Search results for "affordable housing"

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Repurposing! West Philly
Friend of AN and Slought Foundation executive director Aaron Levy sends the following dispatch from his "Repurpose!" event from last weekend: When the Into the Open exhibition moved in to the National Constitution Center and the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia in July after stints in New York and before that Venice, where it was last year’s Biennale entry (curated by myself, Andrew Sturm, and AN founding editor William Menking), we decided we wanted to do some community outreach in the spirit of the civic activism promoted by the architects and designers in the exhibition. And so, with the help of the National Constitution Center, the Slought Foundation, and the Community Design Collaborative, we presented “Repurpose!,” a one-day community workshop and design competition highlighting the creative possibilities of urban revitalization in the Mantua neighborhood in West Philadelphia. The photos you see on this page were all taken during the Repurpose event, during which we built a canopy of rope and recycled plastic bottles with people from the neighborhood. The design was based on the geometry of common laundry lines and provided shade and festivity for the day's events. We collected over 1500 plastic bottles for the canopy from business owners in the neighborhood, nearby churches, the National Constitution Center, and the Philadelphia Phillies stadium, and it is in this sense that we like to think of the bottles as representing Philadelphia itself The canopy project was a collaboration between architects Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss (Normal Architecture Office), Brian Phillips (Interface Studio Architects), and Lindsay Bremner of Temple University. Repurpose took place on a vacant lot at 611-627 N. 40th Street. The number of such abandoned lots in Philadelphia is estimated to exceed 30,000, while the number of abandoned houses exceeds 50,000. The lot we used for Repurpose is currently slated to become Jannie’s Place, the site of new affordable housing units named after Philadelphia City Council member Jannie L. Blackwell, who spoke at the event along with Gloria Guard, president of the People’s Emergency Center Community Development Corporation, an outreach group serving West Philadelphia that co-sponsored the event. Over the course of the day, we learned that a crowd of 10,000 people had gathered here in 1965 to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hail the growing Civil Rights movements across the country. A video of that speech from the Scribe Video Center was screened later in the day. Earlier that morning we also participated in a community workshop titled "What is affordable housing?" led by Rosten Woo and Christine Gaspar of the Center for Urban Pedagogy in Brooklyn. Throughout the course of the day we distributed over 70 recycling bins to the neighborhood, in collaboration with the City of Philadelphia's Office of Sustainability. As part of the day's events, we also placed a 1500-pound block of crushed plastic bottles, courtesy of Blue Mountain Recycling, in front of the People's Emergency Center’s Rowan House headquarters, to show the community what happens to their recyclables after it is picked up from the curb and deposited at the sorting facility. While the structure that Srdjan, Brian and Lindsay devised was obviously a physical one, we also like to think of it as a social structure, in that it brought together for the first time we can remember in Philadelphia a remarkable collaboration of non-profits, city agencies, architects and individuals. We hope that the project leads to more like-minded initiatives to literally "repurpose" vacant lots throughout the city, and in so doing to re-imagine Philadelphia's future.
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Fuller Brushoff
Questions remain about the fate of the project's affordable component, which was originally 50 percent of the units.
Courtesy Pugh + Scarpa

When construction began in 2002, Santa Monica firm Pugh + Scarpa’s Fuller Lofts was seen as a major coup for LA. The 104-unit project, built out of a 1920s cast-in-place concrete Fuller Paints warehouse in Lincoln Heights, included 50 percent affordable housing and was seen as the flagship project for Livable Places, a nonprofit affordable housing developer cofounded by Pugh + Scarpa principal Larry Scarpa and other major LA players.

But the project has been besieged by setbacks, with work stalling in early 2008 after Livable Places disbanded, a casualty of the economic downturn and disputes with contractors.

Construction restarted this spring under local developer Lee Homes and its prime lender Citibank, and the project neared completion before thudding once more to a halt—and jettisoning its architect. Scarpa has told AN that his firm is no longer associated with the Lofts, citing contractual differences with Lee Homes as a major cause of the firm’s exit.

“We’re as off that job as you can be off a job,” Scarpa said.

The half-built lofts photographed in February, around the time Lee Homes joined the project.
Lovocado/Flickr

According to the architect, the current impasse began after Lee Homes took over the project, delivering him what he refers to as an “unworkable contract” and walking away from subsequent negotiations. The contract, said Scarpa, gave the firm fifty cents for every dollar it was owed, plus millions of dollars in liability. Scarpa has since refused to hand over project-related documents to Lee Homes.

“It’s completely unfair,” said Scarpa. “If they want to get material, they have to come to some agreement. I’m not going to just give the stuff away.” Scarpa suspects that the building’s affordable units and the ground-level retail may both be removed under the new ownership.

Lee Homes did not respond to requests for comment. According to the firm’s website, the company has completed over 1,000 units of housing since 2003, including the Flower Street Lofts in Los Angeles, Centre Street Lofts in San Pedro, and Harbor Lofts in Anaheim.

Asked if he would take legal action, Scarpa was stoic. “I can’t really do anything,” he said. “Architects don’t really have that kind of power.”

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Good Old New York
Yesterday, the city released a report, "Age Friendly New York," [PDF] about creating a place that is more appealing to seniors. After all, New York can be hard enough as it is without a bum hip and fifth-floor walk-up. (Why else do so many of us flee for Florida in our autumn years?) The report contains the expected investments in senior centers and "social inclusion," but roughly 40 percent of the 59 initiatives deal directly or indirectly with issues of equal concern to architects and planners, like more seats at those fancy Cemusa bus shelters, more affordable housing dedicated to seniors, and improved elevator and escalator access. “The initiatives we’re launching will go a long way towards helping older New Yorkers live more connected, vibrant, and meaningful lives,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press release. The best part is, it might even mean a nicer city for the rest of us, not to mention some much need work for the city's designers. See all 23 initiatives after the jump. HOUSING Affordable Housing Development
  • Target housing funds and streamline process of building low income housing for older New Yorkers
  • Examine parking requirements for affordable senior housing and amend the zoning code as necessary to facilitate construction of senior housing
  • Provide loans for rehabilitation and new construction of affordable housing
Homeowner & Renter Assistance
  • Provide loan assistance to older New Yorkers for home repairs
  • Engage NYC home improvement contractors in best practices for the older adult market
  • Improve access to SCRIE through transfer to Department of Finance
  • Expand eviction prevention legal services for older New Yorkers
Aging in Place
  • Provide additional supportive services to NORCs
  • Target Section 8 vouchers to vulnerable older adults at risk of eviction
  • Promote development of and access to new models of housing that support aging in place
PUBLIC SPACES & TRANSPORTATION Accessible & Affordable Transportation
  • Improve elevator and escalator service and enhance accessibility of subway stations
  • Improve efficiency of Access-A-Ride by equipping vehicles with GPS devices and implementing phone notification system
  • Match accessible taxis with users who need them
  • Develop model accessible taxi
  • Develop taxi voucher program for older New Yorkers who are unable to use public transportation
Safe & Age-Friendly Public Spaces
  • Increase seating in bus shelters
  • Install public restrooms at key locations citywide
  • Create new, pedestrian friendly public spaces while calming traffic
  • Redesign street intersections at key locations citywide to improve safety for older New Yorkers
  • Identify age-friendly parks and encourage older adults to utilize them
Planning for the Future
  • Provide environmental stewardship workshops and engage older New Yorkers in planting trees as part of PlaNYC and MillionTreesNYC
  • Conduct study to better address the mobility needs of older New Yorkers
  • Promote use of Universal Design Guidelines through education and awareness efforts
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Michelle Kaufmann
A rendering of the West 52nd Street Row Homes.
Courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

AN associate editor Lydia Lee contacted Northern California prefab pioneer Michelle Kaufmann about the recent closure of her company, Michelle Kaufmann Designs (MKD). But Kaufmann had very good news to share: She is finalizing details with a partner (as yet unnamed, as the two hammer out the details of the agreement) to continue her prefabricated housing work, using new technology to make the homes available to more people. Lee and Kaufmann discuss the upcoming deal, the large-scale developments Kaufmann is working on, and what the future of prefab looks like.


Kaufmann
 
One of Kaufmann's Houses under construction. Or is it under fabrication?
 
A pre-fab apartment building proposed for New York.
 
All images Courtesy Michelle Kaufman Designs
 
AN: It’s exciting to hear that your houses are going to continue to be available. How did the deal happen?

Michelle Kaufmann:
It is really a small community in the prefab green space, so we knew of each other’s work. However, a client of mine, who also knew the CEO of this company, thought the two of us could do some interesting things together. She invited this CEO to visit her Glidehouse [a Kaufmann design], and put the two of us in contact. That is part of the reason I am not giving up and excited about the next chapter: because our clients—many of whom are like family to me now—continue to be such great supporters and innovators in themselves.

Now that Marmol Radziner has also shut their factory, do you think the model of architect-as-manufacturer is untenable?


The model may need to be rethought, but it was the right thing to do at the time. When I started out, factories didn’t want to work with me. They didn’t think anyone would want what we were proposing, and they were just used to building substandard crap. Once we had the experience of running our own factory, we became much better factory partners, because we could say, “Look, this is possible.” We couldn’t approach them just as naive architects, but with a depth of knowledge, an understanding of the technology and manufacturing, so that we could have true conversations. And that takes a while. So the unfortunate thing about the closing of MKD is that we were just starting to have those discussions with more factories.

It seems like the companies that make traditional prefabs are starting to take a page out of your playbook. What do you think of Warren Buffett’s company, Clayton Homes, and its $100,000 I-House with the butterfly roof?

I think it’s a great legitimizer of the idea of green prefab, and it got a lot of press. But I haven’t seen it in person, so I don’t know if it feels like a solid, quality structure. There’s a huge difference between the standards for manufactured homes, which is what Clayton Homes produces, and modular homes, which is what the Marmol factory and ours produced. There’s still this idea out there that if your home comes out of a factory, it’s going to be a trailer home. But modular homes are built to the same code as site-built houses.

Bringing the price down for modern prefab is such a challenge. How do you think we’ll crack that nut?

When we had our factory, it was tough to get price points down just doing one and two at a time. And with the current unpredictability in securing a home loan, that uncertainty really doesn’t fit well with the requirements of a factory. When you’re doing 20 at one time, that’s when the price points start to get very interesting. That’s part of the reason I’m very interested in working on communities, like the one in Denver.

Kaufmann sits on the steps to one of her homes.

Tell us about that project.

For Aria Denver, I’m working with Susan Powers of Urban Ventures. She’s one of these developers that really believes in quality vs. quantity, and sees this new development as the future. It’s going to have a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, and the plan is to take advantage of its proximity to Regis University and make it a lifetime learning community, diverse in income and age and background. We’re looking at community gardens and alternative energy. There’s going to be 106 houses total, and the first phase, which is eight homes, was just installed last week.

This phase was designed specifically for a group of nuns, so seven of the eight homes are townhouse units, but the eighth house will be more of a shared group space and has a particularly big kitchen. All of the homes face one another, with living rooms that open to a shared courtyard. In other parts of the community, we’re designing homes where there are sliding fences, so if you decide you want to have a barbecue with your neighbor, you can open the walls between the two backyards and have one big space. We’re looking at different ways design can help cultivate community.

You’ve talked about the horrible experience of house-hunting, and how that inspired you to build your own—and then go into prefab. Has living in your custom-built home in Marin County been all that you expected?

I do love living in the middle of nowhere, but I also miss a sense of community. I think in an urban situation, you create that for yourself. But there are other models besides cities and badly designed subdivisions. In my work on these developments, I’m definitely imagining how I would like to live. These days, more people are working from home, and live apart from their extended family, so our communities are different.

What else are you working on?

I’m designing a couple of small hotels, including a 30-room fishing resort in the Bahamas, which is going to be zero-energy. It’s going to be a great environment to show how green can be beautiful, while educating visitors with things like monitors that will show people how much water and energy they’re using. While they’re in this beautiful natural habitat, it’s the perfect time to remind people of what’s worth preserving.

A version of this article appeared in AN 06_08.19.2009_CA.

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Small Lots, Big Deal
Heyday Partnership's Rock Row at Eagle Rock.
Courtesy Heyday Partnership

Several years ago, Los Angeles’ principal city planner Jane Blumenfeld approached David Reddy of R & D Architects about a Venice condominium project he had designed. Though condos, the units were conceived as freestanding houses with generous provisions for light and air. Blumenfeld was interested in using the project as an example of what might be possible under a new ordinance then in the works.

That first draft became what is known as the City of Los Angeles Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance. Passed in 2005, the ordinance has created a unique housing option that is neither a traditional single-family home nor a condominium. The law allows architects and developers to subdivide an existing commercial or multifamily lot into smaller parcels, and build properties that from the ground up essentially have their own foundations, walls, and roofs.

These hybrid homes provide an alternative to condominium or apartment living that is still more affordable than single-family residences in the same neighborhood. Instead of the homeowner association dues that come with condominium ownership, small lot buyers have the benefit of fee-simple ownership in exchange for adherence to restrictions that typically prohibit owners from painting their home a particular color, for instance, or significantly altering the building’s exterior. The upshot is changing the residential face of LA—and offering a rare dose of optimism for the city’s developers and architects.


Modative's Fay Avenue Arts District Dwellings, Culver City.
All images courtesy respective firms

William Adams Architect's Brooks 2, Venice.

Now that the first crop of nearly a dozen properties has sold, projects are beginning to dot the map from Venice to Sherman Oaks to Eagle Rock, and everywhere in between. According to Ric Abramson of Workplays, these homes are well suited to both first-time homebuyers and those who want the benefits of homeownership without the hassles of property upkeep.

Many of these developments sport a decidedly modern aesthetic with clean, geometric exterior forms and open floor plans with lofty interiors. Sustainability is another common thread, incorporating green building materials, natural light and ventilation, and high-efficiency HVAC systems.

While the program can be a boon for homebuyers, it poses its share of challenges for architects. According to Reddy, small lot projects have very different kinds of design challenges than do condominiums, even though the two types of projects are alike in many ways. “Each small lot property is considered separately,” he said. “And it requires working through the different and sometimes competing agendas between planning and building and safety.”

William Adams Architects' Washington 4, Marina Del Rey.
 

Workplays Studio's HUTs, Los Angeles.

And others note that small lot projects are hardly immune from the economic downturn. Derek Leavitt, of the newly formed architecture firm Modative, has worked on a handful of small lot projects and calls the current economic climate a double-edged sword. Dropping real estate values have caused two of his firm’s small lot projects to stall—the seven-unit Faye Avenue Art District Dwellings and the six-unit Venice Boulevard Urban Dwellings. But the long term may provide more opportunities in this market niche, he said. “As land prices and construction costs continue to drop, it makes small lot subdivision projects more feasible.”

Michael Pinto, design principal of Osborn Architects, has also contended with shifting economic realities while trying to navigate the approval process. Developers purchased land for Osborn’s Cumpston project with the intent to create five separate units for sale. But city officials determined that the site was fit for only four units, a decision Pinto is attempting to appeal. “The financial feasibility of four is sketchy in this economy,” Pinto said. “We’re pushing for five.”

The full impact of the small lot ordinance remains to be seen. Despite the small number of projects in the pipeline, Reddy thinks it has the potential to significantly reshape housing in Los Angeles. “These projects change the densities in neighborhoods,” he said. But, he added, “It doesn’t increase it to the extent one would have with conventional condominium projects or apartment buildings.”


Workplays Studio's Cottage Lofts, Los Feliz.

So what’s next on the horizon? Ocean breezes and sandy beaches might soon be going hand-in-hand with some upcoming small lot projects. Gail Goldberg, the city’s director of planning, is working on a policy initiative that would allow for increased density along the Los Angeles coast, and small lot projects could well become a component of such coastal-area upzoning.

Some believe that even if small lot numbers could reach five to ten percent of residential neighborhoods, it would make a big difference in keeping the city affordable—and in style. “It’s an attractive choice for some people who are looking for housing,” Abramson said.

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Q&A: Michelle Kaufmann
A rendering of the West 52nd Street Row Homes.
Courtesy Michelle Kaufman Designs

AN associate editor Lydia Lee contacted Northern California prefab pioneer Michelle Kaufmann about the recent closure of her company, Michelle Kaufmann Designs (MKD). But Kaufmann had very good news to share: She is finalizing details with a partner to continue her prefabricated housing work, using new technology to make the homes available to more people. The two talked about the upcoming deal, the large-scale developments Kaufmann is working on, and what the future of prefab looks like.


Kaufmann
 
One of Kaufmann's Houses under construction. Or is it under fabrication?
 
A pre-fab apartment building proposed for New York.
 
All images Courtesy Michelle Kaufman Designs
 
AN: It’s exciting to hear that your houses are going to continue to be available. How did the deal happen?

Michelle Kaufmann:
It is really a small community in the prefab green space, so we knew of each other’s work. However, a client of mine, who also knew the CEO of this company, thought the two of us could do some interesting things together. She invited this CEO to visit her Glidehouse [a Kaufmann design], and put the two of us in contact. That is part of the reason I am not giving up and excited about the next chapter: because our clients—many of whom are like family to me now—continue to be such great supporters and innovators in themselves.

Now that Marmol Radziner has also shut their factory, do you think the model of architect-as-manufacturer is untenable?


The model may need to be rethought, but it was the right thing to do at the time. When I started out, factories didn’t want to work with me. They didn’t think anyone would want what we were proposing, and they were just used to building substandard crap. Once we had the experience of running our own factory, we became much better factory partners, because we could say, “Look, this is possible.” We couldn’t approach them just as naive architects, but with a depth of knowledge, an understanding of the technology and manufacturing, so that we could have true conversations. And that takes a while. So the unfortunate thing about the closing of MKD is that we were just starting to have those discussions with more factories.

It seems like the companies that make traditional prefabs are starting to take a page out of your playbook. What do you think of Warren Buffett’s company, Clayton Homes, and its $100,000 I-House with the butterfly roof?

I think it’s a great legitimizer of the idea of green prefab, and it got a lot of press. But I haven’t seen it in person, so I don’t know if it feels like a solid, quality structure. There’s a huge difference between the standards for manufactured homes, which is what Clayton Homes produces, and modular homes, which is what the Marmol factory and ours produced. There’s still this idea out there that if your home comes out of a factory, it’s going to be a trailer home. But modular homes are built to the same code as site-built houses.

Bringing the price down for modern prefab is such a challenge. How do you think we’ll crack that nut?

When we had our factory, it was tough to get price points down just doing one and two at a time. And with the current unpredictability in securing a home loan, that uncertainty really doesn’t fit well with the requirements of a factory. When you’re doing 20 at one time, that’s when the price points start to get very interesting. That’s part of the reason I’m very interested in working on communities, like the one in Denver.

Kaufman sits on the steps to one of her homes.

Tell us about that project.

For Aria Denver, I’m working with Susan Powers of Urban Ventures. She’s one of these developers that really believes in quality vs. quantity, and sees this new development as the future. It’s going to have a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, and the plan is to take advantage of its proximity to Regis University and make it a lifetime learning community, diverse in income and age and background. We’re looking at community gardens and alternative energy. There’s going to be 106 houses total, and the first phase, which is eight homes, was just installed last week.

This phase was designed specifically for a group of nuns, so seven of the eight homes are townhouse units, but the eighth house will be more of a shared group space and has a particularly big kitchen. All of the homes face one another, with living rooms that open to a shared courtyard. In other parts of the community, we’re designing homes where there are sliding fences, so if you decide you want to have a barbecue with your neighbor, you can open the walls between the two backyards and have one big space. We’re looking at different ways design can help cultivate community.

You’ve talked about the horrible experience of house-hunting, and how that inspired you to build your own—and then go into prefab. Has living in your custom-built home in Marin County been all that you expected?

I do love living in the middle of nowhere, but I also miss a sense of community. I think in an urban situation, you create that for yourself. But there are other models besides cities and badly designed subdivisions. In my work on these developments, I’m definitely imagining how I would like to live. These days, more people are working from home, and live apart from their extended family, so our communities are different.

What else are you working on?

I’m designing a couple of small hotels, including a 30-room fishing resort in the Bahamas, which is going to be zero-energy. It’s going to be a great environment to show how green can be beautiful, while educating visitors with things like monitors that will show people how much water and energy they’re using. While they’re in this beautiful natural habitat, it’s the perfect time to remind people of what’s worth preserving.

A version of this article appeared in AN 06_08.19.2009_CA.

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Moss on a Roll
With 102 planned hotel rooms, the hotel-condo project will boast the highest density in West Hollywood.
Courtesy Eric Owen Moss Architects

After getting approval for a major hotel on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles architect Eric Owen Moss is striking out for still more nettlesome terrain: Venice, California, where he’s now seeking consent for a building 35 feet higher than current planning standards. That mixed-use project, proposed for one of the busiest intersections in the area, pits Moss and his well-connected development team against some of the most effective community activists in LA.

Moss and his firm head into battle with momentum from his August 6 victory in West Hollywood, where the planning commission overruled the recommendation of its own staff and gave the nod to an 11-story hotel and adjoining condo complex, set for a site at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Doheny Drive. Among other things, staffers had cited the scale of the project, which exceeds allowed height limits for the residential street at its rear border by 70 feet, and boasts a FAR of 4.07, the highest approved since West Hollywood was founded in 1984. 


the Sunset Strip project rises above a significantly lower-scale residential context. 

But the commission brushed aside such worries and instructed city officials to negotiate a development agreement for the endeavor. The approval brings valuable transit occupancy taxes from its hotel component, and developer Weintraub Financial Services has agreed to negotiate a similar payment for the project’s 48 time-share units.

In Venice, Moss has proposed a V-shaped plan on a tight, 120-by-125-foot site at 1020 Venice Boulevard, where a roughly triangular parcel is formed where Venice crosses Lincoln Boulevard. The project contains 40 apartments, of which about 30 percent would be affordable, rising five floors above a concrete platform and 5,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space. Each bar of the V would bulge toward its streetwall at midpoint. A narrow, triangular courtyard would cut through the top five floors, providing ventilation for the residential units. Rooftop solar panels would cascade down the building’s south face. 


The venice building's massing is configured to help maximize daylighting in residential units. 

Moss, who is working with developer Valley Heart Group, is seeking several variances for the project, which falls under the purview of the Venice Coastal Specific Plan. If granted, the variances would double the lot's density from 1.5:1 to 3:1. The project will also need to obtain permission for its 65-foot height, which far exceeds the city’s limit of 30 feet.

Representatives of the developer have cited the project’s location on a major transit corridor as a reason for the density boost. In addition, they point out, the project would generate housing stock on a currently vacant lot, provide four units of very low income housing and eight units of workforce housing, and generate solar power.


A cut-away portion of the southwest facade improves cross-ventilation and offers views toward the ocean.

Such arguments have not swayed some Venice residents. “There’s no guarantee that there’s going to be light rail transit on Lincoln,” said land-use activist David Ewing, who is the co-chair of Council District 11’s Transportation Advisory Committee. “It’s one alternative being looked at, but it presents a lot of engineering difficulties.”

Local activists have successfully blocked big projects before, and they have vowed to do the same again. The Venice Neighborhood Council voted to oppose Moss’ designs in June, and while Valley Heart has filed an application with the city, the project has yet to be heard by a zoning administrator.

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Upending The Bad News
On Tuesday night AN, Gensler and the California Real Estate Journal (CREJ) hosted our panel discussion, Upending The Downturn at the Poliform showroom in Beverly Hills. Participants did their best to keep the tone positive, and suggested tips for surviving, and even excelling, during the recession and beyond. Most hinted that we're almost out of the woods. Potential bright spots for architects and builders included affordable housing, government work (including slowly-moving stimulus-related projects), sustainable projects (including work in LA's new Clean Tech corridor), health care, and design/build . Some even suggested that small projects are getting financing, and that larger ones should by the end of the year. The recession, one panelist pointed out, will be announced officially over in September. What?? And more good news: co-moderator Jennifer Caterino of the CREJ, noted that according to the Commerce Department US Construction spending rose .3 percent in June. What's next? Constant sunshine? Oh yeah, it's LA. There is constant sunshine.
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California Nightmare
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the new budget, which includes $1.7 billion in cuts for the state's redevelopment agencies.
Courtesy Office of the Governor

The gaping hole in California’s budget that the state legislature closed last week was, at $26 billion, larger than the gross domestic product of many countries. Since raising taxes is out of the question—thanks to Proposition 13 and Republican refusal to surmount it—the assembly and senate turned to deep spending cuts. Those cuts will hurt almost every sector of the state’s social services, from education to health care, from parks to law enforcement.

But a $2.1 billion cut to redevelopment funds—$1.7 billion for the current fiscal year, plus $350 million to be cut next year—will have a major impact on the design and construction industries, and could be the deciding factor in whether projects, both stalled and shovel-ready, go forward. To make matters worse, opponents of the cuts believe that delays will deepen the recession, further depressing development prospects.

“This is probably the most critical vein within the state budget that is related to the capital projects architects work on,” said John Kaliski, president of the AIA’s Los Angeles chapter. “This will lead directly to architects not proceeding with work or getting started on new projects.”

The state’s 397 authorities cover 745 redevelopment areas, ranging from the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, which is losing $70 million, to the Waterford Redevelopment Agency, serving a town of 7,000 in Stanislaus County, which will be out $150,000. The neighboring town of Riverbank is losing $480,000. “That’s big money to them,” said John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association, an advocacy group. “Riverbank is just a small, little town, and it can hardly afford to lose $480,000.”

The redevelopment authorities dole out cash raised by local property taxes to support privately developed projects deemed to serve a public benefit, which can be anything from Skid Row housing to a new stadium for the Oakland Raiders. The redevelopment program, enacted in 1951 under the Community Redevelopment Law, has its critics, though. They say it creates more boondoggles than benefits—a 36-hole golf course in Palm Springs, for example—and misappropriates local property taxes, both reasons given for the current budgetary action.

Karren Chappel, director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation, said that when it comes to deciding between building or paying welfare checks, she is inclined to slash the former, even if it might also mean fewer units of affordable housing. “In a way, there’s a lot fewer people hurt if you raid from redevelopment,” she said. “Some projects are good, but some are just handouts to well-connected developers.”

Legislators argue they had no choice but to make cuts from the redevolpment funds, especially in light of an early attempt to close a $40 billion budget hole in February. "Over the course of the year, we're looking at a $60 billion deficit," Alicia Trost, press secretary for Darrell Steinberg, the leader of the state Senate. "We tried to spread the pain as much as possible," she added. "The most important part was protecting our social safety net in these hard times."

But Mark Christian, the director of legislative affairs for the AIA California Council, believes the legislature turned to the agencies simply because the money was ripe for the taking. “The redevelopment agencies had money, and the state needed money,” Christian said.

Agency advocates say that the state’s economic recovery could suffer because of the cuts. According to the California Redevelopment Association, every $1 spent by the agencies is matched by $6 in private funds that then generate an additional $7 in economic activity. “It’s utterly backwards,” Shirey said. “We like to call it anti-economic stimulus.”

Shirey also noted that approximately 150,000 construction-related jobs have been lost over the last year because of the recession. By the association’s calculations, the budget cuts will cost the design and construction industries an additional 164,000 jobs this year and 34,000 the following year. “It’s a double whammy,” he said.

But Shirey is not as worried as he could be. His group has filed a lawsuit against the state and expects to win, given that a similar action was taken last year in an effort to balance the budget. That attempted $350 million seizure was overturned by the state court weeks before the money was due to be dispersed to the local agencies. This year, legislators argue they had written the new budget in a way that makes it constitutionally viable, but Shirey remains confident in his cause.

Kaliski is less sanguine, as architects across the state are counting on these funds for jobs. “They’ve decided they’re going to ignore the future,” Kaliski said. “They could have made the cuts elsewhere, and sure, people will have to suffer now, but at least you’re investing in the future. Now we all have to pay the price.”

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Rezoning Day
The rezoning of Coney Island may have takn up all the oxygen at the City Council Wednesday, but it was far from the only rezoning to pass, and far from the only important one. The council also approved a major downzoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which, at 175 blocks, is not only huge, but important, as it was meant to protect the area from out-of-scale overdevelopment. It may be a little too late for that, but better late than never, we guess. Or maybe never again is more like it. The Flatbush neighborhood on the south side of Prospect Park got a similar treatment, receiving a massive 180 block downzoning again to protect against uncharacteristic development. Dumbo was rezoned, though in a particularly contextual manner, given its unique historic character, as were four contiguous neighborhoods in Queens. But perhaps most important was a citywide change to the inclusionary housing bonus. The chief mechanism by which the Bloomberg administration has promoted affordable housing, the inclusionary housing bonus was extended throughout the city beginning with the original rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint in 2005. It had existed since 1987 in some of Manhattan's highest density areas, but it would later be deployed throughout the city because the administration liked how it married private development to the public needs of affordable housing. Essentially, the program offers developers additional density, usually in the neighborhood of 10-12 percent, if they make at least 20 percent of their units affordable. Because this means extra height, it is often worth it in the world of residential development. (At the same time, the program is voluntary, which has created complaints from numerous housing advocates, as some developers forgo the bonus because of construction costs, thereby depressing the number of affordable housing units created.) Yesterday's amendment creates a relatively new home ownership option--it had been deployed in discrete instances in the past--that would not only allow planners and developers to create affordable rentals in neighborhoods, but what are essentially affordable condos. The one downside? The price is regulated, so it would be near impossible to sell and reap much in the way of profits, one of the many reasons for buying a home (at least until recently). The program will likely be targeted at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, though, where such things are less of a concern and it's more about getting out of the projects or substandard rental housing. The amendment also impacts the original program from 1987, which affects the city's highest density residential districts, the R10s. Currently, affordable units in those projects are ineligible for subsidies, but now they will no longer be exempt, thus paving the way for additional affordable units. (For the best explanation, including some really good visuals, check out the DCP's slideshow.)
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Charged Up
More where that came from: the proposed energy bill incentivizes the creation of more green buildings, such as One Bryant Park in New York, The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and Thin Flats in Philadelphia.
Courtesy Cook + Fox, RPBW, Onionflats

Much of the attention focused on the energy bill that passed the House of Representatives on June 26 has surrounded the somewhat controversial cap-and-trade program. A less noted but equally important part of the American Clean Energy and Security Act is the nearly three dozen programs the bill contains with far-reaching impacts on the built environment and those who design, construct, and operate the millions of buildings scattered across the country.

"The fact that there was so much that relates to buildings is an important moment for the building community," said Andrew Goldberg, the senior director for federal relations at the AIA. "It supports the message we've been pushing for a long time, that buildings are a part of the solution. It's finally sinking in and they're taking action about it."

The proposed cap-and-trade system is still at the heart of the new legislation, as the funds it will raise will go to support many of the new building programs. The most expansive piece of buildings-related legislation is the establishment of a new national building code that sets minimum standards for energy usage in all new and existing buildings. States either have the option of developing their own code or applying the national one, but they must include a 30 percent reduction in energy usage within 18 months of the bills passage, a 50 percent reduction by 2014 for residential buildings and 2015 for commerical building, and an additional 5 percent reduction every three years through 2030.

The bill also has numerous provisions calling for federal agencies and federally managed housing to meet or exceed the new energy standards. Another program that could mean a good deal of work for architect is new energy efficient standards for retrofitted builidngs. And in addition to energy, there are new water efficiency standards for buildings, appliances, and products. "There are a number of market barriers that must be overcome to make green building affordable, but these new standards will help spur that shift," said Jason Hartke, the director for advocacy and public policy as the U.S. Green Building Council.

The bill is not all federally mandated sticks, either, as their are plenty of carrots to encourage a voluntary transition. An Energy Star-like building rating system is being proposed to label new construction so owners and operators know the energy usage of their buildings. (One of the biggest loses for the bill was the removal of a requirment that existing buildings also be labeled.)

Another program that has green building advocates especially excited is the Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods Act, which provides incentives to financial institutions to offer generous loans to projects that use sustainable technology and smart growth practices. The program also creates a demo program at HUD to develop cutting-edge green systems for its housing projects, turning them into sustainability laboratories.

Furthering the green-for-all message, there are grants for affordable housing developers to include efficient systems in their projects, and another program gives credits to mobile home residents to trade in their current models for newer, more efficient models. And because all these new buildings and products must be created to satisfy all this new demand, there are a number of programs providing funding for product development and educational programs for designers, contractors, manufacturers, and building operators.

The bill now awaits its companion in the Senate. Initially, a vote had been expected by the end of the session, but the healthcare bill has taken up most of the Hill's political oxygen, and despite hopes for at least a draft of the bill before the August recess, it now looks like even that will be pushed back to the fall. Still, without jinxing it, Goldberg expects something comparable to the House bill. "It could very well be stronger," he said. "There was a lot of support on the other side. It could be stronger or about the same. Or it could always be a wash."

A version of this article appeared in AN_07.29.2009.

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Downtown Brooklyn
A map of many major development projects in Downtown Brooklyn. Click to view larger.
Map by Dustin Koda

When Harry Rosen opened Junior’s in 1950, the Dodgers still played at Ebbets Field and Brooklyn was in its heyday. The restaurant’s Flatbush Avenue neighbors included the Paramount and Fox theaters, where Brooklynites could hear Duke Ellington or, a few years later, Chuck Berry. Downtown was a real neighborhood, said Joe Chan, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), and the recent wave of development—no matter how chaotic in appearance—aims to make it one again.


7: Toren (Numbers refer to the development map above)
 

The intervening decades saw the area along Flatbush decline into automotive uses and an uninviting barrier condition. In 2004, the nonprofit DBP and the commercial and academic stakeholders it represents, along with relevant city agencies, saw the area’s rezoning as a chance to recapture that history with residents, jobs, entertainment, diverse retail, and 24/7 street life. “It should have all the elements of economic sustainability,” said Chan, who spent five years as City Hall’s point person for the rezoning. The plan also incorporated PlaNYC’s principles for greening public space and guiding density toward transit nodes.

Before the bubble burst in 2008, the on-the-ground reality along Flatbush, however, was hyper-development, particularly in the condominium sector, and a jarring degree of gentrification. Major projects include the 42-story Avalon Fort Greene at Myrtle and Flatbush, a rental building by Perkins Eastman Architects now under construction; BFC Partners’ 37-story Toren by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Roger Duffy at the same intersection; Ismael Leyva’s 40-story Gold Street tower, Oro; and 80 DeKalb, a 34-story 80/20 by Costas Kondylis for Forest City Ratner. Downtown residential construction includes some 20 fully funded projects in all.

17/13: The future site of City Point, with 80 DeKalb Avenue under construction in the background

But sales have lagged behind expectations, and some new construction is now “trending toward rental,” said Chan, “for those that were still in the planning phases before the credit markets really took a turn.” Toren, as of this writing, is 50 percent sold; Oro, 40 percent. Developers who “in the past were negotiating with big boxes,” said councilperson Letitia James, an advocate of affordable housing and local employment, are instead considering day-care centers and schools, perhaps even quartering students from downtown’s seven higher-educational institutions. In fact, last year’s economic reality check may end up steering development patterns away from drastic gentrification and closer to a more inclusive community vision.

1/6: The Oro and Avalon Fort Greene

The DBP’s Downtown Brooklyn Plan allows FARs of 10 or 12 south of MetroTech (increased from 6) along Flatbush to a jigsaw border including Boerum Place and Adams, Jay, and Smith streets. The ensuing densification counterbalances the 2007 downzoning in the brownstone districts of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. The City Point mixed-use complex would replace Albee Square Mall with residences, retail, offices, and possibly a hotel, although construction is stalled, and reports of a 65-story skyscraper by Atlanta-based architect GreenbergFarrow appear premature. “The only part of City Point that will go forward is the affordable housing at this point,” James reports, “and that’s still in discussion.”


20: Ingersol Houses
 

On Duffield Street, all but one of several buildings thought to have served as abolitionist safe houses have fallen under eminent domain. Depending on fundraising, the remaining house at 227 Duffield will become an Underground Railroad museum surrounded by new development, including four hotels ranging from a 130-room V3 boutique to a 320-room Sheraton.

Much of the area’s physical and social healing depends on whether Flatbush continues to resemble a highway or evolves toward a boulevard with development that “knits neighborhoods together,” according to SOM’s Duffy. Flatbush needs to be “less of an edge, more of a permeable condition between pre- existing neighborhoods.”

Noting how vehicles and the “defensive” MetroTech buildings combine to separate Fort Greene from downtown, Duffy looks to design as well as programming for reintegration. Toren, with its dimpled facade of Argentine aluminum panels painted powder-coat silver, stands out from the area’s dominant masonry styles; at ground level, its facade “was meant to foster transparent activity at the street edge,” he said.

18: Future home of Willoughby Square Park

Schermerhorn House, designed by Susan Rodriguez and Polshek Partnership for a publicly-owned site near Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, is an intriguing exception to the highrise activity, performing a comparably mediating function on a 12-story structure. With a glass-tower design that Rodriguez describes as having two distinct faces—one reflecting Downtown Brooklyn’s larger scale, and the other stepping down to the brownstones of Boerum Hill—this multipurpose project spearheaded by Common Ground Community and Actors Fund of America includes studio units for special-needs populations like the formerly homeless, artists, and other low-income residents.

Downtown’s near future may look less glittering than developers had hoped, but for some that’s a relief. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re not trying to create a new city,” said James. “What we’re trying to do is improve on that which we have and create opportunities for residents who have lived through the bad times and want to benefit from the good times."