Exploring developers’ understanding of health strategies in multifamily development
Discussions around health are increasingly seen in design. Stakeholders across different built environments are beginning to break apart the meaning of “health”. Despite multifamily housing being forecasted to add an additional 4.4 million units by 2025 (Freddie Mac 2016), market- rate multifamily developers are largely latecomers to health conversations. This paper outlines the structure, methodology, and findings of a multi-year project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation addressing how multifamily developers understand, talk about, and execute health strategies. Using an exploratory case study methodology to address how and why (Yin 2017), three multifamily developers situated as early adopters of health strategies were recruited to better understand how they conceptualized, executed, and evaluated health strategies. In-depth interviews were held in the developers’ home offices in the southeast United States, using a semi-structured interview protocol to explore standard processes, partnerships, designs, and strategies specifically related to health. Cyclical memoing, data collection, transcription, and analysis allowed for reflexivity and protocol modification as new issues emerged. Site visits, web site analysis, and clicks through national online real estate databases also contributed to triangulation and a holistic perspective of this complex problem. Results suggest that private multifamily developers focus on commonly accepted and easily marketable strategies with little application of evaluative metrics (Rider et al. 2018). When directly questioned about health strategies, participants focused on place making, community building, and social and mental wellbeing, as well as designated fitness spaces. Participants were uncomfortable discussing health strategies in terms of health outcomes through a public health lens. This research aims to suggest a shift in interdisciplinary conversations around health in multifamily real estate, ultimately supporting a more diligent adoption of health strategies in this difficult building type. These results can support stakeholders in design, development, private investment, property management, public health, community design, and policy.