Posts tagged with "Affordable Housing":

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Mexico's Housing Laboratory shows off 32 low-cost prototypes

At the heart of social housing in Mexico is a contradiction: Flimsy houses built far from city centers sit empty, while millions of Mexicans are still waiting to use publicly financed housing credits. Developers continue to replicate the much-maligned cutter-cut model to keep costs down. But how can new construction not just meet the bottom line but satisfy the needs of low- and middle-income families? That is the question Carlos Zedillo and Julia Gómez Candela set out to answer at the Research Center for Sustainable Development of the National Workers’ Housing Fund Institute (Infonavit). After several years of research and design, they inaugurated the nine-acre Housing Laboratory in Apan, Hidalgo, in November 2018. The laboratory is made up of 32 prototype homes that explore new typologies for social housing to meet the needs of Mexico’s diverse cultures and climates. Infonavit partnered with Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of New York–based architecture firm MOS to execute the ambitious project. “For a long time, developers have built the exact same housing in the north of the country as the south, without thinking about climate or materials,” said architect Gómez Candela in an interview by phone. That’s why the same boxy, concrete block homes dot the outskirts of almost all Mexican cities. Homes as small as 325 square feet stay within the budget, but are hardly adequate for families. Mexican workers gradually build up credit with Infonavit to finance their first home purchase. Infonavit used to build housing, but since the 1990s it plays the role of financer—workers use their Infonavit loans to pay for houses built by private developers. Along the way, architects’ role in the process diminished. Gómez Candela says that as director of the research center, the Yale-educated Zedillo set out, “To get architects to redirect their attention back to social housing in Mexico.” The research center began with an exhaustive study of the state of social housing in Mexico, identifying where the supply of homes was failing to meet demand. Then they selected 84 counties with high rates of Infonavit credit holders who had not yet bought homes. The target counties represented the nine climate zones of Mexico. The research center then worked with MOS to solicit proposals from around the world, settling on 32 prototype homes for the Housing Laboratory. Architects including Enrique Norten, Tatiana Bilbao, and Fernanda Canales designed houses for the project. The laboratory was conceived in Apan, a small town two hours to the east of Mexico City. Built on land owned by Infonavit, the site’s proximity to the capital allowed frequent visits. Towns and cities like Apan, in the outer limits of the Mexico City metro area, are usually known for drab, uniform housing. The small village of prototype homes is a welcome variation. The houses include vernacular architectural styles from around Mexico, including adobe, thatched roofing, and Mexican timber, designed with the country’s different climates in mind; from the humid, tropical south to the arid, hot north. Each architect described their inspirations and reference points, from local architectural styles like the wooden cabins known as trojes in the state of Michoacan to self-constructed housing. Collaborating with MOS allowed the research center to learn from their extensive experience designing housing. The Apan Housing Laboratory shows how developers could build high-quality housing within the tight budgets of Infonavit credits. It is only natural that Gómez Candela says cost was the greatest difficulty in the international collaboration. “In Mexico, we are used to building with very little money,” she says. “With our colleagues from the United States and other countries, we kept having to say, ‘Make it cheaper!’” The extra effort was necessary to convince developers that the models are feasible. Even so, developers have been slow to adopt the ideas proposed in the laboratory. “They [developers] still think it will be more expensive to build this way, even if we showed them otherwise” says Gómez Candela. “The numbers do add up.” Most visitors to the Housing Laboratory are students, urban planners and developers. Gómez Candela and Zedillo both left Infonavit when the new federal administration entered in December 2018. But the laboratory remains open and the floor plans are available online under open access. The laboratory is the start of a long process to refocus social housing in Mexico on the experience of the residents, not just efficacy for the builder. The research center’s work is seeing results, as Mexican architects focus more energy on designing housing. Gómez Candela is optimistic, saying, “The architects we worked with have continued to champion the cause of housing in Mexico.”
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Microsoft chips in for major affordable housing strategy around Seattle

Like many American cities with more than half a million residents, Seattle is in a housing crisis. The growth of local tech companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, and Expedia Group, is reported to have increased Seattle’s population of higher-income residents by 16 percent, making the task of finding affordable housing more difficult for the city’s working class. It was announced on September 26 that Microsoft, King County, and the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) will work together to create affordable housing for more than 3,000 residents. Together, they will provide more than $245 million to purchase five apartment complexes in Kirkland, one in Bellevue, and one in Federal Way. These complexes across the three King County cities were chosen for their proximity to transit hubs and burgeoning real estate markets, which would have likely caused significant rent increases in the targeted buildings if they had not been slated for affordable housing. “This is a long-term effort to stabilize rents in communities where rents are rapidly rising,” said Dan Watson, deputy executive director of the King County Housing Authority, “and fully expect to continue over the next 10 to 15 years.” Watson also confirmed that after the complexes are purchased, their monthly rents could be as much as $500 below similar developments in their respective neighborhoods. To accrue the necessary funds for the project, Microsoft provided a loan to the KCHA for $60 million, King County provided an additional $20 million, and the KCHA itself chipped in $140 million in bonds. Jane Broom, the senior director of Microsoft Philanthropies, announced that its involvement in the collaboration is one part of a $500 million strategy initiated by the company earlier this year to respond to the myriad of challenges facing Seattle’s middle class (defined as households earning between $60,000 and $120,000 a year). "We are committed to maintaining and bolstering strong, vibrant communities here in the greater Puget Sound region," said Broom. "Thriving communities include safe, reliable and affordable housing options for people at all income levels. To do this, we all need to come together to not only build more housing options, but also to preserve what already exists." The remaining $440 million allocated by Microsoft is planned to eventually go towards the construction of additional affordable housing and homeless services.
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One of Los Angeles's most successful housing programs is facing a lawsuit

According to the Los Angeles Times, an L.A.-based nonprofit has filed a lawsuit seeking to eliminate one of the city’s most successful affordable housing programs. Fix the City (FTC), which board members describe as a “pro-safety, pro-livability, pro-‘rules-matter’ group,” is suing the municipal government over its implementation of the Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) program, which loosens planning regulations for developers who build near transit stations. FTC’s leaders assert that the TOC scheme, which was initiated after Los Angeles voters came out in favor of Measure JJJ to address the city’s homelessness crisis, has allowed local officials to bypass the elected leaders of the city council and operate without proper civic oversight.

The lawsuit is intended to halt progress on the construction of a 79-foot-tall apartment building on Santa Monica Boulevard, which would accommodate 120 residential units spread across seven stories. If the project moves forward, it will be allowed to exceed existing height limitations on Santa Monica Boulevard by more than 20 feet in exchange for a guarantee that a certain percentage of the units will be set aside for affordable housing—a provision of the TOC program aimed at increasing residential density. FTC board members have accused the city of providing developer incentives that go beyond what voters approved under Measure JJJ, insisting that officials should redraw the housing plan with greater attention to due process and community oversight.

Contrary to what the FTC’s most recent lawsuit might suggest, the Transit Oriented Communities strategy has actually been quite successful in encouraging developers to build more residential units across the city. Since it went into effect in late 2017, the program has led to developer-led proposals for 20,000 new units, almost 4,000 of which are designated as affordable. Mayor Eric Garcetti has also indicated that the initiative’s focus on transit corridors will help to reduce L.A.'s crippling congestion problems.

Supporters of the TOC program and Measure JJJ have criticized the lawsuit as an impediment in the city’s quest to address its mounting housing crisis. The FTC, which has repeatedly sued the city over planning decisions ranging from the construction of a 27-story tower in Koreatown to the addition of hundreds of miles of bus and bicycle lanes through the Mobility Plan, is a known impediment to such actions. Whether the latest lawsuit will mark a legal victory or defeat for the city still remains to be seen.

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IKEA and the Queen of Sweden update the retirement home for dementia

IKEA and Queen Silvia of Sweden are teaming up to rethink housing the elderly. The project, called SilviaBo, is an offshoot of the furniture giant’s affordable housing arm, BoKLok, and extends its same principles of wooden, prefab architecture for the masses to the world’s aging population.  These days, architects and designers are being challenged to create inclusive spaces that not only offer shelter for the elderly but also promote healing and are physically accessible to people with a range of mobility and emotional energies. When choosing retirement housing, many families have anxiety over the cost of living and the often lack of social support or physical care staff available at lower-cost institutions. BoKlok and SilviaBo aim to squash that fear and claim to be at the forefront of a movement that addresses sustainability, economics, and physical well-being in elderly care. The flatpack-style SilviaBo homes are manufactured in partnership with another Swedish company, construction firm Skanska. The original units that have been in production since the late 90s still serve as the base for the new customized homes. They are assembled as prefab parts in a factory and delivered to the construction site where they are set up as one unit. Made mostly of wood, the homes feature a minimal, clean design. Currently, the units are available via BoKlok in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and the UK.  The result of BoKlok's work is a cost-effective and environmentally sensitive model for the future of retirees. The company claims that only 1 percent of its materials go to landfill and that it has a carbon footprint of less than half of a standard building project. Sensitive design choices derived from the most recent research on dementia include kitchen appliances with physical buttons rather than digital screens to bathrooms without mirrors or dark flooring, two factors deemed aggravating to individuals suffering from dementia. 
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Kanye West's affordable housing prototypes may have to be demolished

Kanye West had big plans to shake up the development market with a new affordable housing community, but it seems like the dream might be short-lived. News of the project in Calabasas, California broke just last month, but TMZ, who also obtained first images of the development from a Los Angeles County Public Works inspector, is reporting that state authorities are threatening its demolition if West does not comply with construction permit laws by September 15. 

West, who identifies with the pseudonym Yeezy, has demonstrated his interest in residential architecture and the housing market before, establishing the studio Yeezy Home and unveiling renderings of a stark concrete affordable housing complex in 2018. On a 300-acre forested plot of land in Calabasas, near West and Kim Kardashian’s shared home, his latest endeavor took a less conventional route. Writing for Forbes last month, Zack O’Malley Greenburg compared the prototypes for the development to Tatooine settlements from the first Star Wars movie, which in turn were inspired by vernacular housing design in Tunisia. While images of the interiors of the homes have not been released, it is clear from Greenburg’s account and photos shared online that they are igloo-like in form, with wooden skeletal frames “dozens of feet tall.” According to the photos released by TMZ, that description appears to have been accurate; they show rounded domes framed in timber and slightly sunken into the ground, with holes cut in the top to let in natural light.

Since the inception of the project, though, West’s foray into affordable housing has been mired in local controversy. At least two of his neighbors complained about construction noise, prompting state inspectors to pay the site a visit. While they were initially told that the structures were intended to be temporary and thus did not need a permit for permanent construction, inspectors later returned and noticed the homes’ concrete foundations. Concerned that West and his property managers were building something more lasting, they issued a citation last week that requires West to apply for approval from the city within 45 days or dismantle the buildings altogether. Although West and his team reportedly claimed that the foundations were simply added for increased stability, not longevity, it is unclear what West’s next steps will be.

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West Palm Beach deploys "Baby Shark" against the homeless

In a strange attempt to deter homeless people from camping out at a waterfront pavilion (and a great example of hostile urbanism), authorities in West Palm Beach, Florida have been blasting children’s songs from a public address system on loop overnight. The Lake Pavilion, which is adjacent to a public park and a promenade facing the Intracoastal Waterway, regularly hosts private events that rake in around $240,000 each year. The low-slung building has floor-to-ceiling windows and an expansive terrace that make it particularly popular with guests, especially as a wedding venue. West Palm Beach Director of Parks and Recreation Leah Rockwell told the Palm Beach Post that playing such recent hits as "Baby Shark" and "Raining Tacos" on a continuous loop is necessary to keep the event space “clean and open” for paying customers.

The decision to weaponize music against those who sleep on the property highlights Palm Beach County’s relatively pronounced homelessness problem. West Palm Beach alone accounts for a large portion of the county’s 1,400 homeless people, whose plight has been exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing in the Greater Miami Area. According to a report published by the Miami Urban Future Initiative, the metropolitan region’s enormous housing stock of 2.5 million units consists primarily of high-priced condominiums and single-family homes. Greater Miami, which encompasses urban centers like Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, ranks among the top ten most expensive rental markets in the nation.

While hostile architecture is nothing new, West Palm Beach’s deployment of "Baby Shark" against the homeless has generated considerable pushback from both locals and observers across the country. Critics argue that the city should focus its resources on support for the unsheltered, but Rockwell insists that the music is only a temporary solution. Once the park’s hours are finalized, she says, the municipal government will be better equipped to control who is at the pavilion during nighttime hours. It is unclear, however, how targeting the homeless for trespassing will resolve the broader issues at hand. It's also worth noting that this type of sonic warfare is nothing new; retail stores and local governments across the U.S. have been playing high-pitched squeals that only young people can hear to deter loitering teens for decades. Another place music is played all night long to deter sleeping? Guantanamo Bay, where the government has reportedly used non-stop rock, metal, and children's song playlists to keep detainees up for days on end.

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SO - IL is building a social housing prototype in the heart of Mexico

For many in Mexico, the phrase “social housing” conjures images of vast housing tracts falling into disrepair, abandoned by workers tired of two-hour commutes. While architects and planners look back to understand what went wrong in the country’s early-2000s push to build affordable housing on city outskirts, authorities and designers are also looking ahead to explore alternative strategies. The Municipal Housing Institute (IMUVI) of León, a city of 1.6 million people in the central state of Guanajuato, invited Brooklyn firm SO – IL to collaborate on the design of a new prototype for social housing in the city’s center, and the team broke ground on the result, the Las Américas project, in May. Designed for low-income families, the building includes 56 apartments, most of which will be sold at far-below-market rates. Guanajuato is traditionally known for its artisanal leatherworking, but more recently, rapid growth in the auto-manufacturing industry has transformed the region; León’s population has doubled since the 1980s. Like many Mexican cities, it grew outward, with limited government planning. Some new arrivals built informal settlements on the city edges or, with access to credit, bought into exurban subdivisions. IMUVI faces two monumental tasks: regularizing the informal settlements, which requires extending utility services and other infrastructure and building housing for those who still need it. According to Amador Rodríguez, director of IMUVI León, 45 percent of the city’s residents don’t have access to federal housing credit or traditional bank loans. Rodríguez estimates that the city needs another 80,000 housing units to meet the demand. Instead of building more units on the outskirts, far from schools, jobs, and services, IMUVI has committed to densifying the city center. Working with SO – IL, IMUVI identified a lot in a downtown neighborhood to build Las Américas, a 62,431-square-foot complex of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. SO – IL’s partnership with IMUVI began when Florian Idenburg, the firm’s Dutch co-founder, was invited to Mexico to share his experience with the firm’s New York City micro-housing project tiNY, lessons from which informed Las Américas. “Affordability should not go against quality,” said Idenburg. “And one of the qualities that is very important to us is light.” Thanks to single-loaded open-air corridors, the apartments in Las Américas receive natural light from at least two sides. No two units directly face each other, maintaining both density and privacy. The housing block wraps around two shared courtyards, while openings in the building’s mass create additional, elevated common spaces. Exterior stairwells link each level. Idenburg said these features foster interaction between neighbors and a sense of community. “It was very refreshing to work with this team in León,” Idenburg said. Even with a limited budget, he said, there are opportunities for customization in Mexico that can lend character to what could otherwise be a uniform building. The team worked with local fabricators to develop a precast concrete brick that can be installed in different positions, creating a variety of wall textures for the apartments. “We made really nice custom windows that are hand-welded,” he added. “You probably wouldn’t be able to do that in the United States because of cost.” The design process included workshops and meetings in León to understand the needs of low-income families. SO – IL worked pro bono on the project. “It was a very productive collaboration,” said Idenburg. “Everything was very collective.” While construction continues, IMUVI is identifying families to move into Las Américas. Out of a total of 56 apartments, 44 will be priced at just under half a million Mexican pesos (about $25,000), the legal limit for a social housing unit. The remaining 12 units will be available at market price to families with federal Infonavit (workers’ housing) credit. “I hope other people will see our project and think it is possible to achieve density and affordability in the city center,” Idenburg said. Finding central but affordable lots is an ongoing challenge for agencies like IMUVI, but Idenburg hopes Las Américas can become a model for social housing in city centers and inspire projects in developing economies facing similar conditions.
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Kanye West is designing Star Wars–themed affordable housing

Not content with a sneaker empire, Kanye West has entered the affordable housing game with structures straight out of Star Wars. In a profile of the rapper-producer, designer, and business mogul, Forbes writer Zack O'Malley Greenburg described how West drove him to a wooded area near his home in Calabasas, California, to show him prototypes for igloo-like modular housing units that the author compared to what was found on Tatooine, Star Wars protagonist Luke Skywalker's home planet. While West didn't provide images of the top-secret structures, in the original Star Wars, Tatooine is a desert planet populated by humans and other settlers who live in groups of adobe huts with rounded roofs. In actuality, the movie was shot in the deserts of Tunisia, where George Lucas took inspiration from the country's vernacular architecture to build the structures and vehicles of Tatooine. West's minimalist concept models—there were three of them in the woods—will we deployed as low-income housing if the project moves forward. According to the article, West is hoping to lure deep-pocketed investors from San Francisco to bankroll construction but hasn't managed to land any yet. According to Greenburg, the homes resemble "the skeletons of wooden spaceships ... each oblong and dozens of feet tall." West said they could be dwelled in at-grade or submerged in the earth and daylit from up top. This isn't West's first foray into architecture or affordable housing design, and marks a notable departure from what he's shown in the past. Last year, he founded his own architecture studio, Yeezy Home (Yeezy is West's pseudonym), and soon after West and four collaborators revealed renderings of concrete-paneled affordable housing around a courtyard. The stark interiors are similar to the ones in the celebrity's own California home, designed in collaboration with Axel Vervoordt.    
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Stalled California housing bill could give architects chance to redesign the state’s cities

California needs 3.5 million housing units. That’s more housing units than currently exist in most states. This shortage—California ranks 49th in housing units per capita, ahead of only Utah—developed slowly but has metastasized into a true crisis, with housing costs rising to untenable levels for all but the most well-off Californians. In considering how and where to add a volume equivalent to all of Virginia, a key question is, what state—or, rather, what city—will those new units look like? Will they look like the tract homes of Phoenix? The row houses of Philadelphia? The high-rise apartments of New York City? The triple-deckers of Boston? The genteel mansions of Richmond? Or, perhaps worst of all, the mid-rises of Hollywood? The answers depend in large part on where new housing gets built. A recent bill in the California legislature almost provided the answer—almost. Senate Bill 50, sponsored by San Francisco–based State Senator Scott Wiener, would have mandated increased housing densities around major public transit lines and “jobs rich” areas throughout the state by requiring cities to permit multifamily buildings of up to five stories by right. Wiener contended that California needs more housing and that the best locations are those that enable residents to minimize commuting by personal automobiles. A relatively late amendment would have eliminated single-family zoning, permitting homeowners to build up to four units on any single-family lot, and limited the high-density provisions to counties of over 600,000 residents. California has always maintained a tense relationship with density, often failing to plan for it while suffering its ill effects all the same. SB 50 could be the catalyst to help the state abandon its suburban fetishes once and for all. An updated version of a bill that Wiener sponsored last year, SB 50 nearly made it out of the State Senate until Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino scuttled it with a procedural tactic, refusing to bring it to a vote in committee. The move put an abrupt end to what had arguably been the most heated debates over land-use legislation in state history. SB 50, like many other recent controversies related to development and housing in California, did not inspire neat loyalties. While its core support came from the increasingly influential YIMBY movements and core opposition came from homeowners, the politics were messy at best. Conservatives could love its relaxation of regulations but hate its emphasis on dense urbanism. Liberals were more intensely fractured. SB 50 appealed to values of inclusion and of progressivism, be they socioeconomic or aesthetic. For some, the bill served the cause of equity simply by potentially creating more housing. Other liberals saw it differently. Advocates of social justice feared SB 50 would empower capitalist developers while displacing and disenfranchising vulnerable populations through eviction and demolition. Older liberal activists, especially in suburban areas, put their economic interests first, recoiling from the prospect that increased housing supply might depress their property values. Many of them protested SB 50’s potential to interfere with “neighborhood character.” (Wiener’s antagonist Portantino represents La Cañada Flintridge, a comfortable suburb north of downtown Los Angeles.) Institutionally, the League of California Cities and many city councils statewide condemned SB 50 for trampling on “local control,” asserting that land use decisions have always belonged to municipalities and municipalities alone. Many mayors, however, including those of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, praised SB 50 for giving cities a new opportunity to ease their housing crisis—and to do so equitably statewide, forcing housing-phobic cities to approve their fair share of housing rather than ignore demand and dodge their obligations in the name of municipal sovereignty. By some accounts, a full 97 percent of California cities failed to meet their state-mandated housing goals in 2018. The California chapter of the American Planning Association controversially opposed SB 50, citing concerns about technical aspects of the bill’s language, even though many of its more progressive members favored it. Chapters of the American Institute of Architects did not take a position on it. Design rarely factored into these discussions explicitly, but its influence cannot be overlooked. Fears about changes to “neighborhood character” often accompany prejudices about “undesirable” racial or socioeconomic groups. They also refer to lousy design. Many homeowners recoiled against SB 50 out of fear that modest cottages might be overshadowed by a new triplex next door or crowded by the addition of an accessory dwelling unit. Urban activists took aim at even bigger targets. Opponents of growth in Los Angeles in particular have long railed against what they consider oversized, ugly, and excessively capitalistic apartment buildings. Such enormities often occupy full city blocks and rise five or six stories, with wood framing above one-story concrete bases. They have been the mainstay of Hollywood’s decade-long growth spurt and have arisen in many other moderately dense neighborhoods around the state. Revulsion is, often, completely justified. Large but underwhelming, and expensive but unrefined, such developments have poor detailing, clunky dimensions, and, often, antagonistic relationships with the street. They have neither humor nor grace nor character, and they succeed at one thing and one thing only: housing many people. Typically, those people are well off—or at least are pretending to be. While California’s housing crisis has many causes, it’s not unreasonable to say that lousy design is one of them, and it’s not unreasonable for opponents of SB 50 to make apocalyptic predictions about aesthetics. This is the backdrop against which architects should contemplate the revival of SB 50. Wiener has pledged to bring it back next year, and the appetite for major housing legislation remains fierce—before long, some version of SB 50 will pass, and the opportunities for architects and architecture will be profound. The quality of design that follows the passage of the next version of SB 50 will, without exaggeration, determine the look, feel, and function of California cities for at least the next generation. Many opponents of SB 50 criticize it as a "giveaway" to capitalist developers. If architects are to support the next version of SB 50, they should want to be seen as stewards, not opportunists. Upzoning around transit stops will create entirely new transit-oriented neighborhoods. Places that currently consist of park-and-ride lots and single-family homes will rise to five and six stories, with less parking than most zoning codes currently mandate. That’s like taking a cookie cutter to San Francisco’s Mission District or Los Angeles’s Koreatown and depositing the result in bedroom communities and office parks. Of course, California has hundreds of major transit stops and jobs centers (over 200 light- and heavy-rail stations alone), and the whole point of SB 50 is to distribute development statewide so that neighborhoods grow gradually. Even so, some places will be transformed sooner rather than later. In a state where many residents are mortally afraid of density, the choices that architects make will determine whether the new urban California is a dream or a nightmare—they can stumble into the latest versions of capitalist postmodern, or they can reflect on everything we have learned about the benefits of density. Designs have to be thoughtful, attractive, and socially conscious. They have to celebrate density, enhance the public realm, and give California cities a sense of style and character that they have lacked for decades. (Likewise, cities’ design guidelines and review boards will have to get savvier.) If SB 50’s single-family home provision survives (which seems unlikely), it will create a bonanza for residential architects. They will get to re-learn the art of the duplex, triplex, and quadplex—typologies that used to be common in California but have been all but extinct since the Truman administration. But new homes must not realize neighbors’ worst nightmares. They must not loom over their predecessors. They must not be large for largeness’s sake. In short, they must treat neighbors as clients. Whatever lawmakers intend for SB 50, the public will render its final judgment according to how architects seize the moment. Whether they like it or not, architects bear the final responsibility to fulfill the public trust. Of course, the real beauty of SB 50—if it comes to pass and if it works as intended—will be invisible. That will be the opportunity to craft affordable and humane housing for hundreds of thousands Californians.
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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helps launch green affordable housing complex in Queens

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was on hand at the opening of a new 67-unit senior housing complex in Corona, Queens—the first affordable housing to be built in the neighborhood in 30 years. In close alignment with the representative's leadership on climate change initiatives like the Green New Deal, the $36 million affordable development is also one of the largest low-income senior housing projects in the country to meet Passive House standards for energy consumption, according to a statement by New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The 8-story senior housing project at 54-17 101st Street was designed by New York–based THINK! Architecture and Design and developed in a partnership between HANAC—the Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee—a community organization, and affordable housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners. All 67 units, a mix of 1-bedrooms and studios, are set aside for low-income seniors, with 21 units expressly dedicated to formerly homeless seniors. In addition, the project is a mixed-use development, with a preschool in the building that will serve 60 children and will be administered by the New York City School Construction Authority. Constructing the building 8 stories tall was needed to make the project financially feasible, and required rezoning. But because it is located in a largely low-rise neighborhood of two- to three-story buildings, the architects used a number of strategies to make the project seem less imposing. THINK! broke up the facade into "townhouse-like scales," using different planes and layering materials, window patterns, and colors to vary the surface, according to Jack Esterson, principal at THINK! and the lead architect of the project. The building was also designed so that an upper layer of floors is set back above the first four stories, with a transparent band of windows separating the two layers and making the upper level appear to float above the lower level. This level of windows also fronts an outdoor terrace for residents that connects to the lounge and laundry room. The Corona Senior Residence, as the complex is called, is one of the concrete outcomes of the Willets Point Community Benefits Agreement, a part of the negotiations over the controversial Willets Point Development Plan led by developers Related Companies and Sterling Equities. Funding for the project came from the city, including HPD, the City Council, city subsidies, the Queens borough president's office, Chase, and the low-income housing tax credit, among other sources. "Affordable housing is critical for our most vulnerable New Yorkers, especially our seniors. I am proud to support an organization that strives to provide community-centered, innovative, energy efficient housing," Representative Ocasio-Cortez said at the opening. "With a pre-K on the ground floor and additional programs and services, this is precisely the kind of development our borough needs. I am thrilled to join HANAC on this important occasion as we fight to keep Queens affordable for all." As the representative added on Twitter, "Today was a great example of what can be accomplished w/ a !"
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LA-Más designs colorful accessory dwelling units for Los Angeles

Los Angeles–based firm LA-Más has designed a new twist on a potential solution to the city's affordable housing shortage. The studio released a suite of designs for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) earlier this year that are intended for moderate- and low-income homeowners interested in making supplemental rental income from their properties. The designs are part of the Backyard Homes Project, an initiative led by the firm that will assist homeowners in building ADUs meant to be rented to low-income households. The ADUs take advantage of California state policies passed in 2016 that gave most single-family homeowners in the state the right to create extra rental units on their lots. After the law was passed, LA-Más received funding from the Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LA LISC) to study ways to deploy detached backyard home ADUs that could be rented to tenants paying with Section 8 housing vouchers. Working with a variety of local community organizations and experts, the firm set about designing backyard homes that would be functional and affordable, and would avoid the emerging cliche of the techno-sleek ADU. "We’re oversaturated with a design that looks like it came out of Dwell," Elizabeth Timme, LA-Más's co-executive director said about the ADUs currently being offered by startups and others. Rather than designing giant iPhones for living in, Timme and her team wanted to create ADUs that would be "playfully engaging" and "adapt to the context and character of the community." LA-Más designed ADUs in a range of sizes, from studios to two-bedroom houses, in three different styles: craftsman, modern, and Spanish. Renderings show all three styles using a mix of bright, saturated colors, and playful twists on traditional design elements. The proposed ADUs are decidedly not generic. One of the Spanish-style designs features a pair of 2D pink-and-blue Tuscan columns that wouldn't look out of place in a Charles Moore project. The designs "did come out of a postmodernist design philosophy," Timme said, referring to them as "postmodern-plus." The ADUs and their coloring-book style representations potentially bring liveliness to affordable housing, an area that can sometimes be weighted down with bureaucracy and economically-driven aesthetics. "A lot of people are excited that they could be doing an ADU that’s fun and playful," Timme said. LA-Más is making the designs available to participants in the Backyard Homes Project, which offers financing, design, and construction support to eligible homeowners. The studio will work with participants to adapt the designs of the participants' choosing to their respective sites. Participants must live in a single-family house in the City of Los Angeles and agree to rent out the ADU to Section 8 tenants for at least five years. The project will provide landlord training, project management for design and construction of the ADU, and an optional mortgage product to those selected to be part of the program. Homeowners interested in participating can submit applications until May 1, 2019. More information on applying is available here.
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Austin company 3D prints house on site to help alleviate homelessness

“What if you could download and print a house for half the cost?” reads the lede for the Vulcan II, a 3D printer with a name suited for sci-fi space exploration, on the website of Austin-based company ICON. Now the company has put this claim to the test, building what it says is the first permitted 3D-printed home in the United States, unveiled during SXSW. Using its original Vulcan gantry-style 3D printer, the firm collaborated with global housing nonprofit New Story to build a 650-square-foot home, which features separate bedroom, living, bathroom, and kitchen areas. The home, called the Chicon House, was printed in under 24 hours and while this test cost around $10,000, the firm estimates that future single-story homes, which could be as large as 2,000 square feet, could be printed for thousands less, around $4,000–$6,500. According to New Story CEO Brett Hagler, there is a pressing need to “challenge traditional [building] methods” to combat housing insecurity and homelessness. He adds that “linear methods will never reach the over-a-billion people who need safe homes.” ICON hopes to leverage the technology to help combat global housing crises all while being more environmentally friendly, resilient, and affordable. The printers use a proprietary “Lavacrete” concrete composite, which is made of materials that can be easily sourced locally and has a compressive strength of 6,000 pounds per square inch. The material is designed to withstand extreme weather conditions to minimize the impact of natural disasters, according to the firm. Wood, metal, and other materials can then be added on for windows, roofs, and the like. The printer relies on an “automated material delivery system” aptly called Magma, which blends the Lavacrete with other additives and water stored in built-in reservoirs. The Lavacrete’s composition is custom-tuned to the particular conditions of each location, accounting for temperature, humidity, altitude, and other climatic features. While 3D printing has been used in a number of architectural experiments over the past few years, it is primarily used as a prefabrication tool, with parts printed offsite to be assembled later. ICON argues that printing a whole home at once with a gantry printer is faster and more reliable. Printing the whole home reportedly provides a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass, and extremely little waste. The printers, which are transported in a custom trailer, are designed to work in areas where there is limited access to water, electricity, and the infrastructure necessary for traditional construction techniques—although, at least currently, it seems that some more standard construction is needed to finish off the 3D printed walls and turn them into a home. The Vulcan II is operated by a tablet, has remote monitoring technology, and built-in lighting for building overnight. A specialized software suite helps convert CAD drawings into printable forms. ICON has also begun licensing its tech to others. Austin-based developer Cielo Property Group plans to start production of affordable housing in Austin this year using the Vulcan II, The Wall Street Journal reported.