Innovation and rapid change are transforming industries around the world.  The pace of change can be so fast that it’s important to see beyond the horizon to know what’s coming.  The affordable housing industry is no exception.


Housing Virginia and the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech sought to create a unique learning experience enabling participants to hear from speakers on the cutting edge of change and experience the latest initiatives across the industry. Thus, HousingX: Rethink the Box was born. On May 22, 2019, a one-day “un-conference” was held in Richmond, Virginia that showcased what’s next in affordable housing construction, design, materials, finance, and land use planning as well as how to inspire and sustain creativity in your own organization. 

Rethink the Box will return in 2021. Click "Get Updates" to be the first to hear about it.





One of the goals with HousingX was to create an event that doesn’t feel and function like a traditional conference.  One example of this was to use speakers who focused on a specific innovation or challenge in short, exciting, visual presentations of the sort that are typically seen at “TEDTalk” events.  Topics included construction, design, organizational, financial, planning, and market innovation. 

Each of the NEXT•talks answered key questions on the future of housing.

Speakers from May 22, 2019


Technological Innovation

Tedd Benson

Author, Building Pioneer, Founder & CEO of Bensonwood & Unity Homes

Are factory built homes the solution to affordability?


Financial Innovation

Teresa Blake


Managing Director

Could digital mortgages make homes more accessible?

Teresa Blake's Presentation


Organizational Innovation

Roger Lewis

Roger Lewis & Assoc.

CEO, Founder

How to inspire innovation to the modern workplace


Futurism & Innovation

Matt Thornhill


Managing Partner

What will housing consumers demand in 2030?



Innovation of Design


Innovation & Equity

How should we design affordable housing in the future?

Urban Design Associates

Managing Principal

Rob Robinson

Race Forward

Vice President

What does it look like to build communities that heal injustices and embrace equity?


Innovation & Public Policy


Industry Innovation

How can public policy lead to greater innovations in housing?

Celia Smoot

Chris Nicely

Next Step Homes


Can manufactured homes be a sustainable and affordable path to homeownership?


Innovation in Construction


Innovation in Ownership

Paul Fortenberry

Clayton Homes Building Group

Communications Director

Can we rethink the relationship between on-site and off-site construction?

Jon Lawless

Fannie Mae

Vice President, Product Development & Affordable Housing

How is Fannie Mae preparing for the next generation of homebuyers?


Innovation & Flexibility


Creating with Innovation

Brian Gaudio



How do we design modern homes to be flexible for change?

Pete Gombert



How does an affordable home business come out of shipping containers?

Dwayne Marsh

The Art of Innovation


The Artist/Author Noah Scalin told the unusual story of how he completely overturned his own working practices to develop a new way of sustaining innovation in his work and life. He explained The Big Seven practices that he uses to continually learn and grow in his work and shared examples of how others have put this to use in different contexts.

Participants immediately put these concepts into practice themselves with a customized hands-on workshop during one of the engagement sessions where there followed a facilitated discussion to cull insights and applications specific to the current individual and collective challenges. 

Innovative Design


Deb Sheehan is the Executive Director of Firmwide Strategies for CannonDesign, a design, engineering and consulting firm based in Chicago.  CannonDesign has a wide variety of clients and an international resume of work.  Deb leads the company’s efforts to innovate and adapt to changes in technology and the environment.  She oversees the company’s formation of a modular design and construction unit that address issues of cost, materials, and speed.  She is a frequent speaker on the pace of change in the industry and what adaptations are needed to thrive.

Innovation at Work

Jennifer Watson Roberts is a former Mayor of Charlotte and a lifelong champion of issues related to education and equality. She is the first person to be elected to serve as both Chairman of the Mecklenburg County Commission and later as Mayor of Charlotte. She currently is the Director of the Communities Program at ecoAmerica, a national non-profit organization that seeks to build institutional leadership, public support and political will for climate solutions.


Roberts has been an active innovator across sectors. She was instrumental in creating a public/private partnership to build a new shelter in Charlotte for survivors of domestic violence, and she spearheaded the creation of Charlotte NEXT, an initiative dedicated to improving after-school programs for at-risk teens. During her tenure as Mayor, the City of Charlotte set a goal of funding 5,000 affordable housing units over 3 years and is currently on track to exceed that goal.






Experience Lab


The latest in housing innovations were available in the carefully curated HousingX Experience Lab.

The Lab enabled participants to dive deep into housing innovations and conceptual installations and featured hands-on, experiential learning opportunities including shipping containers converted into homes, Virtual Reality immersions for home design, and the latest in robotic home design.


A story of housing innovation in 6 minutes and 40 seconds

What is PechaKucha?


The 20X20 session offered the opportunity for attendees to hear a rapid-fire series of affordable housing ideas and initiatives using a format where each speaker had 20 slides, each of which is on the screen for 20 seconds.  The format required the presenter to pare down their idea to an essential element that could be communicated in six minutes -often in the form of a story. Attendees heard 7 fresh ideas in this fast-paced session.


This format was created by a design firm in Japan in 2003 with the name PechaKucha (Chit Chat). It started as a way for architects to present their ideas but has spread around the world with hundreds of cities sponsoring PK nights with a wide range of topics.



Leading Supporter

Virginia Housing Development Authority

Reception Sponsor

Virginia Community Development Corporation

Keynote Sponsor


Coffee Break Sponsor

Virginia Community Capital

Housing Champion

The Bob & Anna Lou Schaberg Fund at VNHC


Marlyn Development Corporation


Foundation Builder

Harkins Builders