Seattle is abuzz about zoning. Last week, The Seattle Times leaked a draft report produced by Mayor Ed Murray's housing task force, a 28-member committee steering the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). While the report outlines a variety of strategies to increase affordable housing in the Seattle region, one bold recommendation is getting a lot of attention: the upzoning of single family housing in Seattle to multi-family housing. On Monday, Mayor Murray released an action plan outlining the overall vision: build 20,000 affordable housing units and 30,000 market rate units in the next decade through public and private investments. By 2035, the city is expected to grow by 120,000 people. "The exclusivity of Single Family zones limits the type of housing available, limits the presence of smaller format housing and limits access for those with lower incomes," reads the action plan. "The City will allow more variety of housing scaled to fit within traditional Single Family areas to increase the economic and demographic diversity. The broader mix of housing will include small lot dwellings, cottages or courtyard housing, rowhouses, duplexes, triplexes and stacked flats." A map on the HALA website shows that the proposed upzoning changes, if passed, would affect 16 percent of Seattle. But The Seattle Times reports otherwise. An architect and developer on the housing committee told the paper that the upzoning would affect all single-family lots. You can read the final version of the Seattle housing committee report at Seattle.gov.
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The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is looking for developers eager to turn an abandoned juvenile detention center in the Bronx into the city's "next creative live/work community." The Spofford Juvenile Detention Center has been closed since 2011, and as DNAinfo reported, it had a notorious reputation for "verbally and physically abusive staff members and poor living conditions, which included serving kids food that was infested with roaches and giving them clothes and underwear that had already been used, according to a 2004 report from the Correctional Association of New York." In a press release accompanying its Request for Expressions of Interest for the site, the NYCEDC said, "respondents are encouraged to consider a wide range of residential and non-residential uses for the site, including commercial, cultural, institutional and light manufacturing." The city also wants developers to put an emphasis on bringing "high-quality, career-oriented jobs" to the Hunts Point community. The affordable housing included within the complex would count toward Mayor de Blasio's ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in a decade. “By encouraging the co-existence of commercial and light industrial activities with mixed-income residential use, we can better leverage our City’s assets to provide opportunities and strengthen communities throughout the five boroughs," said NYCEDC Interim President Kim Vaccari in a statement. Responses to the RFEI are due October 1st.
U.S. Housing & Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro visited Chicago today to announce a clarification to the 1968 Fair Housing Act that officials say will improve access to affordable housing in cities across the country. HUD finalized a bureaucratic rule that Castro says will correct shortcomings in the federal agency's provision of fair housing. The 1968 law, part of the Civil Rights bill, obligates HUD and its local affiliates to “affirmatively further fair housing,” a lofty goal that “has not been as effective as originally envisioned,” according to the new HUD rule. "This represents a new partnership with cities,” said Secretary Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Standing in front of Chicago's newly expanded Park Boulevard—the mixed-income housing development was formerly Stateway Gardens, part of the corridor of South Side housing projects that included Robert Taylor Homes—Castro said the new rule will make publicly available data and mapping tools to help community members and local leaders establish local goals for the development fair housing. He added that Chicago had already used the newly available data for a preliminary exercise linking affordable housing and transit planning. The change also allows local housing agencies more time and flexibility in presenting their fair housing priorities and goals to the federal government. Castro referenced a recent Harvard study that found kids from low-income neighborhoods were statistically less likely than their wealthier counterparts to achieve upward mobility. "A zip code should never prevent anyone from reaching their greater aspirations,” said Castro.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) plans to undertake its most ambitious urban renewal project to date. Through eminent domain, the agency would seize about 1,300 properties and entirely remake the Sharswood neighborhood which has been plagued with vacancy, blight, crime, and poverty. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that most of these properties are city-owned, tax-delinquent, or empty. This massive acquisition would include demolishing two of the Blumberg Towers, a 1960s-era public housing development in the neighborhood. In its place would come 1,203 new homes and apartments, most of which would be designated as affordable. The development—well, the new neighborhood really—would also incorporate a new headquarters for the PHA, a supermarket, a renovated school, new recreation centers and open spaces, and a mix of independently-owned shops and chain stores. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that city officials will move the 363 families currently living in the Blumberg Towers to other PHA properties. Those living or working inside one of the 73 occupied buildings on the agency's demolition list "will get fair-market value for their properties and relocation assistance." Despite concerns about the scale of the redevelopment, and worries about the PHA's ability to handle such a significant mixed-use project, a City Council rules committee recently gave preliminary approval to the PHA's plan. PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah says the project will take 10 years to complete, but that the agency hopes to get going on it this year or next.
Bernheimer and Dattner start work on BAM building as construction in Brooklyn’s art district kicks up a notch
As Downtown Brooklyn's skyline grows taller, denser, and a bit more interesting, construction is whirring along in the BAM Cultural District just across Flatbush Avenue. The latest project to break ground within the area is bringing the borough new cultural institutions, affordable housing, and well, architecture. It's the Brooklyn Cultural District Apartments. The 115,000-square-foot structure was designed by Bernheimer Architecture and Dattner Architects with some landscaping accoutrement by SCAPE. The mixed-use building includes a restaurant along with the Center for Fiction and space for the Mark Morris Dance Group. Above the building's cultural podium are 109 apartments, 40 percent of which are below market-rate. "Extensive glazing at the lower floors highlights the cultural components and activates the pedestrian experience," Dattner explained on its website. "In-set balconies and double-height terraces articulate the upper base and tower." The Brooklyn Cultural District Apartments is intended to flow into the collection of high-design buildings and public spaces that are appearing one after the other on numerous sites around it. The building's restaurant, for instance, flows into Ken Smith's Arts Plaza which itself flows into the slightly cantilevering Theatre For a New Audience by Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. Between the new apartment building and the existing theater and plaza is yet another planned building—a 200-room hotel with a jagged facade by Leeser Architecture. There's one more big project to mention on the block: FXFOWLE's 52-story mixed-income residential tower that is quickly ascending into Brooklyn's skyline. On the other side of Fulton Street from the tower is the BRIC Arts Media House, another Leeser project. Adjacent to all of this is the site of Francis Cauffman's very artsy and wavy medical center that is currently under-construction. And across Lafayette Avenue is TEN Arquitectos' 32-story, mixed-use residential tower that is beginning to make its ascent.
A residential development in downtown Minneapolis is set to give the city its first woonerf, a road type developed in the Netherlands that integrates vehicle traffic and parking with pedestrians, bicyclists and public amenities. The BKV Architects–designed Mill City Quarter housing breaks ground later this year, starting with a six-story building that will include up to 150 rental housing units priced to be affordable for those making 60 percent of the metropolitan median income or less. Later phases will add more units, say developers Wall Cos. and Lupe Development Partners, including 45 units for those with memory problems and 105 for assisted and independent living. Taking up the block at the northwest corner of 2nd Street and 3rd Avenue, the development hopes to connects the Mill District—home to the popular riverside Mill City Museum, Guthrie Theater, and soon a massive mixed-use development in the shadow of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium—with the rehabbed warehouses and thriving cultural scene of the North Loop neighborhood. Bisecting that block is a former rail corridor leading toward Mississippi River trails and a riverside visitor center that Minneapolis' Park Board has proposed for just downstream of the 3rd Avenue Bridge. Mill City Quarter's developers have agreed to make that side street into a woonerf with 80 diagonal parking spaces flanking colored pavement demarcating reduced-speed vehicle traffic, green space, bike lanes and pedestrian zones. Minneapolis' Park Board approved plans for the “amenity-rich plaza street,” through the $73.8 million development, but expressed concerns over developer and former City Council member Steve Minn's plans to install a gate at the park end of the woonerf, which he said he'd keep closed during park off-hours, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. By exempting the development from a new parks law that would require them to donate land to public space, the Park Board gave their agreement some teeth—if the developers restrict public access to the land they could be on the hook for $61,400.
Last year, at an event inside David Adjaye’s Sugar Hill affordable housing development in Manhattan, AN asked New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio how architecture and design factored into his overall housing plan. The mayor—who doesn’t elevate public design the way Michael Bloomberg did—said he wants to see new affordable housing buildings that are both “beautiful” and “contextually appropriate.” But, he added, design is about more than aesthetics, it is a tool to be wielded to create dynamic, mixed-use properties. “I think the design question really is about, to me, the functionality—meaning, what we can achieve in a site,” said the mayor. Now, roughly eight months later, the Department of City Planning (DCP) has unveiled zoning changes to make it easier and cheaper to develop the type of affordable housing the mayor was talking about—buildings with function and architectural design. And by rewriting the rules, the de Blasio administration thinks it has a better shot at delivering the 120,000 new units of affordable housing it has promised. First, the city addresses burdensome parking requirements for affordable and senior housing developments. Within a so-called “Transit Zone”—areas in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens that have good access to mass transit—the city will eliminate parking requirements for senior housing and low-income or inclusionary housing developments. And, on a “case-by-case” basis within this zone, the city could slash parking minimums for new mixed-income buildings. Outside of the zone, the city says it will “simplify or reduce” parking requirements for affordable housing and senior housing. On the design front, the city hopes that updating “Contextual Zoning” controls from 1987 will give rise to less generic housing.“The tightness of contextual zoning controls constrain housing production and raise costs, and too often results in buildings that are flat and relate poorly to the street,” the DCP said in its report. A lot has changed in the AEC world since the 1980s and the city wants to allow designers and builders to take full advantage of all their new tricks and tools. This could mean more buildings like The Stack (above), a modular building in Inwood that was designed by Gluck+ and assembled in less than a year. The city is not touching existing floor-to-area (FAR) ratio limits with this proposal, but hopes that by loosening zoning controls and boosting height limits (between 5–15 feet in medium and high density areas), developers can take better advantage of allowed buildable space; current limits tend to force developers to produce boxy, boring buildings. "To fit full FAR," explained the DCP, "ceiling heights are reduced, building facade is flat and upper‐story layouts are awkward.” Boosting height limits would also open up more interesting massing and programmatic options with possible building setbacks and courtyards, and ground-floor retail and community spaces. As for building facades, the DCP only lays out some vague bullet points about how it will "update and clarify regulations to support traditional types of building variation” and “make transparency and design requirements consistent" for ground floor spaces. While this package of proposals has the potential—again, the potential—to create more architecturally interesting buildings, it is ultimately a means to make it easier to build and develop affordable and senior housing. The DCP expects to kick off a public review of its plan this summer.
Preservation projects took home top honors during the architectural portion of this year's Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA), exemplifying humanistic design in the too-often overlooked arenas of affordable housing and community development. Established by the Local Initiatives Support Corp. of Chicago (LISC), the CNDA honor achievements in real estate development and design at the community scale—an issue that's taken on some local political significance as challengers to Mayor Rahm Emanuel slam him for neglecting neighborhood development ahead of municipal elections on February 24. The CNDA ceremony was apolitical, however, with Emanuel himself offering a statement ahead of the awards: “When we think about the City of Chicago, we think of more than just downtown–we think of the historic neighborhoods, the diverse families and the vibrant culture that have come to define us.” Emanuel's deputy mayor attended the ceremony in his stead. CNDA presented three Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Architectural Excellence in Community Design. First place went to the transformation of the Diplomat Hotel into Fred and Pamela Buffett Place, an affordable housing rehab that salvaged an aging SRO in the Lakeview neighborhood. Landon Bone Baker Architects—the team behind similar work at Harvest Commons and on the former site of Cabrini Green's high-rise public housing—recycled old-growth fir for custom benches in the lobby, sprucing up the art deco mid-rise with a green roof and art installations. Weese Langley Weese took second for their conversion of an Albert Kahn auto showroom into Grove Apartments, a winningly modest affordable housing development that enhances walkability in what was once Oak Park's “motor row.” Bronzeville Artist Lofts won third place at the awards for its efforts to revitalize a once humming commercial corridor on the city's near South Side. The 47th Street lofts boast handsome timber beams and dramatic live-work spaces that lend themselves well to a modern, affordable housing rehab. Wrap Architecture revived the 1906 structure, previously Borden's dairy, precluding its demolition. Browse the full list of winners—which includes nods to the Shops and Lofts at 47 and successful efforts to name the historic Pullman neighborhood a national monument—on LISC's website.
Airbnb, the hugely popular apartment rental site, has managed to amass a broad coalition of detractors in New York including developers, the State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the New York City Council, and affordable housing advocates. The main line of attack being levied against Airbnb is that it is making New York City's affordability crisis even worse. Critics claim that building owners and savvy real estate types are kicking out rent-paying tenants and turning their apartments into quasi hotel rooms. This, they say, is further reducing the city's limited housing supply and driving up prices. On the legal side of things, a report from the state's attorney general found that nearly 75 percent of Airbnb listings in New York City broke some sort of law. Airbnb did not dispute these findings largely because the attorney general's office was going off of numbers they provided after being subpoenaed. At the time, though, a spokesperson for Airbnb told the New York Times that they wanted "some sensible rules that stop bad actors and protect regular people who simply want to share the home in which they live.” That is, more or less, the Airbnb defense: Yes, there are people taking advantage of the site, but for the most part we give hard-working folks a way to put money in their pocket. That claim is now being directly challenged by Murray Cox, a former software engineer who lives in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He has launched a website called Inside Airbnb that offers tools for the public to sift through all of Airbnb's publicly available data. This, Cox said, helps expose what are essentially hoteliers renting out many apartments at once. Two hosts, for example, were found to be listing 28 units each. Inside Airbnb also found that nearly 60 percent of New York City listings are legally questionable because they cover entire homes. (In New York, it is illegal to rent out an apartment for less than 30 days if a permanent resident is not present). As mentioned earlier, Airbnb hopes to change laws like these. In the meantime, Airbnb makes the case that it's helping the little guy, writing on its blog that 87 percent of users rent out the home they live in. Cox isn't buying it. "Once you look at the data, you can pretty easily see that that's not the case," he told USA Today. "A high proportion of the listings are highly available." As to be expected, Airbnb is pretty critical of Cox's site. In a statement to Verge, Airbnb said: "We never comment on public scrapes of our information, because, like here, these scrapes use inaccurate information to make misleading assumptions about our community. Thousands of regular New Yorkers are using Airbnb everyday to help make ends meet. That's why it is so important that we fix local laws to allow people to share the home in which they live."
The de Blasio Administration has unveiled new details for one of the most significant pieces of its ambitious affordable housing plan: the rezoning of Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. As New York YIMBY reported, the administration announced that it would “upzone” a stretch of Atlantic Avenue to create what it calls a “growth corridor” that could accommodate residential development up to 12 stories. Moderate density development for surrounding blocks is proposed to support “affordable and mixed-income housing, retail, businesses, and community facilities near transit.” On smaller-scale side streets, the administration hopes to preserve the neighborhood’s existing character by continuing to allow “low scale duplexes, single-family homes and rowhouses.”
Affordable housing has been a critical part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agenda since taking office, promising to create or preserve 200,000 affordable units over the next decade. At a press conference last week, the mayor announced that his administration has made headway toward achieving this ambitious goal, financing over 17,300 affordable homes in the last year (whether his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, should have received some credit for this accomplishment has spurred debate). But even with this good news, the demand for affordable housing continues to grow. To help fix this shortage, the administration might want to take a cue from Dutch developer, Heijmans ONE, which has come up with its own win-win idea for alleviating the housing crunch in the Netherlands: putting vacant land to good use with temporary, portable housing. Heijmans ONE designed a one-bedroom prefab house that can be easily assembled in just one day. The house, which rents for 700 euros or $900, kills two birds with one stone: provides an affordable dwelling and activates empty land while construction is stalled on a project. These sleek, pentagonal-shaped homes are designed to have a small carbon footprint, using sustainable wood and solar panels. Once constructed, the house can be connected to the city’s water and sewage, but also designed to operate off the grid. New York City, with its paucity of affordable housing and glut of vacant land, could benefit from this model. Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Housing Preservation & Development have already started rolling out a plan to develop over a 1,000 city-owned properties. In the meantime, why not bring some temporary, affordable housing to sites waiting for long-term development?
Forget about San Francisco being the hardest place to rent in California. According to a story in the New York Times (citing zillow.com), Angelenos spend 47 percent of their income on the median rent. That’s the highest in the country, and significantly higher than San Francisco, which ranks sixth on the list at 40.7 percent. And the problem appears ready to get worse as new supply struggles to keep up with demand in the overcrowded city. Maybe we’ll all have to move to Bakersfield.