In over 100 projects, Team Better Block (TBB), the organization that works directly with cities to realize large-scale placemaking initiatives, helps make your great city even better. Now, thanks to a $775,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Dallas-based organization will be better able to serve cities and the people who make them. The January grant, meted out in installments, allowed TBB to create the Better Block Foundation (BBF), a nonprofit arm of for-profit TBB. Founder Jason Roberts explained that the grant will help both entities grow and support each other mutually. Roberts clarified that, while Better Block solutions like bike lane, plaza, and pop-up business recipes are "an open-source operating system, like Linux," free and open for all to use, TBB installs Better Block solutions for a fee. He and co-founder Andrew Howard realized a need for the foundation when TBB went worldwide. "We didn't have the bandwidth, so we needed the non-profit model. The nonprofit will help other folks do these things," he told AN. Things like transforming underutilized spaces, building workforce capacity, and cultivating vacant land. The program is expanding its staff to include a managing director, architect, project manager, and creating an internship program. Howard will manage TBB, while Roberts, who enjoys research and development, is directing the foundation. The BBF includes a human capacity-building component, as well. Civic leaders, elected officials, developers, and others "passionate about the built environment" will be able to meet architects, planners, and designers to discuss solutions for their cities' public spaces. Additionally, the foundation will build capacity to collect data and performance metrics before and after a Better Block project is installed. "We haven't had a chance to document that piece," Roberts reflected. "The foundation can focus on impact." This year, the BBF and TBB are planning the WikiBlocks project for the city of St. Paul. In collaboration with neighborhood groups, they'll install parklets, flowerbeds, and cafe seating from cutout designs whose plans are free to download and assemble. TBB is teaming up with the digital fabrication studio at Kent State University to create the prototypes for the project: In about three months, the early models will be developed. TBB knows how local culture manifests itself in and through the built environment, and that drawing on that ethos is key to building strong neighborhoods. Right now, TBB is using one site to turn around a struggling neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, and posing the question in reverse: how could culture express itself in an individual house? Working with refugees from Bhutan, in collaboration with the International Institute, the Bhutan Cultural Association, and a Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Akron, the team is transforming a dilapidated house in the North Hill neighborhood into The Exchange House, an Airbnb youth hostel managed by the émigrés. Refugees sponsored by the State Department are indebted to the government: refugees have to pay back their plane ticket. Consequently, they're expected to find work, but language and cultural barriers can make that difficult. Running the hostel will provide an opportunity for cultural exchange, help refugees earn money, and build English language skills, as well as revitalize a neighborhood that has excess housing and infrastructural capacity. The partners hope to "stamp North Hill as an international neighborhood." There's 11 months left on the project, and demolition on the interior is progressing apace. Sai Sinbondit (of Cleveland-based Bialosky + Partners Architects) is the lead architect. A market, garden, and community resource center will round out the hostel's program.
Posts tagged with "Airbnb":
While everyone was distracted by Monday's BIG news on the High Line, SHoP unveiled a three-tower complex on the waterfront in Long Island City, Queens. The tallest tower, at 45-40 Vernon Boulevard, will be 28 stories, with 296 residential units. The three towers will ring the Anable Basin, a human-made inlet off of the East river. The towers will sit ten blocks northeast of SHoP's Hunters Point South, a two-building, 900-unit development with 20,000 square feet of retail, where tenants love Airbnb-ing their taxpayer-subsidized pads. The development is part of a master plan to revive the Anable Basin (also known at the Eleventh Street Basin), site of the former Pepsi-Cola bottling plant, with public waterfront access and a refurbished pier. The towers, real estate blog 6sqft reports, will mostly replace the current building on site, 69,550 square foot Paragon Paint Factory, now defunct. The site, currently zoned for manufacturing, will require a zoning variance to build residential. There will also need to be environmental remediation performed on the land. The tallest, central tower partially cannibalizes the rear of the factory, rising into a decidedly non-industrial 300-foot-tall glass wall. Future residents will have expansive views of Manhattan and the East River. The two smaller towers, at 45-24 Vernon Boulevard and along 45th Road, will be copper clad at the base with angled windows on the upper stories to maximize views of the cityscape. The towers will rise 14 stories and eight stories, respectively. No word yet on the project's groundbreaking or expected completion date.
On Tuesday, the LIC Post reported that some residents who received units through the affordable housing lottery in a (SHoP-designed) Hunters Point South high-rise are renting out their units on Airbnb. Market rate tenants expressed righteous indignation, and poor-shamed their neighbors for "gaming the system." In New York City, renting out your rented place on Airbnb is illegal, but is it really wrong? A Hunters Point South Commons tenant named Nathalye listed her two bedroom apartment on the site for $50o per night, plus a service and cleaning fee. Two other units in the development's two buildings were listed for rent, as well. Designated affordable units in the Related Companies development range from $494 to $1,997 for a studio, and $743 to $4,346 for a three-bedroom, depending on household earnings. The New York Post asked building resident Chris Dyer for his take on tenants renting out their affordable units: “they should be super grateful because so many people applied to try to get in, and they should not be taking advantage of the situation. I think those people should be held accountable and kicked out of their lease.” Proponents of sites like Airbnb claim that the site fills an unmet need for less expensive accommodations in a city where the average hotel room costs $297 per night. Opponents note that Airbnb inflates housing costs in the long run and displaces lower-income residents. It's easy to invoke tropes of the "worthy poor" to shame affordable housing tenants who earn extra income through Airbnb. In May, Gothamist outlined the subsidies and incentives that this (mostly market rate) development received: "While Related is not receiving 421-a subsidies for the Hunter's Point South apartments, [the developer] told us that his company is benefiting from a 'one-off' deal, which includes a 40-year tax break agreement (details were not disclosed). As an affordable housing project, the project also got $185 million in tax-exempt bonds from Cuomo, $236 million in said bonds from the Housing Development Corporation, and $68 million in subsidies from Housing Preservation and Development." A full discussion of ethics and affordability is outside the scope of this short post. But, in a city that's increasingly unaffordable for all but the very rich, it's worth asking: are tenants in affordable units so very different from market rate neighbors units or homeowners using Airbnb to make a buck?
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."