Posts tagged with "homelessness":

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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.

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Mayor de Blasio unveils new plan to fight homelessness in NYC

At a press conference last Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to fight homelessness, aiming to decrease by 45% the number of hotels and cluster apartments being used to temporarily house the homeless over the next five years. (The latter are apartments rented by the city to house the homeless). As part of a more community-based approach, the city aims to create new neighborhood-specific shelters to help manage the transition. According to a representative from the Mayor’s Office, these new, larger shelters will keep the city’s overall homeless shelter capacity constant. New York City’s homeless population is at an all-time high, with about 60,000 people living in shelters, cluster apartments, and hotels around the city. The Mayor stated that rent has increased in the city by 19 percent since the economic recession while the average household income has decreased by 6.3 percent, leaving many families in a bind. These displaced families make up for 70 percent of people living in shelters, according to de Blasio. Because of the city’s legal obligation to house anyone who asks for shelter, it has been forced to move people into cluster apartments and even hotels, racking up a bill of $400,000 a day, according to The New York Times. These statistics are a large part of why the de Blasio administration has struggled to combat homelessness and income inequality; related tactics have included rent stabilization initiatives and rental assistance to those who are at risk of becoming homeless. The city currently has 647 buildings operating to accommodate the homeless, and de Blasio proposes to vacate a majority of those sites, predominantly cluster housing and hotels, within the next five years. The end goal is to have 364 total sites operating in the city. In order to do this, the system will become more dependent on shelters, adding 90 new shelters and expanding on 30 existing sites to accommodate for the shift. A representative from the Mayor’s press office said that 18 to 20 new shelters will be completed each year, several of which would be purpose-built new construction, over the same five-year span. The remainder will be existing buildings, and in some cases, empty cluster housing sites that will be repurposed and renovated to become new shelters. On top of the goal to decrease the number of shelter sites, the city also hopes to decrease the number of homeless in shelters by 2,500 in the next five years. The representative emphasized that despite the decrease in sites, the city is not decreasing its capacity to house the homeless, just reallocating it. The city also plans to refurbish existing shelters in poor condition. “We’re going to do a comprehensive effort around the city to bring all shelters to a better standard of quality,” said de Blasio. These renovations will create more appropriate spaces for the shelter’s occupants to stay during the day to participate in training and education programs. The city hopes this will keep residents off of the streets, a benefit for the community, and help get them back on their feet faster. Another major crux of de Blasio’s new strategy is to keep the homeless in their communities, where they are closer to their jobs, schools, and houses of worship. This community-based shelter system would place new shelters in neighborhoods with a high number of homeless currently in the system. The first of those facilities will open this April in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is home to 132 families currently in shelters and scattered throughout the city. de Blasio plans to continue pushing for more affordable housing, with 200,000 new and preserved affordable apartments on the way, providing options for seniors, veterans, and low-income families. The city would also increase supportive housing initiatives, which provide on-site support for substance abuse and mental illness, to help the homeless regain independence. The Mayor reiterated that these strategies are long term and iterative and that this process is something that will require patience. “We will be at this a long time,” said the Mayor. “We will make progress, but it will be incremental. It will be slow, and I hope and I believe it will be steady.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the country in Honolulu, Hawaii State Senator Josh Green introduced a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe housing to homeless patients that suffer from mental illness and addiction. In a study quoted by The Guardian, research has shown that healthcare spending for homeless patients, particularly those struggling with mental illness and addiction, decreases by 43 percent when they become housed and are provided with supportive services. These new initiatives suggest a change in the way governments are viewing and treating homelessness and, hopefully, will open the conversation to new and innovative solutions. To read more about Mayor de Blasio’s plan, click here.
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San Fernando Valley poised to tackle homelessness with new $1.2 billion housing initiative

The San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles has a reputation as a quintessentially suburban enclave. But, as the inner-city areas of Los Angeles have begun to embrace the hallmarks of traditional urbanism—increased housing density, fixed-transit infrastructure, and a dedication to pedestrian space—the valley has found itself parroting those same shifts in its own distinct way.

One area where this transformation is taking shape is housing, specifically, transitional and supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals.

According to the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority, the number of homeless people in the San Fernando Valley increased by 36 percent last year. Though the increase was significantly lower throughout L.A. County overall last year, one thing is clear: The number of people without homes in the areas around Los Angeles’s urban core area is growing. A similar trend is playing out across the country. Not only are urban homeless populations being increasingly displaced out toward the suburban areas by gentrification, but greater numbers of suburbanites themselves are becoming homeless, as well, due to a fraying social net and systematic income inequality.

Dire though the situation might be, Los Angeles—and the San Fernando Valley in particular—is currently poised to make strides in re-housing currently homeless individuals living in quasi-suburban environments by building a collection of new housing projects across the city. That’s because this November, 76 percent of L.A.’s voters supported Measure HHH, the city’s Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond. The initiative will raise $1.2 billion in bonds to pay for the construction of up to 10,000 units of housing for the homeless. The victory represents a shift in collective perspective that goes hand-in-hand with changing urban attitudes: As transit, density, and pedestrianism spread, so too has a visceral awareness that the city’s homeless population has been wholly abandoned by society and that action is overdue.

The passage of Measure HHH represents an opportunity for architects to assert themselves in civic and cultural discourse at an incredibly meaningful scale. And as much as the valley has begun to accept increased density, so too is it likely to see its fair share of new transitional and supportive housing as a result.

Already, the Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), a local affordable housing provider known for its focus on design quality, has begun to expand into neighborhoods beyond Skid Row. The organization opened a new set of apartments designed by Los Angeles–based architects Brooks + Scarpa this summer in the MacArthur Park neighborhood just west of Downtown Los Angeles. The project, called The Six, is the group’s first development with permanent supportive housing specifically for veterans. The name of the complex comes from the military shorthand, “got your six,” which means “I’ve got your back.”

The complex is designed around a central, planted courtyard and is expected to receive LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It features solar panels on the roof and ground-level supportive services for the residents, with a large public courtyard located on the second floor. Units rise up around the perimeter of the courtyard along a single-loaded corridor and are capped by a roof terrace and edible garden. The firm also calibrated the building’s architectural massing in order to respond to passive cooling and lighting strategies and features selectively glazed exposures as well as a courtyard layout that facilitates passive lighting and ventilation.

Another project under development by SRHT is Michael Maltzan Architecture’s (MMA) Crest Apartments in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley. Crest Apartments will deliver 64 affordable housing units for formerly homeless veterans. The building is laid out as a long, stepped housing block raised on a series of piers above multifunctional hard- and soft-landscaped areas. The long and narrow site shapes the complex such that the building’s mass steps around in plan as it climbs in height, creating vertical bands of windows aimed toward the street and side yard in the process. The ground floor of the complex contains supportive service areas as well as a clinic and community garden. The building recently finished construction and residents are beginning to move in.

The future of housing efforts in the valley is also being tackled by students at University of Southern California (USC), where a studio funded by the nonprofit Martin Architecture and Design Workshop (MADWORKSHOP) is aiming to develop a rapid-re-housing prototype to be deployed across the valley. The studio, formally unrelated to Measure HHH, is led by Sofia Borges, acting director at MADWORKSHOP and R. Scott Mitchell, assistant professor of practice at USC. The professors tasked architecture students with studying the spatial implications of homelessness at the individual person’s scale.

Ultimately, the studio, with nondenominational ministry Hope of the Valley as its client, developed the beginnings of a single-occupancy housing prototype that could be mass-produced and temporarily deployed to selected vacant sites in as little as two weeks. The cohort spent the semester meeting with officials in the city government, including the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, to work on an actionable plan for implementing their prototype. The students built a full-scale mock-up of the 96-square-foot unit for their final review and detailed plans for how the unit might be aggregated into larger configurations as a sort of first-response to help people transition from living on the streets to occupying more formal dwellings like The Six or Crest Apartments.

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Mayor Eric Garcetti aims to dedicate $138 million in funding to combat homelessness in L.A.

Estimates for 2015 released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority put Los Angeles County’s homeless population at 44,359 individuals, with 17,687 of the 25,686 homeless residents of the City of Los Angeles being completely unsheltered. On April 20, in what is being referred to as a call to arms across the city, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that he had appropriated $138 million in funding aimed at addressing some of the needs of this vulnerable and marginalized population. A portion of the new funds—$86 million—is earmarked for the development of permanent affordable housing.

Though the sum is vast, there are serious concerns regarding the viability of the proposal’s funding sources. Garcetti’s budget calls for the majority of the funds to be raised from linkage fees paid by developers, a set of fees that are not currently collected by the city. Should the L.A. City Council approve the mayor’s budget, it will have to instate new linkage fees as well. Simultaneously, homeless-relief advocates consider the $138 million sum a pittance of what is needed to seriously address the area’s entrenched homelessness issues, with many calling for a November ballot initiative to establish a permanent fund for the cause. Additionally in this election year, homelessness is being seen more widely as a phenomenon directly related to what some see as a rise in income inequality and endemic wage stagnation.

Amid this context, the impact of this new funding for affordable and supportive housing could be vast. The City of L.A. is planning to use the sale or redevelopment of several surplus properties it holds to fund some of the construction of new affordable housing. L.A.’s Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), a nonprofit established in 1989 to build permanent affordable housing for low-income Angelenos, will likely be one of the organizations to lead the efforts in increasing the city’s affordable-housing stock. And, with recently completed projects by high-caliber area firms like Michael Maltzan Architecture, Brooks + Scarpa Architects, and Killefer Flammang Architects, SRHT is poised to lead the campaign to win the hearts, minds, and pockets of the city’s many powerful, moneyed interests resistant to homeless housing in their neighborhoods. Regarding the recently completed Brooks + Scarpa SIX project, SRHT CEO Mike Alvidrez remarked, “We’ve tried to showcase the architect’s talents. Good design is an integral part of all the work that we do.” He went on to say, “The city, county, and state have always made dollars available for affordable housing, but at too small a scale. [SRHT’s projects have shown that] high-quality affordable housing can be attractive and be seen as a valuable aesthetic contribution to the communities in which they are developed. Hopefully [good design] will assuage some of the concerns people have; there’s no reason well-designed buildings and housing for homeless people across L.A. can’t coexist.”

After AN contributor Peter Zellner wrote a blistering critique of L.A.’s response to the homelessness crisis, the city’s American Institute of Architects chapter got involved by convening a congress aimed at bringing together designers, affordable-housing leaders, and politicians around homelessness issues. Adding to his critique, Zellner said, “Architects and designers have to become more involved politically in order to raise awareness. It would be incumbent upon architects to think of forms of urbanism that integrate approaches for housing the homeless and articulate a viable alternate vision [for L.A.’s future] that is dense, vertical, and integrated. [We can] lead through design.”

The congress, called Design for Dignity, took place on May 6 and featured panel discussions and lectures from advocates working across the city, from the streets of Skid Row to the corridors of City Hall. Regarding the role design can play in addressing the homelessness crisis, congress participant, architect, and homeless-relief advocate Michael Lehrer said, “We have to create places that are nurturing and safe—that’s important. It’s also critical the response provides a range of types of inhabitation. Some of these informal communities are old and have deep social structures: How do you provide a wholesome existence and place and still provide space for individuals who are not fully interested in being a part of the social armature?”

With the state of California recently announcing a $2 billion plan to fund affordable housing for mentally ill citizens living on the streets statewide and the county of Los Angeles soon to put forth a plan of its own, one wonders if these efforts might finally begin to reverse the fortunes of tens of thousands of Los Angeles’s residents.

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AIA|LA asks “How will design professions respond to the nearly 47,000 homeless people living in L.A. County?”

A recent count by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) put the growing visibility and proliferation of homelessness in L.A. County into stark terms. Reporting a 5.7 percent increase in overall homelessness, the report counted 46,874 homeless individuals this year compared with the 44,359 counted in 2015. Within that statistic, LAHSA detailed 34,527 people living on the streets full-time, up from 31,025 doing so one year prior. The count comes on the heels of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s as-yet-unfunded $138 million homelessness prevention and amelioration plan for fiscal year 2016, $86 million of which is earmarked for the development of permanent affordable housing like Michael Maltzan's Star Apartments. Hoarse-voiced homeless advocates across the region hope LAHSA’s report might provide the political pressure needed to finally compel city, county, and state officials to act in a coordinated fashion on a phenomenon savaging a region already struggling with ever-increasing rents, neighborhood displacement, and across-the-board housing shortages. Attempting to articulate the architectural community’s response to what it views as an increasingly important issue, the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIA|LA) chapter convened a special congress bringing together design professionals, thought leaders, and local officials with the aim of  developing “workable solutions” for addressing some of these housing affordability issues. The sold out, day-long congress, called Design for Dignity, also featured panel discussions and lectures from advocates working across the region to share best practices and new research. The congress was notable for attempting to place the contributions of architects and designers front-and-center, both in addressing these crises and within professional discourse itself. AIA|LA’s Director of Government and Public Affairs Will Wright explained the conference’s primary goals to AN as wanting to “connect policy makers and housing providers to design thinkers; to underscore the role of the architect as an innovator that needs to be at the decision-making table as early as possible; and to set a compassionate tone of the fundamental importance of designing for all a dignified human experience.” Long-time housing practitioners like Michael Lehrer, Michael Maltzan, and Lorcan O'Herlihy represented the design profession during various panel discussions held throughout the day, pressing for innovative and humane solutions. Regarding the architectural community’s role in addressing the homelessness crisis, Lehrer told AN, “Beauty is really a rudiment of human dignity, people who have nothing understand that and [they benefit from living in] places made with an open heart and with respect. [Architects] have to realize that the things that matter in architecture matter for everybody because they are human pleasures.” Recently, the L.A. County’s population surpassed 10 million inhabitants and a corresponding and the Census Bureau reported a three percent vacancy rate in the Greater L.A. area (a Census-designated region including Long Beach and Anaheim) rental market. Therefore AIA|LA is right to spotlight architects’ potential role as innovators and leaders on this subject. Congress moderator Peter Zellner told AN, “Architects and designers have to become more involved politically if we are to raise awareness [on addressing the homelessness crisis in L.A.]. It would be incumbent upon architects to propose forms of urbanism that integrate approaches for housing the homeless and poor alike. We have to lead through design and articulate a viable, alternate vision for L.A. that is dense, vertical and integrated.” With the abundance of homeless residents in the region expected only to grow over the coming years, it's likely this phenomenon that will continue to grow, exacerbating and even deteriorating living conditions for all Angelenos if solutions advocated by the likes of Zellner are not more actively pursued across the city. In fact, based on overall tenor of the day’s congress, it would be easy to argue that the future of architectural profession in the Southland is rooted in how design professions address the region’s combined homelessness and affordability crises. In a growing, densifying region, it’s likely that—along with sustainability and climate change—the issues of affordability and homelessness will play a major role in defining the careers of the young practitioners and students of today. Congress attendee Kelly Majewski, principal at the recently-founded landscape architecture firm Superjacent, told AN, “Homelessness is an extremely complex problem that requires collaborative forward-thinking solutions between policy makers, space makers, and communities. The answer does not just lie in the building of new structures, but also in our approach to shared public space, be it our parks or our streets. As landscape architects and urbanists this is one of the biggest issues we are facing in the coming decades.”
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The City of Los Angeles seizes tiny houses from the homeless

Tiny houses—be they Brutalist or just twee—are seen by some as a lifestyle option for Pinterest de-clutterers, and by L.A. advocates as a small step towards solving their city's homelessness crisis. The City of Los Angeles, however, disagrees. https://twitter.com/DaleLezon/status/631521843510251520 In South L.A., city officials are seizing "tiny homes" that belong to homeless residents. After the City Council passed a tough "sweeps" ordinance last year, the city was more easily able to categorize the diminutive dwellings as "bulky items" that could be confiscated immediately. Elvis Summers, a formerly homeless L.A. resident who built and donated the houses, removed seven of them in advance of the city's cleanup. Summers had placed the houses on 110 Freeway overpasses for homeless people to use in lieu of tents. In all, he's built and sited 37 homes, with help from $100,000 in donations and a network of volunteers. https://twitter.com/peoplestrustTOR/status/703665135764664320 "It’s not a permanent solution, but nobody is doing anything for shelter right now,” Summers told The Los Angeles Times, adding that the houses should not be destroyed, but returned to him. “They keep just saying we need permanent housing, but it never happens.” The structures, some advocates for the homeless say, are a safer, cheaper alternative to having homeless people camp on sidewalks. Connie Llanos, Mayor Eric Garcetti's spokesperson, says the mayor is intent on getting homeless people into shelters or permanent housing. For its part, the city did not offer alternative accommodations upon seizing the houses. Although housing choice vouchers and supportive SROs are proven solutions for housing the homeless, cities and individuals outside of L.A. are turning to tiny houses to meet demand. Last year, a Nashville pastor built six cheery, 60-square-foot tiny homes for the homeless that are parked next to his church. In Portland, Oregon, 60 people reside in Dignity Village, a community of small private homes made out of mostly recycled materials.
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Here’s Dallas’ plan to build tiny homes for the homeless to save lives and money

Taking a cue from a program in Houston, Dallas has decided to house 50 homeless people using low-cost cottages designed by bcWORKSHOP, short for Building Community Workshop. The small dwellings are expected to open to residents in late October. Each person will have his or her own 400-square-foot home complete with a compact kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The homes also include access to a shared green recreational space as well as "on-site high-quality mental & medical healthcare and social services." Speaking to Dallas News Larry James, president and chief executive of CitySquare (who will also offer job training among other social services) said: “We found out that if we take the 200 most expensive people, the average person in the top 200 is costing taxpayers about $40,000 a year to keep them on the street.” This fits with the statement made by the executive director of Cottages at Hickory Crossing, Keith Ackerman, who told the Huffington Post that the program will reduce these costs to under $13,000 per person, saving the taxpayer an estimated $1.3million. The project has already received an AIA Dallas Design Award. It has taken six years to come to fruition running up a cost of $8.2 million, most of which has largely been fundraised. Meanwhile, the program has asked the public to help by purchasing furniture from Target via their gift registry. The move by Dallas is not new. Similar developments are cropping up across the country in what is becoming a national trend. Cities like Nashville, TN, has its own group of micro houses, part of the so-called "Infinity Village" which houses six homeless people.
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Senior Housing in Oakland Pushes the Building Envelope

Sustainability and high design meet in Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects' affordable housing complex.

Designing a sustainable building on a budget is tricky enough. But for the Merritt Crossing senior housing complex in Oakland, California, non-profit developer Satellite Affordable Housing Associates upped the ante, asking Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects to follow not one but two green-building ratings systems. "They wanted to push the envelope of what they typically do and decided to pursue not only the LEED rating, but also the GreenPoint system," said principal Richard Stacy. "So we actually did both, which is kind of crazy." Wrapped in a colorful cement-composite rain screen system punctuated by high performance windows, Merritt Crossing achieved LEED for Homes Mid-Rise Pilot Program Platinum and earned 206 points on the Build-It-Green GreenPoint scale. The building was also the first Energy Star Rated multi-family residence in California, and was awarded 104 points by Bay-Friendly Landscaping. Merritt Crossing’s 70 apartments serve low-income seniors with incomes between 30 and 50 percent of the area median. More than half of the units are reserved for residents at risk of homelessness or living with HIV/AIDS. Stacy explains that in the context of affordable housing, sustainability means two things. The first is quality of life for the residents, "the sorts of things that have a direct benefit to the people living there," such as natural daylighting and indoor air quality. The second is energy efficiency. "Both non-profits and [their] residents have limited financial capabilities," said Stacy. "The one time they have funding for that kind of thing is when they’re building a building. So we focused a lot on the building envelope in terms of energy efficiency. At the same time, we wanted to have ample daylight and controlled ventilation.” Finding themselves with unused contingency funds during construction Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects upgraded the exterior skin to a rain screen system of SWISSPEARL cement composite. "We worked pretty closely with the SWISSPEARL company," said Stacy, who noted that Merritt Crossing may be the first building in the United States to use the system. Though the panels are installed like lap siding they offer "the benefits of a rain screen in terms of cooling and waterproofing issues," he explained. To accommodate the thicker skin, window manufacturer Torrance Aluminum designed custom trim pieces, which "had the added benefit of giving us the appearance of deeply recessed windows," said Stacy.
  • Facade Manufacturer Eternit Switzerland SWISSPEARL
  • Architects Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
  • Facade Distributer Western Specialty Fabrications
  • Facade Installer PCI
  • Location Oakland, CA
  • Date of Completion 2012
  • System Cement composite rain screen
  • Products SWISSPEARL cement composite, GreenScreen modular trellising, Torrance Aluminum windows with custom trim pieces, Dow Corning polyiso insulation, Grace Perm-A-Barrier VPS vapor permeable membrane
Insulation was a special concern for the architects, both because Merritt Crossing was built using metal frame construction, and to minimize air infiltration in keeping with the green ratings systems. The building’s exterior walls are wrapped in 1-inch-thick high performance polyiso insulation from Dow Corning with a Grace Perm-A-Barrier VPS vapor permeable membrane. "As a result we ended up with a very, very tight building from an air insulation standpoint, which means you have to pay more attention to air ventilation," said Stacy. To compensate, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects’ mechanical engineers designed a special air filtration system for the building’s roof, complete with built-in HEPA filters. The building’s southwest facade faces a freeway, presenting potential noise and privacy issues in addition to exposure to the western sun. "We did a highly layered facade on that [side] where the actual exterior wall is back three to four feet from another screen wall," said Stacy. The outer wall "is a combination of typical wall assembly as well as GreenScreen panels that form a webbing of open areas and solid areas that help with sunshading as well as acoustical [dampening] and privacy." Greenery in balcony planters will eventually grow up and over the screens. On the ground floor, the garage is also enclosed in GreenScreen trellising, to enhance pedestrians’ view without sacrificing ventilation. Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects’ Merritt Crossing proves that affordable housing does not have to look institutional. The facade’s vibrant colors—green on the northeast elevation, red on the southwest—and playful punched texture pay homage to the neighborhood’s patchwork of architectural styles and building uses. The first major building in the planned redevelopment of the area around the Lake Merritt BART regional transit station, Merritt Crossing sets the bar high for future developments.