Posts tagged with "Affordable Housing":

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Walmart? Fugedaboutit!

In the last Midwest issue, we recounted Walmarts struggles to infiltrate urban centers, notably in Chicago. But the world's largest retailer and the nation's largest employer has also been eying New York for years, and the Daily News reports that it is making a new push in Brooklyn, which has already met resistance from locals and labor without even being officially announced. The weird thing, though, is how eerily similar there approach is in East New York as with the Pullman project on Chicago's Far South Side. Both are meant to be the anchor tenant in a larger mixed-use development that involves affordable housing (the former is part of Gateway II, the latter Pullman Park) located in the fringes of their respective cities, places that have been historically economically depressed. This puts Walmart in a better position of arguing that the area is in need of jobs, any jobs, not to mention affordable housing, so how dare politicians and unions try to stop it. Whether it works in Brooklyn or the Far South Side, only time will tell, but if Kingsbridge is any indication, it probably won't happen in the Five Boroughs any time soon. Pullman, however, might be an entirely different story, as Mayor Daley continues to agitate for the project's approval.
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Supporting Supportive Housing

Los Angeles' Permanent Supportive Housing program got a much-needed emergency shot of funds this week: a $5.2 million pledge from the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Though Los Angeles has more homeless people than any other city in the US, only in the last few years has it begun to catch up with other cities' level of services. 2005 saw a city-wide push to build supportive housing, a model borrowed from New York that combines affordable housing with services to help residents deal with mental illness, drug abuse, and disabilities. Top architecture firms helped fill out the new supportive housing landscape, with innovative projects such as Michael Maltzan's 95-unit, radially-arranged New Carver Apartments, Pugh + Scarpa's 46-unit Step Up on Fifth facility in Santa Monica, and Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects' 82-unit Skid Row Housing in downtown Los Angeles. But the economic downturn put a freeze on construction of new supportive housing and has forced program cuts, hiring freezes and layoffs. Out of the over 2,000 units under development since the program was launched five years ago, about 600 are shovel-ready but lack the financing to proceed, due to local government budget crises and frozen credit markets. The CSH and Hilton foundation's $5.2 million in grants and low-interest loans should get most of those projects going again. Since studies show that supportive housing actually saves the city money -- reducing costly time in jails and hospitals -- that may turn out to be not just a good deed, but a smart investment as well.
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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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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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Who Designed These Buildings?

On Friday, the prolific New York Times metro reporter Jennifer 8. Lee, whose beat seems to include everything from fortune cookies to urban planning, covered a new mixed supportive and moderate-income housing development in Harlem, co-developed by the Fortune Society. Unfortunately for the architects involved, she misattributed the design of the project, and of another recent affordable housing development in Harlem, David and Joyce Dinkins Gardens, to the other co-developer, Jonathan Rose Companies.
courtesy Curtis + Ginsberg Architects
Designed by Curtis + Ginsberg Architects, the 114-unit, 110,000 square foot Fortune Society project includes housing for former inmates as well as moderate-income apartments. The eleven story building, which is designed to meet LEED Gold Standards, features a terraced green roof system, a portion of which is accessible, rainwater harvesting, sustainable buildings materials, and sun louvers over the windows, among other green design elements. “It has wonderful views of the Hudson,” said Roberta Darby Curtis, principal at Curtis + Ginsberg. “For people who have been incarcerated, having access to the outdoors is that much more important,” Mark Ginsberg, the other principal, told AN.
courtesy Dattner Architects
Dinkins Gardens, completed last year, was designed by Dattner Architects, and was also co-developed by Rose. It also includes affordable housing and is topped with green roof. Though the mistake was surely unintentional, the developers, and the architects, behind these projects deserve credit for these cost effective, environmentally and socially responsive projects.
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No One Buying New Housing Marketplace

There has been a lot of talk lately about how it is now up to the government to spend stimulate our way out of the current economic doldrums, and how much of that will come through infrastructure spending. One place where such investment is critically important is affordable housing, especially in light of all the foreclosures. While New York has fared better than other areas on that front, it is still unwelcome news that the city has rolled back the timeline for its New Housing Marketplace Plan. Back on December 14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave one of his weekly radio addresses, which focused on the rising foreclosure rate and how his administration was coping with the challenges that presented (text). In addition to mentioning expanded mortgage advice and anti-abandonment measures, the mayor highlighted the New Housing Marketplace Plan, which is run by the city's Department of Housing and Preservation:
"The New Housing Marketplace - our Administration's affordable housing initiative, and the most ambitious such effort ever made by an American city. Our ten-year goal is to fund development and preservation of 165,000 homes - enough to house the entire population of Atlanta."
But, the mayor continued:
"Now, with the economy stalling and even the most qualified developers having a hard time getting credit, we know we can't keep that pace up. So we're stretching out our schedule for completing the second half of our housing program to six years instead of the five years we'd planned for at first." [Emphasis added.]
As the Times pointed out today, "Mr. Bloomberg announced the extension in December during a speech and in one of his weekly radio addresses, neither of which received much attention beyond housing advocates." Whether it was impacted by the news the day before that HPD head Shaun Donovan would be taking over HUD for the Obama administration, we're also not sure (the HPD press office has yet to return our call). But according to the Times, a spokesman for the mayor said the extension was tied to Bloomberg's announcement in May that he would stretch a four-year construction plan for the city to five years amid signs of a declining economy. Still, this isn't exactly news. In September, when the mayor was trumpeting the successes of the program at its halfway mark, the Observer was already calling them into question. Eliot Brown reported that the administration was already shifting gears:
[A]s the financial industry hits major turbulence and the city’s once lush climate for development turns dry, the Bloomberg administration is struggling to meet its goals for new construction (currently targeted at 91,637 units) and will likely need to shift the balance more toward preservation (73,395 units).... Although city officials say the original plan emphasized preservation in its early years, the reality of an inclement market has caused reevaluation, and the administration says it will likely need to lower its goals for creating new units, and increase its goals for preserving current ones.
There are other factors at play, such as the impact of changes to the 421-a tax program, which, along with inclusionary housing bonuses--like those in many recent rezonings--encourage for-profit developers to include low and moderate income housing in their projects through tax breaks. But still, with the paucity of credit having dragged the city's construction sector to a halt and many predictions of a new recession, what the administration can do to continue to stimulate affordable housing remains an open question. This is especially bad news for out-of-work architects given all the affordable housing work they've had of late. Perhaps the mayor should try giving Secretary Donovan a call.