Posts tagged with "Homelessness":

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An accessory dwelling unit conference in Portland pushes the typology forward

The biennial Build Small Live Large Summit launched in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, to help move the housing industry toward smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Originally organized under the auspices of city’s Department of Environmental Quality, past programs promoted tiny houses and accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The focus of this year’s event shifted to missing middle housing, reflecting another acute concern for many U.S. cities. “Everyone from every city is struggling to provide enough affordable housing and we all want to have a better approach to this problem,” said Rebecca Small, a planner at Metro, the regional agency that now convenes the event. The topic attracted a decidedly wonky audience of planners, but also drew builders, real estate agents, investors, developers, advocates, activists, and architects from across the country who are closely following recent legislation that lowers barriers to developing additional housing types on single-family lots. In August, Oregon passed a statewide bill that will allow the development of middle housing, defined as duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses, on single-family zoned lots by 2022. In October, California passed a suite of laws that go into effect in January 2020 that incentivize building ADUs, reduce restrictions for building them, and streamline the process. Rendering of a one bedroom gabled tiny home Build Small Live Large 2019 sessions covered financing and appraising ADUs, as well as strategies for passing state and local ordinances to encourage missing middle housing options. Panels mixed city planners, housing advocates, elected officials, architects, lenders, and developers who delved into the ramifications of the new code and zoning updates and explored housing models on the horizon to be reintroduced into many urban and not so urban regions. As Michelle Glass of the Rogue Action Center stressed, the perception of rural communities, such as those in Eastern Oregon, is that they’re still in the 1950s, but displacement as a result of affordability and accessibility is a very real issue there. Discussions around single room occupancy housing models, or SROs, highlighted how this once-common housing option has reemerged both as a way to help people transition from homelessness and as an affordable option for nomadic millennials as they move into and out of cities. Panelists also explored how using ADUs and cottage clusters gives the generation on the opposite end of the spectrum, baby boomers, a viable way to age in place or stay in their neighborhoods. Notably, Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law (2017), was the event’s keynote speaker. Rothstein drew parallels to the time after World War II when the homelessness crisis in the U.S. was comparable to today and noted how exclusionary zoning practices enacted then have resulted in deep economic disparity and segregation in the country. “If we abolish segregation in neighborhoods, the next day things wouldn’t look any different,” said Rothstein. Perhaps not overnight, but as new legislation takes effect along the West Coast and ripples out to cities such as Fayette, Arkansas, and Minneapolis, which are already updating their zoning regulations to encourage housing that creates more diverse, livable, walkable cities, the housing landscape may look very different by the next Build Small Live Large Summit.
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Seattle will shutter tiny house village after resident lockout

A tiny house village project in the Northlake neighborhood of Seattle went awry last month when employees from the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI) informed residents that the development would be shuttered by the end of the year. This shutdown comes seven months after the perimeter gates of the 19-bed village were locked by residents against the city and its contractors over fears of a takeover. This marks the second time the city has defunded a tiny house village program without providing an alternative housing solution for its formerly homeless residents. The village has been named Northlake and is internally organized by Nickelsville, a group of homeless and formerly homeless residents of the village. LIHI states that its members were gradually made to feel unwelcome in the village by members of Northlake; John Travena, a resident of the village, explained that “autonomy is very important,” and that its members have attempted to “control who comes in and goes out.” Sharon Lee, the executive director of LIHI, explained that her group “know[s] that there are fundamental differences that make it impossible for us to work together.” Many of the residents of Northlake are eager to keep the village in operation because it provides a positive, more independent alternative to the typical homeless shelter model. Village residents elect their leaders internally each week and have essentially run the property themselves by handling security, kitchen duties, and other operations as a community. The model is catching on in Seattle (albeit slowly), where residents can also host homeless members of the community in tiny homes built in their backyard. Though city spokesperson Will Lemke stated in a press release that the village will shut down on December 31st and be returned to Seattle City Light, the city’s publicly owned electric power utility, Council Member Kshama Sawant is currently making efforts to keep Northlake in operation while developing additional tiny home villages. Brooke Brod, a Northlake neighbor and member of the village’s advisory council, said that “all of us would be very sad to see the permit not renewed at Northlake,” and imagined that “for some folks at the city, the perspective is ‘this is a thorn in our side; it will go away if we don’t renew the permit.”
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Amazon is building a homeless shelter in its downtown Seattle headquarters

Amazon is building a homeless shelter inside its downtown Seattle headquarters. Eight floors of an upcoming office building will be home to the Mary’s Place Family Center early next year and will be able to house up to 275 guests per night. The Seattle Times reported that the tech giant has been working on the homeless housing project with its longtime community partner, Mary’s Place, for two years. Over 63,000 square feet of space within one of Amazon’s new corporate office buildings at Seventh Avenue and Blanchard Street is being built out for the local nonprofit. Not only will it house sleeping spaces for homeless families, the facility will also include an industrial kitchen where meals will be prepared for guests and 10 other Mary’s Place shelters in Kings County. The new shelter will also feature a health and legal clinic, a rec room, a rooftop terrace, and a diversion shelter to help homeless families in transition. Two of its floors will house 30 rooms for unhoused families with children under treatment for serious medical illnesses. On the seventh floor of the building, there will be space for Amazon employees to continue their volunteer work through Mary’s Place by offering coding courses, resume workshops, and reading lessons to kids.  Amazon has said it’s committed to paying for the family center’s rent, as well as all maintenance, utilities, and security costs over the next 10 years. In an interview with the Seattle Times, an Amazon real estate executive said the space will belong to Mary’s Place for as long as needed, but the nonprofit will be responsible for all operations, programming, and staff salaries. Yearly costs are estimated to be about $2 million. Since it began construction on its massive campus in Seattle nearly a decade ago, Amazon has had to repeatedly battle with the local government for more space. Advocating on behalf of community organizations like Mary’s Place is one way the company has tried to smooth things over with Seattle locals (other than pouring $1.5 million into last week's City Council race on behalf of pro-business candidates). In 2017, Mary’s Place moved into the former Travelodge hotel building that Amazon bought for its future downtown expansion and in June, Amazon pledged to annually donate $8 million to fight homelessness and provide low-cost housing surrounding its campuses in both Seattle and Arlington, Virginia.  The building that houses Mary’s Place Family Center is on track to receive LEED Gold certification. An opening date for the facility has not been announced. 
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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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SCI-Arc undertakes all-school public charrette addressing homelessness

The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and the Goethe-Institut will be holding a four-day charrette this weekend focused on generating ideas and approaches that could help address the prevalence of homelessness among Los Angeles residents. According to a press release issued by the school, all of SCI-Arc’s 506 students will be involved with the initiative, which starts Friday and runs through Monday evening. The event will feature contributions from a bevy of local and international experts, including Lorcan O’Herlihy, Frances Anderton, Deborah Weintraub, Mimi Zeiger, and other local politicians, designers, and non-profit directors. In a statement, SCI-Arc director Hernan Diaz Alonso said, “SCI-Arc is committed to playing an integral role in solving the homeless crisis. We are committed not only because of our proximity to Skid Row but because there is a moral imperative and an architectural challenge. Design must be implemented as a means for social change.” Following a day-long symposium on Friday, students and interested parties will engage in a weekend-long research and design session that will culminate in a public exhibition on Monday evening. Several of the events will be available via livestream for those who cannot attend. See below for a full schedule of the charrette. Friday, January 11, 2019 W.M. Keck Hall Lecture Hall Welcome and Introduction 1:00 p.m. – 1:20 p.m. Hernan Diaz Alonso, SCI-Arc Director Lien Heidenreich-Seleme, Goethe-Institut Director Mark Ridley-Thomas, LA County Supervisor Livestream link Presentation: Framing the Problem 1:20 p.m. – 1:40 p.m. Jerry Neuman, SCI-Arc trustee Chris Ko, United Way of Greater Los Angeles Livestream link Panel Discussion 1 1:40 p.m. – 2:40 p.m. Marqueece Harris-Dawson, LA City Councilmember (Moderator) Jerry Neuman, SCI-Arc trustee Jerry Ramirez, County Homelessness Initiative Christopher Hawthorne, LA City Chief Design Officer Thomas Newman, United Way of Greater Los Angeles Livestream link Panel Discussion 2 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Frances Anderton, KCRW (Moderator) Deborah Weintraub, Chief Deputy City Engineer of Los Angeles Carlos Zedillo, Head of Pienza Sostenible Kevin Hirai, President of Flyaway Homes Lorcan O'Herlihy, Architect Livestream link Closing Remarks 4:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. Hernan Diaz Alonso, SCI-Arc Director Livestream link Saturday, January 12, 2019 Conversations Livestreamed 10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Mimi Zeiger, Journalist and Curator Tanner Blackman, City Planner Volunteer faculty, alumni and guests Pin-up 2:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., Keck Hall SCI-Arc Students + Volunteer Faculty Livestream link Monday, January 14 Exhibition 4:00pm–7:00pm Student work exhibited throughout the school
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Judge delays construction of proposed homeless shelter on Billionaires' Row

Last week, plans to open a new homeless shelter at the former Park Savoy Hotel in Manhattan’s “Billionaires’ Row” were temporarily halted after a judge hearing a case brought by a group of residents granted more time for a panel to investigate the issue. The group of residents, known as the “West 58th Street Coalition,” claims that the homeless population would bring crime and loitering to the upscale block while decreasing property values. They also argue that the shelter is a massive fire hazard with its narrow, winding staircases and limited exits and sprinklers.

Disputes over the proposed shelter have culminated over the past year after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 150 homeless men would be relocated to the 70-room hotel, which is within walking distance of Central Park. The $60 million plan is part of a larger program to open 90 new shelters throughout the five boroughs within the next five years.

Supreme Court Justice Alexander Tisch initially ruled against the protesting residents, claiming that their argument regarding loitering and decreased property values “does not form a sufficient basis for granting a preliminary injunction," but on December 26 First Department Appellate Judge Jeffrey Oing issued a temporary halt on construction so that an appeals panel could fully investigate the complaints. Arguments from both sides are due this month, and the future of the shelter should become clearer thereafter.

Billionaires’ Row, located just below Central Park between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, is home to Manhattan’s ultra-luxury residential skyscrapers and boasts some of the tallest and most expensive apartment buildings in the world. No one yet occupies the shelter site on the extravagant block, but city lawyers have announced that it could open any day now. The New York City Law Department also stated that it believes that the appeals court would ultimately refute the activists’ claims.

“We believe the lower court was correct in denying the injunction and once the appeals panel gets a full briefing that decision will stand,” a spokesman said in a statement to the New York Post. “The City remains focused on opening this site as soon as possible so that we can provide high-quality shelter and employment services to hard-working New Yorkers experiencing homelessness as they get back on their feet.”

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Billionaires’ Row residents sue New York City over proposed homeless shelter

Some of the residents of 'Billionaires’ Row,' a stretch of apartment towers in New York City that boast some of the highest real estate prices in the world, announced Monday that they are suing the city in an attempt to stop a homeless shelter from opening in their neighborhood. The West 58th Street Coalition, which represents the homeowners, renters, and business owners in the area, filed a lawsuit aiming to stop the old Park Savoy Hotel at 158 West 58th Street from being converted into a shelter for 140 men. The group claimed that the 70-room hotel was not up to fire safety standards and could pose a threat to future residents and neighbors. Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced the $60.8 million plan to convert the hotel in February as part of his 'Turning the Tide on Homeless' initiative, which aspires to open 90 new shelters in the city in the next five years. Fourteen other shelters and hotels already exist in the midtown district and according to the New York Daily News, the coalition cited the latest proposed shelter as “an unjustified effort and unjustifiable expense, serving a political end.” “While we understand the need to shelter the city’s homeless,” the coalition writes in their petition posted on Change.org, “we believe that the Mayor’s Turning the Tide plan is deeply flawed.” The group claims that de Blasio is not addressing the underlying issue affecting the city’s growing homeless population: lack of affordable housing. With over 65,000 people without shelter, they said, the plan does not do enough to fix the problem and instead intends to “drop shelters in neighborhoods all over the city, with zero partnership on the part of the communities impacted and worse prospects for the homeless ever breaking out of the cycle of homelessness.” Mayor de Blasio has made the creation and maintenance of affordable housing a cornerstone of his tenure, and his office has exceeded expectations towards that end. The West 58th Street Coalition also states that the city did not inform them of the plans for the hotel, or alert their local elected officials or police precinct, but the city argues officials were given proper notice on January 9. The Department of Buildings has issued a stop-work order after news broke earlier this year that construction had already begun on the hotel.   The Park Savoy Hotel, which is located one block south from Central Park, sits in the shadow of the Christian de-Portzamparc-designed supertall, One57. Also lining the famously-expensive street is 423 Park by Raphael Viñoly, 220 Central Park South by Robert A.M. Stern, and 53W53 by Jean Nouvel.
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Here are the winners of L.A. County's accessory dwelling unit competition

In recent years, L.A. County’s homeless population has elevated by astronomical levels, climbing over 23 percent in just 2017 alone. As part of the county’s overall Homeless Initiative, last September, the L.A. County Arts Commission launched Part of the Solution: Yes To ADU, a design competition soliciting innovative uses for accessory dwelling units (ADU) in single family lots. The winners were announced late last month. There are up to 1.3 million dwellings in the county that could accept such lots, points out L.A. Country Arts Commission Civic Art Project Manager Iris Anna Regn. Officials hope the competition winners will get designers more involved in policy strategy, and help homeowners visualize how to develop ADUs on their properties. Competition winners were selected anonymously from a pool of 43 professional and student entries. First place went to recent graduates Lilliana Castro, Allen Guillen and Cheuk Nam Yu, who suggested eliminating dwellings’ fences and walls to create more open neighborhoods and better integrate dwellings into the city. Their pre-fabricated constructions, imbedded with green wall panels, solar roofs, and art walls, would be cheaper, easier, and faster to install. Two teams —Anonymous Architects and Esther Ho — tied for second. Anonymous proposed a modular solution built around recycled plastic packaging that could be customized with elements like solar balloons, water tanks, gardens, and even bird houses. Ho proposed another modular solution, called the Barcode House, which could be easily adapted to varied uses, from dorm rooms to small businesses. Two Honorable Mentions went to Bureau Spectacular and Wes Jones Partners. Bureau Spectacular's Backyard Urbanism suggested that ADUs could perform other uses besides housing, like recreation spaces or laundromats. Jones suggested the use of shipping containers, their designs kept simple but elegant to fit into their contexts. The competition-winning proposals, and a handful of others, will be exhibited throughout the county for the next few months, including a panel discussion at Downtown LA's Institute for Contemporary Art on May 24. Already the Arts Commission has shared the visions via events at East LA College and the AC Bilbrew Library. “This is an important new typology that people are being asked to do all time now,” pointed out Regn. “It won’t just provide new housing options, but it could help people stay in their neighborhoods and keep communities together." Of course ADUs will not provide the only solution to L.A.’s homeless and affordable housing crisis. It’s just one of many strategies, added Regn. “Everything needs to be thought about now—supportive housing, mental health, social enterprise, much more— to solve this humanitarian crisis.”
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Atlanta’s $50 million fight to end homelessness is moving forward

Atlanta’s city council approved major funding for a plan to end homelessness, voting unanimously on Monday to issue $26 million in bonds to match another $25 million promised by nonprofit United Way of Greater Atlanta, as first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The city’s mayor, Kasim Reed, has made tackling homelessness a priority during his time in office. During his “state of the city” address back in January, he announced United Way’s commitment to match any city funding towards the homeless initiative.

“I am proud to announce that with the unanimous approval of the Atlanta City Council, we will move forward with our $50 million commitment to make homelessness rare and brief in the City of Atlanta,” Reed said in a press release.

The bonds and the matched donation will indeed bring in more than $50 million. The city will also leverage (i.e. taking on debt to increase the return on investment) an additional $66 million to make a total investment of more than $115 million to tackle homelessness.

Over the next three years, the money will be distributed to provide different services, including 264 new emergency shelter beds and housing interventions. Approximately $7.6 million will be used for the acquisition and renovation of shelters over the course of the next three years. The majority of the money (around $16 million), however, will go towards the primary goal of the city’s homeless initiative: buying or renovating 500 units that will be used as permanent homes for the homeless.

Atlanta has more than 3,500 individuals and families in need of shelter, according to an analysis by non-profit Partners for Home. But homelessness in the city has been on a downward trend, decreasing by 16.5 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to National Alliance to End Homelessness’ report 2016 The State of Homelessness in America. This approval of funds brings Reed’s pledge one step closer to reality.

“We now have the opportunity to end chronic homelessness in our city and ensure that all men, women, and children—regardless of circumstance—have the chance to live stable, meaningful lives and participate fully in their communities,” Reed said. 

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Homelessness is never easy to understand, but this visualizing tool is here to help

Searching online for homelessness data turns up a plethora of results. This is good. It shows us that people are interested in the issue and care enough to find out more, however, it can be overwhelming. To help, Gretchen Keillor at Boston-based firm Sasaki has made a homelessness analytic tool that compiles more than 30 parameters associated with homelessness in an easy to use, easy to read format. The visualization resource relies on data from January 2015 when volunteers nationwide counted 546,580 homeless people in the United States. It depicts homeless people as dots, coloring them using factors such as average temperature (Fahrenheit), arranging them geographically, or using other graphing methods. Titled "Understanding Homelessness," its biggest asset is that numerous factors can be used interchangeably, with more than three being applied at one time. For example, an arrangement of circle diagrams compares sheltered and un-sheltered accommodation while subdividing data by region. Further still, inside each circle colored segments display average temperature. Unsurprisingly, this is best explained visually (see below) and the information ultimately tells us that the majority of sheltered homeless facilities can be found in the Northeast where the average temperature is around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Other interesting factors include GDP per capita, unemployment rate, the amount of rain, the area's percentage of Obama's win in 2012, donation contributions, spending on services (such as healthcare and education), average cost of rent, access to beds, and healthcare facilities. These can all be displayed in a readable format. Some statistics correlate and some don't, but the visualizer makes the data much easier to read. "We didn't want to bash people over the head with statistical figures," said Keillor. "We wanted to present the data for people to explore themselves and lend transparency to the issue as the general average citizen makes assumptions about homeless people when they see them on the street, assuming they have a mental illness or substance abuse problem or are unemployable." As noted by Keillor, the data presented doesn't draw any striking conclusions or uncover any groundbreaking findings. Instead, "it just puts the data out there so people can learn about the complexity of the issue." Keillor, herself an urban planner and user experience designer at Sasaki, started looking for and collecting data in 2016. The year before, she had been awarded $10,000 as part of internal Sasaki research grant, given to employees that want to pursue interesting ideas. The research was conducted with help from four other colleagues (Ken Goulding, Patrick Murray, Terri Dube, and Ryan Collier) and was able to dovetail with a homelessness study by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Keillor explained: "NRPA has been a really engaged member of this discussion and has brought a really refreshing positive perspective to the issue. For parks directors, this is not their core mission to deal with the issue of homelessness but it is something they encounter on a daily basis and so are proactively looking for solutions to it." The work done by Keillor also helps her own firm. "As planners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects here at Sasaki, we so often design spaces that are public and that will inevitably be inhabited by this population." Homelessness, however, is complex. Everyone has their own story as to why they have ended up on the street. Keillor acknowledged this and said that there was no "super methodological approach" for how to weave this research into Sasaki's work, but added that the tool "has proven useful already to educate ourselves on the complexities of this issue and to share that knowledge within the firm." That said, Keiller commented that "at the most basic level these people can't afford places to live; from a systems perspective it is an issue of affordable housing." Keillor's research does more than just visualize data, though. At the top of Understanding Homelessness' webpage, is a tab called "strategies." Here viewers can find ways of combating homelessness either through design (two examples include: the Sunday Breakfast Dining in Philadelphia and the Y2Y Shelter in Cambridge, Massachusetts are provided), policy, or program. An example for the latter is an individual contribution from "Haircuts for the Homeless" in London.
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Chicago uses Airbnb fees to house 100 homeless families

While many cities struggle with their relationship with house-sharing micro-rental companies, Chicago is looking on the bright side of the relatively new phenomenon. The city has announced that it will use $1 million raised from fees paid by homeowners who use home-sharing platforms, such as Airbnb, to help house 100 homeless families. The Housing Homeless Families program is a joint initiative with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, one of the city’s primary resources for information on and advocacy for the homeless population. The program will focus on families in areas of the city with high violent crime rates, including Austin, Englewood, West Englewood, and Humboldt Park. Working with shelters that specialize in family services and the Chicago Public School system, the program will focus specifically on families with school-age children. “The goal of this initiative is to help our most vulnerable families to establish stability so that their children can succeed,” said Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler. "Thanks to collaboration with our partners at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the city will deliver a coordinated response to ensure the needs of our most vulnerable families are met, and to prevent families on the cusp from experiencing homelessness.” The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless recently released a report on the number of homeless people in the city. The count includes data on those who “double-up,” referring to people that do not have their own home but stay with friends or relatives. The report, which looks at 2015, found the city to have 82,000 homeless individuals, which includes nearly 10,000 homeless families. It is estimated that 87 percent of those who identified as homeless were “doubled-up.” The money for the new program was raised through a $1 million investment by the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund, with matching funds from a four percent surcharge leveled against homeowners using Airbnb and other home-sharing programs. That money will go towards providing housing vouchers to families and provide additional transition services. Those services will include helping families set up appointments, navigate the housing application process, and work with housing providers. The ultimate goal is to find permanent housing for the participating families. “Around the city, children should be able to focus on their studies, and not where they are going to sleep at night,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the announcement of the initiative. “Working with our partners at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless on this new initiative, we will work to ensure that more families experiencing or on the verge of homelessness can find and maintain the housing and stability they need to thrive and provide for their children.”
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MADWORKSHOP’s Homeless Studio at USC delves into rapid rehousing prototype design

The MADWORKSHOP Homeless Studio, taught by University of Southern California faculty Sofia Borges and R. Scott Mitchell, spent the fall 2016 semester exploring how architecture students can use their skills to address the growing homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

The studio was funded by MADWORKSHOP, a nonprofit started by David and Mary Martin of the A.C. Martin family in 2005 to bridge the classroom and real world architectural experiences. This semester, the group explored the architectural manifestations of homelessness in order to have students postulate solutions aimed at re-housing individuals.

For their first assignment, students combined off-the-shelf and found materials into mobile “nomadic shelters.” One group repurposed the chassis of a shopping cart, adding telescoping plywood platforms to create covered sleeping surfaces. Two prototypes are designed for bicycle transport: One, a generous box on wheels, utilizes welded aluminum sections for structure and infill panels made of wood and corrugated plastic, while a second works as a mobile bed with a retractable plywood roof wrapped in canvas drop cloth. Others are designed as pushcarts that facilitate fully reclined sleeping positions, with drop-down, accordion-hinged hatches or telescoping pod sections. The prototypes convey a keen sense of appreciation for the dexterity with which transient populations live their day-to-day lives: The compartments on each prototype can lock shut and are designed to be packed up in a few minutes using minimal labor.

Next, students worked with artist Gregory Kloehn to build single-room “tiny homes” that can be used on a semi-permanent basis. These makeshift explorations are designed with space for a bed and reading nook, and were crafted from found objects including shipping pallets, a truck camper, and even mannequin busts, which were used as shingle siding. Here, the students were able to explore the minutiae of domesticity to a level of intimacy not typically emphasized in undergraduate architectural education. The students designed and built cupboards, countertops, and shelving. The emphasis was on introducing subtle aspects of domestic life for occupants, like threshold conditions that could be used as a type of front porch, beds differentiated from the ground, and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of privacy. “A quiet space to get stabilized,” explained Borges, who is also acting director of MADWORKSHOP.

Next, the class partnered with Hope of the Valley, a faith-based missionary organization active in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley area—a region that saw its homelessness population increase by 36 percent last year—to develop a modular rapid-rehousing prototype the organization could deploy as needed.

Over the second half of the semester, the class consulted with fabricators, architects, housing developers, and the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to develop a series of prototypes that could be deployed in as little as two weeks. Vacant lots, the students postulated, could be used as sites for so-called rapid re-housing approaches, tiered measures aimed at re-introducing formerly homeless individuals to sheltered life. Their plans incorporate existing parking lots, under-utilized land, and potentially, land currently slated for redevelopment but not yet under construction, as sites for these temporary housing projects.

The group maintained an eye on the nuts-and-bolts aspects of its proposals, incorporating the technical nuances of the building code into the schemes and settling on a 30-unit courtyard housing proposal that would provide housing units for individuals on a floor above shared eating and leisure areas. The Americans with Disabilities Act compliant complex was also designed with access points for Hope of the Valley’s mobile healthcare team to pick up and drop off patients. Borges described the overall design process: “We brought in all levels [of the design and review process] to the conversation; we’ve really been making it a priority to be compliant on all levels so that we are not a proposing pie-in-the-sky proposal, but a solution.” The team worked to generate modular approaches that could not only be rapidly built, but potentially exist as pre-approved designs vetted by city agencies, ready to be deployed immediately. Mitchell said, “as unit production increases, overall costs will drop via economy of scale. The mobile aspect of the units will have a further costs savings as they are redeployed across multiple sites.”

The class built a full-scale mock-up for its final review, fabricated using the university’s shop. The result is striking in its efficiency: 92-square-feet of white-walled interiors outfitted with a built-in dresser, bed, and desk made of plywood. The rectangular space is outfitted with a special window assembly on the end opposite the door that has been designed to facilitate passive ventilation. From the outside, the modular nature comes into greater focus, as the welded steel moment frame with structural insulated panels is used to structure the module against the white, surface-nailed exterior cladding made of enameled aluminum sheets. The metal frames are designed to attach to adjacent modules while also providing overall structure to the complex.

The plans were praised at the studio’s final reviews, which were attended by representatives from Hope of the Valley, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, nonprofit homeless housing provider Skid Row Housing Trust, and others. Next, the team plans on moving forward with city agencies to get working drawings for the module approved so the pods can be fabricated and deployed across the city.