Selected from 203 nominees, the top 25 Ivory Prize finalists demonstrate ambitious, feasible, and scalable solutions to the housing affordability crisis.
By Leah Draffen
Demonstrating ambitious, feasible, and scalable solutions to the housing affordability crisis, Ivory Innovations has announced the top 25 finalists for the 2023 Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability. This year’s finalists were selected from 203 nominees across the construction and design, finance, and public policy and regulatory reform categories.
In the construction and design category, solutions focused on the labor shortage as well as environmentally friendly building solutions for decreasing construction time. The finance category includes organizations focused on construction financing, shared-equity models, and renter programs that support increased savings and equity, while the policy and regulatory reform category includes organizations focused on addressing historically lengthy processes like permitting and connecting low- or middle-income individuals to housing opportunities.
“As we work to address the nation’s housing shortage and affordability crisis, one bright spot is innovation,” says Kent Colton, chairman of the Ivory Innovations Advisory Board. “The Ivory Prize top 25 finalists in 2023 highlight the important work that is underway to achieve creative change and solutions throughout the country. Most important, they will make a difference in the lives of the many people who seek and need affordable housing.”
Celebrating its fifth year of catalyzing innovation in housing affordability, Ivory Innovations continues to promote the most compelling ideas in the industry. Ivory Innovations has recognized 14 Ivory Prize winners across the country, awarding $890,000 in prize money, and has connected all of its top 25 finalists with leading practitioners, capital partners, student interns, and pro bono consulting or capacity-building services.
In conjunction with the 2023 top 25 finalists announcement, Ivory Innovations has launched a new Housing Innovation Database, showcasing over 500 of the most promising housing innovation solutions across North America.
The top 25 finalists for 2023 include:
Construction and Design
- BotBuilt: BotBuilt is revolutionizing the building process and solving the labor crisis in construction through flexible, precise robotic systems, patented hardware, and cutting-edge software. BotBuilt uses the latest technology to implement advanced motion planning with computer vision to build a more sustainable future for construction, forever changing the way the world builds with automation.
- Diamond Age: Diamond Age’s mission is to get first-time home buyers into their first home faster, using 3D printing and advanced industrial-scale robotics. Diamond Age is automating new-home construction for the production housing industry—solving the massive labor shortage plaguing the home construction industry and bringing more entry-level housing to market to balance demand. Diamond Age is building entry-level homes for Centruy Communities, the ninth largest home builder in the U.S.
- Inherent L3C: Inherent L3C believes in the power of community reinvestment through the creation of trade careers, homeownership, and community-based businesses. From its community housing production facility delivering all-electric, solar-ready smart homes to its work with public, private, and nonprofit organizations to prepare households for homeownership and its suite of support services for a household’s first five years, Inherent L3C believes that by coming together, “we can bring the best of us to the most of us.”
- Madelon: Madelon simplifies infill housing development by streamlining and productizing the entire process. It seamlessly integrates each component, including pre-designed housing products that are compatible with industrialized housing manufacturers, into its online REDtech platform. This allows small local developers, nonprofit institutions, and even community trusts to get into the driver’s seat and finally leverage new construction technology to identify and build more affordable housing supply at scale.
- Plantd: Plantd makes durable carbon-negative building materials for home builders using fast-growing perennial grass instead of trees. To fulfill its mission to rapidly remove atmospheric carbon dioxide in the field and lock it away within the structures of new homes, it is establishing a new agricultural supply chain and building novel manufacturing technology that lowers costs, reduces carbon emissions, and produces superior-performing materials.
- Timber HP: TimberHP manufactures loose fill, batt, and continuous board insulation from waste wood chips left over from the production of lumber, boards, and sheathing; it also uses woody debris removed from forests to improve tree growth and can even use wood scraps that pile up on construction sites. Most insulations are made from petroleum, such as foam, or require large energy inputs, like in the case of mineral wool. TimberHP’s cost-competitive, high-performance products land at the jobsite carbon negative and do not suffer from large price fluctuations tied to the use of fossil fuels.
- Tough Leaf : Tough Leaf is a B2B SAAS platform focused on empowering certified minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses to grow by connecting them with opportunities and capacity-building partners. Tough Leaf does this by seamlessly connecting general contractors and developers with diverse firms to meet and exceed its compliance requirements on projects.
- Vantem: Vantem builds affordable, energy-efficient, climate-resilient homes at scale. Vantem reduces the cost of delivering quality homes by leveraging an innovative structural panel technology to factory-craft modular structures, including full net-zero homes.
- Arx: Arx is an AI-driven real estate analytics platform that automatically underwrites the future potential of millions of properties in advance, enabling developers, investors, and agents to source and evaluate optimal investment and development opportunities in seconds. Arx is on a mission to catalyze the development of an equitably built world by empowering professionals to instantly understand the regulatory and market forces impacting a region, drastically improving their ability to deliver housing where needed most.
- Bilt Rewards: Bilt Rewards is the first-of-its-kind rewards and payments program for the $600 billion per year rental market, enabling the country’s 109 million+ renters to build their credit and earn points back on rent with no fees for them or their landlord. Bilt is the only program that helps renters accumulate general savings and build their credit score while renting, while also enabling them to use points earned on rent and other everyday expenses towards a downpayment on a home.
- CoFi: CoFi is a fintech startup that has developed a fully vertical construction finance platform to address slow payments, complex lending, and risk of default in construction. The construction business has one of the highest project failure rates of any industry. CoFi streamlines this process, decreasing failure rates and helping project leads spend more time on their projects and less time on the financials. CoFi is piloting a new modular construction financing program with Manufactured, an end-to-end inventory manufacturing and finance solution.
- Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth: Launched by Gary Community Ventures, in partnership with Denver’s Black community, The Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth provides up to $40,000 in down-payment assistance to first-time Black and African American home buyers to help build generational wealth. The Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth aims to close the racial wealth gap and accelerate Black homeownership by generating an average of $100,000 in net worth for 500 to 600 Black families, leading to $50 million to $75 million in wealth creation for the Black community in Denver. The fund seeks to build a community of practice and replication model to assist other cities in deploying this innovative fund model in their markets.
- Frolic Community: Frolic is paving the way for thousands of new, multifamily housing cooperatives to be built on lots with single-family homes in cities across the U.S. Their homes require downpayments of $10,000 $30,000, creating opportunities for low-wealth and BIPOC families that have generationally rented to enter into homeownership.
- RenoFi: RenoFi.com is the first one-stop marketplace for financing a home renovation. Homeowners see on average an increase by 11 times in borrowing power with RenoFi-powered loans.
- Roots Investment Community: Roots is the only privately held real estate investment portfolio that allows its residents to build wealth by allowing them to “Own While You Rent.” Residents can invest their rental deposit directly into the Roots Fund and earn rental rebates for under the “Live in it Like you Own” it program that are invested in their fund account as well. The residents are invested alongside accredited investors in a REIT that includes the very homes in which renters live. Roots invites residents who pay the rent to build wealth along with all the other investors.
- Trust Neighborhoods: Trust Neighborhoods is a Kansas City, Missouri-based nonprofit creating community-controlled real estate where gentrification threatens displacement. Trust Neighborhoods has created a new, innovative approach to tackle affordable housing: the Mixed-Income Neighborhood Trust, or MINT, that owns and operates a portfolio of rental housing under community control to maintain permanent affordability. Four MINTs now operate in Boston; Fresno, California; Kansas City; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Public Policy and Regulatory Reform
- Black Homeownership Collaborative: The Black Homeownership Collaborative is a multiyear initiative dedicated to significantly increasing Black homeownership. A coalition of more than 100 organizations and housing advocates, the “3by30” initiative seeks to create 3 million net new Black homeowners by 2030 through an ambitious plan of seven tangible, actionable, and scalable steps to help close the homeownership gap.
- California Dream for All Shared Appreciation Loan Program: The California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) uses financing programs that have helped more than 213,000 low- and moderate-income Californians achieve the dream of homeownership and created/preserved 73,000 affordable rental units. On the homeownership side, the agency uses various downpayment and closing cost assistance programs to assist first-time home buyers. The California Dream for All Shared Appreciation Loan is one of those programs, and its unique design reflects the state of California’s desire to assist underserved communities who have faced historical housing discrimination leading to disproportionately low homeownership numbers.
- Housing Connector: Housing Connector is a tech-for-good nonprofit that increases access to housing for individuals most in need. Through partnerships with housing providers and an exclusive Zillow-powered marketplace, Housing Connector streamlines and automates the housing search experience to ensure no unit sits vacant while there are families in need of a home.
- Housing Navigator Massachusetts: Housing Navigator Massachusetts connects people to places to call home, adding transparency and equity to the too-often burdensome process of finding an affordable home. It delivers user-centered technology and advocates for systems change working in partnership with the public sector, owners, renters, and human service providers throughout the state. Their first product—a free, 24/7 housing search tool—offers clear, reliable information for one of the most important decisions we all make: “where to call home.”
- National Zoning Atlas: The National Zoning Atlas is a collaborative of researchers digitizing, demystifying, and democratizing about 30,000 U.S. zoning codes through a first-of-its-kind user-friendly online resource. The Atlas will illuminate zoning laws and unlock research that will reveal how zoning impacts housing availability and affordability, transportation systems, the environment, economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and our food supply.
- Next Step: Next Step is a nonprofit social enterprise that works to address the critical shortage of affordable housing using energy-efficient, factory-built homes. By bringing together housing developers and manufacturers, while supporting home buyers with counseling and responsible mortgage financing, Next Step’s model creates a pathway to affordable homeownership that better meets the needs of our communities and our environment.
- Outreach Grid: Outreach Grid (OG) is a data platform that enables agencies across a region to collaborate and coordinate on homelessness information on one platform in one language. Over the past six years, OG has created innovative, integrated tools for front-line service workers to collect data at the point of work and for community leaders to visualize their system of care from first contact to housing in real-time. During the pandemic, OG implemented the first-of-its-kind shelter bed reservations to give shelter operators the tools to manage their shelter beds and upcoming reservations in real-time, saving communities thousands of hours in coordination time.
- PermitFlow: PermitFlow is the “TurboTax for construction permitting,” providing automation and workflow software that simplifies and accelerates the permitting process. PermitFlow’s technology reduces risk and cost associated with construction, creating new paths to build housing affordably.
- The Kelsey: The Kelsey advances disability-forward housing solutions that open doors to homes and opportunities for everyone. Co-led by people with and without disabilities, The Kelsey co-develops affordable, accessible, inclusive housing and leads advocacy and field-building efforts to create market conditions so inclusive housing becomes the norm.
The 2023 top 10 Ivory Prize finalists will be announced in April, and the final Ivory Prize winners will be announced in May, when $300,000 in prize money will be distributed between at least three winners selected across the award categories.
Originally published on February 28, 2023