With dwindling options for affordable housing, entrepreneurs look for ways to create safe, legal alternatives for the public. Valerie Lane and Lisa Bowers are the founders of the Urban Infill Project, and their goal is to solve the problem in Tucson’s backyards.
“We can regain some of the responsibility now for our community,” Lane said. “If we can put a thousand units of housing out there and we did it in our own backyards, all of a sudden, the homeowners retained the way we house people.”
Lane and Bowers launched UIP as a resource center for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which are stand-alone structures built on existing residential lots. These dwellings offer many housing opportunities, especially among people like students or the elderly, struggling to find options.
With a goal to support a thousand ADUs in Tucson, the team hopes to accelerate the development process through key local partnerships and community education efforts.
“We are not going to build a thousand, but the community is going to build a thousand,” Bowers said. “Our goal is to help the community build these units by creating relationships, not just with vendors but also the general contractors out there.”
In 2022, the entrepreneurs joined the city of Tucson’s stakeholder group to amend its previous ADU code. The amendment now permits these structures in all zones that allow residential use, but Lane and Bowers went a step further.
The ADU code was an answer to the affordable housing crisis, but it didn’t help with challenges like construction delays or extreme labor shortages. According to the entrepreneurs, UIP’s resource and referral network is the solution.
“The biggest challenge on any construction project is time,” Bowers explained. “Our plans are pre-permitted with the county, so instead of taking six to eight months to get from design, submission and issuance, we’ve taken that down to about a month.”
The UIP website includes designs by Lane, but the goal is to create a catalog of plans from architects throughout the community. These architects can design ADUs and make a passive income as people use the plans for their structures.
UIP has also partnered with local businesses to develop packages that go along with designs, creating relationships with companies including Tucson Appliance Center and Casita Kitchens.
For workforce assistance, the team will collaborate with programs such as Pima JTED to open a new generation to careers in construction. Lane noted, however, that these ADUs also provide an opportunity for the public to learn about housing development.
“Not only are these little units providing housing, but we can teach people how to build them and maintain them,” Lane said. “Through time, having these little buildings creates a lot of flexibility to navigate through life without feeling the pressure and stress of not fitting into the property.”
Lane and Bowers founded UIP to provide more affordable housing with an emphasis on community. The duo recognized the social shifts around what it means to be a homeowner, and how the traditional “American dream” is now no longer accessible to some people.
To them, ADUs not only offer housing but create a sense of community that modern homes may lack. These dwellings also allow homeowners to add passive revenue to their income.
“It all falls back on this idea of flexibility and creativity,” Lane said. “It’s not necessarily that (the American dream) is gone; it’s that we need to be more creative in how we deal with it and think about it.”
UIP and its resources are a strategic response to the affordable housing crisis, and Lane and Bowers hope to empower all Tucson homeowners through ADU development.
“The emphasis in this company was to build community and help other people,” Bowers explained. “We can’t do that from an active standpoint in all things, but we’re figuring out how to passively help other people build wealth and industry.”
Urban Infill Project