institutional investors is critical to overcoming one of the primary hurdles for Lean Development.

April 3rd, 2015

Pilot Projects – Testing Tools, Building Platforms

Summary

The Lean Urbanism movement will come to life through pilot projects, as they will spread the knowledge from the professionals to community builders and entrepreneurs. They are at the core of the Project for Lean Urbanism, as they will serve to demonstrate the potential for and value of incremental, community-scale revitalization and development by tapping local physical, financial, and social assets that are currently underutilized. The pilot projects will also be used to test and refine the tools, to identify and seek solutions to common barriers in regulation or practice that inhibit small-scale development or rebuilding, and to serve as models for use by other communities.