The Housing Scene

Plans Mix Unseen Renters, Owners

(PHOTO CAPTION for sic150320.jpg: In this Group Privacy Housing plan, owners occupy the first-floor space. Their homes have two-car garages, and occupants have exclusive access to the front yards and private side yard patios. Renters occupy two or three units on the second floor of each home, with exclusive access to the rear yards. They enter via a set of individual stairways and balconies. Apartment parking is to the outside of the homes, closed off from the owner-occupied units.)

Apartment people and homeowners tend not to like each other.

Renters think owners look down their noses at them. And owners? Well, they often believe tenants aren't nearly as invested in their communities as they are, or that renters are one or two rungs below them on the economic ladder.

But what if there was a way in which the two could mutually co-exist? A way in which they could live side-by-side, on the same parcel of land, but without ever bumping into each other?

Doug Webb, 51, of Group Privacy Housing in Columbus, Ohio, believes he has an answer to those questions. He's come up with innovative, patent-pending plans that allow apartments and houses to be built on the same property without their residents ever crossing paths -- a development where renters and owners never encounter each other, or even each other's automobiles.

In one design, the owner units occupy the first floor of a group of two-story buildings, and the apartments occupy the second floor. The owner units feature front and side yards, while the apartments above have backyards. Each element has its own parking areas, and the driveways of each never intersect with the other. A tall courtyard wall provides a physical barrier between the apartment yards and owner-unit balconies and side yards, providing the owners with privacy not only from their apartment neighbors, but also from their fellow owners.

Hence the name Group Privacy Housing.

In another design, the owner units occupy either one or two floors and have full front, rear and side yards. The apartments are built under the owner units, below grade, and use below-grade corridors to reach their parked cars. Again, the owners and renters never encounter each other.

In yet another arrangement, the plan is flipped, with three apartments on the second floor above the owner units. Here, all the renters are connected to a corridor that exits to the parking area. And as in the first design, each community -- the owners and the renters -- has its own entrances.

In still another configuration, the owners have two floors, one below grade and the other on-grade, while the apartments occupy the second floor. The owner units have front patios and backyards, while the second-story apartments use either interior or exterior stairs to reach their parking spaces. Again, complete privacy.

Altogether, Webb says he has seven or eight basic variations of his Group Privacy concept, each with three main elements: an egress, or discharge, system; separate parking lots; and windows arranged so that renters can't view their owner neighbors.

"It took a long time to come up with the first embodiment," says the designer, who joined his father's homebuilding company in 2007, after selling his pontoon-building company.

It wasn't long before he realized that the cost to build a single-story ranch house was a lot higher per square foot than two-story plans. "When you add a second floor, you don't have any more land development, roof or foundation costs," the fledgling builder soon learned. "The most inefficient product we build is a ranch."

So Webb set about trying to come up with a better mousetrap.

Webb says his designs work with practically any type of housing, from duplexes to fourplexes, from townhouses to four-story buildings. Some have full yards, some have just front and backyards, and others have only front yards.

Another unusual facet of GPH's plans is that they are sold as single-family homes. In other words, the buyers of the owner units would also own the rental units above or below their living space.

More expensive than buying just a normal single-family home? Certainly. But Webb claims the income from one rental unit is likely to cover most of the owner's principal and interest payments. And with two or three apartments, the rent may even be enough to cover property taxes, insurance and owner association fees -- with something left over to put in your pocket.

"Our arrangements generate substantial income for homeowners without altering their living experiences," he says.

Webb also maintains that thanks to the rental income, the all-in-one purchases are easier to finance than a standalone house. "Typically, 70 percent of the appraised rental revenue is added to the buyer's personal income for qualifying for financing," he says.

Only time will tell whether the former boat-builder is on to something. But he won't be building any of GPH's plans himself. Rather, he intends to license them to a single builder in a market.

No takers so far. But under the licensing agreement Webb is offering, builders who share his vision will have a type of monopoly in their respective markets. "No one else will be able to use our plans," he promises.

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