Heath Chancey



Rehumanizing Urban Living

Urban Neighbors builds communities for the innately human.

About Urban Neighbors

Urban Neighbors is a housing start-up that is building affordable and community-centric living spaces for young professionals who want to live in an active urban environment. This project began in the summer of 2022 as a joint development project between my father's architecture firm in Tampa and myself. What started as a pitch about the future of living for our demographic turned into a development in motion.

In addition to founding the project, I have worked in various roles, including intern developer, project manager, and design strategist. I am joined on this project by my co-founder and head architectural designer, Dan Accordino, as well as Walt Chancey from Chancey Design, who are serving as architect and developer.

Below, you will find a case study, called Casitas, located in Tampa, and a summary of the research and analysis that went into this project. It is said that a home is a "machine for living." This first iteration is a calculated test of our hypothesis of what this machine should look like when addressing the needs and challenges of our demographic.

Why Urban Neighbors in 60 Seconds

Have you ever felt alone in a crowd? Have you walked past hundreds of your neighbors' doors only to retreat into the silence of your apartment? This unsettling paradox is a daily reality for millions living in multi-family developments across America.

The pandemic has drastically shifted our perceptions of homes and communities, particularly among younger generations who increasingly value meaningful experiences and relationships. More than ever, they seek homes that fulfill not just their functional needs but their emotional and social desires.

Yet, developers continue to use traditional models, emphasizing efficiency and marketability, leading to dense, impersonal structures that inflate costs without providing value. Consider the practices of these so-called 'luxury' apartment developers: they overcrowd buildings, stifle spontaneous interactions that are crucial for vibrant communities, and overinvest in in-house amenities like fitness centers that often remain underused. This approach misses out on opportunities to invest in supportive properties rich in community assets that could serve as genuine amenities. These misguided decisions drive up the cost of living, making 'luxury' apartments unaffordable for many while fostering a culture of isolation.

However, it's not all doom and gloom. This evolution of needs and wants presents an exciting opportunity to reshape our approach: we can curate living spaces dedicated to utility and connection that nurture relationships and seamlessly integrate residents with their broader environment – all while keeping affordability at the forefront.

Enter Urban Neighbors. We cater to young professionals seeking intentional, balanced lifestyles, meaningful relationships, and active community engagement. Our approach focuses on structuring the building to intentionally bring its smaller resident populations together, whether it's crossing circulation paths or enabling community engagement in spaces that serve the daily needs of residents. Our apartments are thoughtfully designed to deliver the essentials of living while fostering connection in an urban setting – all at an attainable price point.

Our Concept

We are developing a concept for a 45-unit apartment block that embodies the core principles of community engagement, intentional design, and market attainability. By weaving these principles into the fabric of our building design and space curation, we enable approximately 60 to 70 residents to build relationships through spontaneous interactions with their community members. Importantly, the methods we employ to foster this sense of connection also enable us to maintain the affordability of our concept.

“Living spaces designed to enrich daily routines and foster connections, seamlessly integrating residents with their surrounding community.”

Living Principles

By weaving these principles into every aspect of our buildings, we strive to create environments that nurtures a sense of belonging while delivering on what our residents need in a home.

Engaging Communities

Our buildings are more than machines, they are theaters for living. Urban Neighbors designs buildings for approximately 60 to 70 residents, emphasizing close-knit communities while balancing economies of scale. We foster connections by creating intentional overlapping spaces, such as shared circulation paths and utility focused amenities, and targeting like-minded individuals to cultivate vibrant, interconnected communities.

Intentional Design

Urban Neighbors commits to understanding our target population's diverse needs and redefining home through data-driven enhancements and experimentation. By implementing sustainable systems and investing in lasting design and construction, we minimize our environmental footprint, reduce resident costs, and create unique, welcoming homes that will foster strong connections for many years to come.

Market Attainability

Amidst skyrocketing rents nationwide, the need for affordable housing has become ever more crucial. At Urban Neighbors, we're committed to making urban living attainable for our residents by striking a perfect balance between unit size, utility, and essential amenities. By delivering cozier units, focusing on including spaces meant for utility, and providing alternative transportation opportunities, we're able to keep living costs within reach.

Spaces for the Person

Urban Neighbors is boldly challenging the trend of increasingly larger living spaces. Our units are designed to be approximately 35% smaller than traditional apartments, but through thoughtful design and an emphasis on comfort, they provide an uncompromised living experience. More importantly, our unit offerings are designed to adapt to space and budget needs with our residents as they grow through the early stages of their career.

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Spaces for People

Urban Neighbors curates amenities to foster community and promote daily utility. Our communal kitchen, laundry room, co-working area, and activity courtyard facilitate spontaneous interactions among residents. Drawing from historical traditions of communal living, these shared spaces are designed to be versatile, promoting a vibrant atmosphere. This amenity-focused approach directly counters urban isolation, aligning with our mission of fostering an affordable, community-engaged urban lifestyle.

Participating in the Urban Landscape

Investing in urban areas allows us to leverage the wealth of third spaces and better accessibility to public transportation and essential services. We focus on prime locations that empower residents to actively engage in the broader community and enjoy diverse opportunities. Focusing on walkable and transit-rich urban environments, we reduce the need for expensive parking garages by providing limited parking spots and implementing car-sharing programs. This lowers construction costs, making rents more affordable, while still offering flexible mobility and nearby public garage options for residents with personal vehicles.

Connected Home

Urban Neighbors combines a robust physical living experience with a digital counterpart to enhance the overall resident experience and reduce operational costs. Our app empowers residents with oversight of billing, service requests, smart access and security, and community connections. By streamlining organizational tasks, we reduce labor costs and foster a more cohesive, engaged community.

Introduction to Our Research Process

This overview is just the tip of the iceberg. What you see here is an aggregation over a year’s worth of researching, planning, and designing that started from a series of sprints starting in June of 2022.

Having a background in product management and design strategy, I started this project from the lens of innovation. Rather than having traditional financial oriented approach, I saw the development as product that could be a solution for arising needs and changes. My approach would reflect would reflect my perspective leading to an extensive about of research. However, for the sake of this portfolio, I broke it down into eight brief steps laid out below, and elaborated on below that.

Research Process

  1. Secondary Research: Understanding Shifts Within Housing
  2. Problem Identification: Establishing Demographic to Serve & Top Problems to Address
  3. Building Survey Questions: Challenging Assumptions & Creating Question List
  4. Survey Results: Understanding Importance Feasibility
  5. Feature Set: Curating a Feature Set for Living
  6. Architecture Translation: Turning a Feature Set Into Building Plans
  7. Learning Doesn’t Stop (Branding, Finance, Public Relations, etc.)

Secondary Research: Understanding Shifts Within Housing

Each unique project offers an opportunity for insight, often just a conversation or a search away. Thus, I started my exploration with secondary research. I delved into sources ranging from recent news articles to anthropological studies, aiming to understand the contemporary shifts in housing.

Despite beginning this project with minimal knowledge of real estate development, I anchored my research in familiar territory: workplace innovation. My prior experience with ZipRecruiter, where I envisioned the future of job recruitment, provided me with an initial framework to build from. Recognizing the transformations in workplace preferences, post-pandemic provided a lead into forecasting housing's next evolution. I would discover key trends and issues in multi-family development, including the affordable housing crisis among younger Americans, co-living, co-housing, micro-apartments, generational housing, and much more.

The result of this research is a digital whiteboard covered with links, sticky notes highlighting discoveries, statistics, survey feedback, floor plans, precedents, and other resources that help paint a comprehensive picture.

Problem Identification: Establishing Demographic to Serve & Problems to Address

Following an analysis of the housing market and its trends, one demographic in Tampa emerged as particularly affected: young professional renters.

In the period leading up to and during the pandemic, Tampa saw a surge in popularity, especially among those aged 25-35 moving from other states. Yet, despite the increasing population, new multifamily residences were scarce. Those few under development mainly catered to the luxury segment. This local dynamic and skewed focus on the upscale market created a recipe for disaster.

Between 2021 and 2022, Tampa witnessed the steepest rent hike in the nation, with a staggering 30% increase. Local media consistently reported on the intensifying housing crisis. The problem led many Tampa natives to face difficult choices: relocating, compromising on living conditions, doubling up with roommates, or even moving back home with their parents. Recognizing these shifts, our goal became clear: provide attainable housing options for young professionals. But our vision went beyond just housing.

The pandemic, coupled with evolving work norms, exacerbated feelings of isolation. While suburban-focused development had long pushed people apart, the pandemic highlighted the profound need for community ties. Our surveys echoed this sentiment. A strong sense of community and good neighbors ranked the second most desired housing characteristic.

Building Survey Questions: Challenging Assumptions & Creating Question List

By this point, I had thoroughly understood the market dynamics, seeing emerging trends, rising challenges, and half-baked solutions. Yet, for all I felt I knew, I still had questions to be answered. What did our target demographic prioritize in their living situation? How did they perceive co-living and social clubs? Could they be open to a novel renting model?

To streamline this inquiry, I created a framework addressing three fundamental questions: What do I already know? What do I still need to uncover? How will I obtain this information? This structured approach proved invaluable in framing my survey questions.

Survey Results: Understanding Importance Feasibility

Having established my questions, the next crucial step was survey distribution. Leveraging Pollfish, a survey distribution platform, I reached 200 individuals fitting my target demographic. The 30-question survey covered various facets, from specific unit features and amenity preferences to overarching living values. The responses were revealing, offering crucial insights that would shape the curation phase of Urban Neighbors.

Key Findings

  1. 82% of participants expressed a desire to form close friendships within their building, with one-third stating a wish to know the majority of their neighbors.
  2. A majority (87%) showed a preference for residing in buildings housing fewer than 100 residents, and half of those preferred an even more intimate setting with fewer than 50 people.
  3. When asked about the top characteristics of a living community, respondents prioritized cooperative and helpful landlords, a vibrant neighborly community, and affordable rent.
  4. Over half (54%) indicated they'd prefer a communal kitchen complemented by a private space with a kitchenette rather than a more space-consuming, full-fledged kitchen.
  5. As for transportation, 34% expressed a willingness to engage in a car-sharing program. More interesting, a quarter of the respondents were open to forgoing car ownership altogether if provided with flexible mobility options in an accessible, amenity-rich location.

Feature Set: Curating a Feature Set for Living

Armed with these invaluable insights, I dove deep into ideation. I would craft a comprehensive living feature set encompassing unit types, features, counts, amenities, resident lifestyle, routine, and more. The result was a meticulously balanced offering, combining the overt desires of potential residents with their underlying needs and values. As a result, we curated a living environment that prioritized long-term well-being over short-term indulgences—offering residents more vegetables than candy.

Architecture Translation: Turning a Feature Set Into Building Plans

While I was focused on crafting the blueprint for an ideal living experience, translating these ideas into tangible architectural designs was essential. Enter my co-founder, Dan, my good friend, and a brilliant architecture student also at USC. Together, we delved into brainstorming building layouts, floor plans, and facades, eventually sculpting the first iteration of an Urban Neighbor’s community.

Learning Doesn't Stop

What you just read is just a blip in the more extensive experience building the Urban Neighbors concept. As I write this a year later, expanding our vision means more than delivering a cohesive experience for residents. It has been feats such as branding and marketing to attract our ideal residents, building out a balanced proforma, working alongside local leaders and development councils to maximize the impact of Urban Neighbors, and so much more.

This project excites me to the bone. A lot of times, I’ll start working on something five minutes after waking up. A demand for patience has met this excitement for what’s to come. Until we have keys in hand for our first community, we will continue to build Urban Neighbors day by day, brick by brick.

Unfortunately, there's nothing beyond this point. Don't be a stranger - feel free to connect with me on social platforms.