Posts tagged with "Public Housing":

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SO - IL is building a social housing prototype in the heart of Mexico

For many in Mexico, the phrase “social housing” conjures images of vast housing tracts falling into disrepair, abandoned by workers tired of two-hour commutes. While architects and planners look back to understand what went wrong in the country’s early-2000s push to build affordable housing on city outskirts, authorities and designers are also looking ahead to explore alternative strategies. The Municipal Housing Institute (IMUVI) of León, a city of 1.6 million people in the central state of Guanajuato, invited Brooklyn firm SO – IL to collaborate on the design of a new prototype for social housing in the city’s center, and the team broke ground on the result, the Las Américas project, in May. Designed for low-income families, the building includes 56 apartments, most of which will be sold at far-below-market rates. Guanajuato is traditionally known for its artisanal leatherworking, but more recently, rapid growth in the auto-manufacturing industry has transformed the region; León’s population has doubled since the 1980s. Like many Mexican cities, it grew outward, with limited government planning. Some new arrivals built informal settlements on the city edges or, with access to credit, bought into exurban subdivisions. IMUVI faces two monumental tasks: regularizing the informal settlements, which requires extending utility services and other infrastructure and building housing for those who still need it. According to Amador Rodríguez, director of IMUVI León, 45 percent of the city’s residents don’t have access to federal housing credit or traditional bank loans. Rodríguez estimates that the city needs another 80,000 housing units to meet the demand. Instead of building more units on the outskirts, far from schools, jobs, and services, IMUVI has committed to densifying the city center. Working with SO – IL, IMUVI identified a lot in a downtown neighborhood to build Las Américas, a 62,431-square-foot complex of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. SO – IL’s partnership with IMUVI began when Florian Idenburg, the firm’s Dutch co-founder, was invited to Mexico to share his experience with the firm’s New York City micro-housing project tiNY, lessons from which informed Las Américas. “Affordability should not go against quality,” said Idenburg. “And one of the qualities that is very important to us is light.” Thanks to single-loaded open-air corridors, the apartments in Las Américas receive natural light from at least two sides. No two units directly face each other, maintaining both density and privacy. The housing block wraps around two shared courtyards, while openings in the building’s mass create additional, elevated common spaces. Exterior stairwells link each level. Idenburg said these features foster interaction between neighbors and a sense of community. “It was very refreshing to work with this team in León,” Idenburg said. Even with a limited budget, he said, there are opportunities for customization in Mexico that can lend character to what could otherwise be a uniform building. The team worked with local fabricators to develop a precast concrete brick that can be installed in different positions, creating a variety of wall textures for the apartments. “We made really nice custom windows that are hand-welded,” he added. “You probably wouldn’t be able to do that in the United States because of cost.” The design process included workshops and meetings in León to understand the needs of low-income families. SO – IL worked pro bono on the project. “It was a very productive collaboration,” said Idenburg. “Everything was very collective.” While construction continues, IMUVI is identifying families to move into Las Américas. Out of a total of 56 apartments, 44 will be priced at just under half a million Mexican pesos (about $25,000), the legal limit for a social housing unit. The remaining 12 units will be available at market price to families with federal Infonavit (workers’ housing) credit. “I hope other people will see our project and think it is possible to achieve density and affordability in the city center,” Idenburg said. Finding central but affordable lots is an ongoing challenge for agencies like IMUVI, but Idenburg hopes Las Américas can become a model for social housing in city centers and inspire projects in developing economies facing similar conditions.
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From Vienna comes PUSH—a new housing newsletter

Vienna has long been a leader in public housing, and 60 percent of its current population lives in city-built residences. The grand socialist Hofs of the late 1920s, like the Karl Marx and George Washington, have long been influential for affordable housing advocates. But Vienna is still building, following on its socialist tradition that has continued to build innovative housing up to this day. In August the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House in West Hollywood, California, is hosting an exhibition that features recent public housing from Vienna. The Austrian capital has become a creative center in sustainable planning and housing policies. The former director of Vienna’s Department for Housing Research, Wolfgang Foerster, who oversaw extraordinary housing achievements in the city, has just launched PUSH, an online quarterly newsletter on urbanism and housing. A clearinghouse for housing information, the journal is inviting architects to submit projects on public and affordable housing. There is currently nothing like PUSH, and it should become an important clearinghouse for information on housing.
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NYCHA orgy rounds out disastrous summer for the public housing agency

New York City papers reported this week that employees for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) have been having regular orgies in a Bronx public housing complex. The bombshell is a bizarre cap on a summer of horrible news for the agency. New York Daily News reported on Monday that at least two supervisors were pressuring staff at Throggs Neck Houses to participate in alcohol-fueled sex parties in the property's offices. The parties happened on multiple occasions, and staff even counted time at the events as overtime so that they would be paid for participating. The entire Throggs Neck staff has since been reassigned to other properties, but no one has been fired. The greatest penalties have apparently fallen on two ringleaders who were suspended without pay for 30 days while the organization conducts an investigation. One of those people, Brianne Pawson, was the supervisor of grounds at the property and is the daughter of Charles Pawson, NYCHA director, the Daily News reported. Outrage from residents and city council members over the scandal and subsequent lack of disciplinary action only add to the heat NYCHA has felt this summer, as dangerous flaws in its operation have been exposed. Residents in East Harlem have reported that they frequently don't have running water; playgrounds have collapsed while children played on them; drinking water tanks have contained dead animals and human excrement; hundreds of children have suffered lead poisoning after living in apartments with toxic paint. And that's just this year. Reports have uncovered a litany of other complaints and failures, all apparently stemming from gross mismanagement and underinvestment by the authority. Vito Mustaciuolo was named general manager for the organization this summer on the heels of Shola Olatoye's departure from her position as chair of the authority. Earlier this year Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, declared a state of emergency for the organization after several properties lost heat during the winter, and a recent lawsuit targets Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, for his responsibility in a lead poisoning scandal. NYCHA is the country's largest housing authority and shelters over 400,000 New Yorkers. Its leader is appointed by the city's mayor, but it operates as an independent corporation. This year Congress approved an increase in federal funding for the authority after the Trump administration initially proposed cutting support.
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Eviction is the subject of the National Building Museum's immersive spring show

Inspired by Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C. will be hosting Evicted, an immersive exhibition meant to expose visitors to the causes and fallout of eviction. From April 14 through May 19, 2019, guests can see original photography, audio interviews, and new data from Desmond’s Eviction Lab for free. The act of eviction can be a destabilizing force on families, as the evicted are thrust into uncertainty over their housing situation and marked with a blemish on their records that landlords can use to turning them down on rental applications. According to the NBM, “More than 11 million Americans are extremely low-income renters,” and 75 percent of qualified renters don’t receive federal aid. “Until recently, we simply didn’t know how immense this problem was, or how serious the consequences,” said Desmond in a statement. “Eviction does not simply drop poor families into a dark valley, a trying yet relatively brief detour on life’s journey. It fundamentally redirects their way, casting them onto a different, and much more difficult, path. Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.” Evicted will convey this hardship through photographs of the eviction process, interviews with those affected, and infographics specifically commissioned for the show. The Eviction Lab’s repository of national eviction information will be packaged for visitors in an easily digestible manner, as the sheer facts and figures involved are typically overwhelming. Far from simply presenting the problem of eviction in a void, Evicted will highlight affordable housing projects and how local and state governments–as well as nonprofits–are tackling the issue. Ultimately, the museum wants to empower patrons to leave with ideas on how to help those on the precipice in their own neighborhoods and lift up those who have already felt the sting of eviction. “Homes form the building blocks of community life,” said executive director of the National Building Museum, Chase Rynd, in a statement. “We have to reveal what happens when this stability is threatened, as eviction looms—as well as ways to help stem this crisis.”
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Architect Neave Brown, champion of social housing, passes away at 88

Neave Brown, English architect and outspoken proponent of low-rise, high-density public housing, has died at age 88 on January 9th. A New York native, Brown left permanently for London to study at the Architectural Association in the mid-1950’s. Known for his work in concrete, Brown’s open, stepped post-war developments demonstrated that high-quality, mass public housing was possible on the scale of London’s existing Victorian row houses. Brown is the only architect to have all of his UK projects listed, a protected status in which a building may not be demolished, expanded, or altered without express permission from the local planning authority. These projects include Dartmouth Park, the Dunboyne Road Estate, and the Alexandra Road Estate, the 1968 brutalist housing complex for which he is perhaps best known. Despite retiring in 2002, Brown’s work has continued to be recognized. Only two months ago, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) awarded Brown the 2018 Royal Gold Medal, acknowledging his lifetime of achievement in architecture. Advocating for a “social housing” model that emphasized communal living and fostering interaction between neighbors, Brown was vocally opposed to high-rise public estates. With the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and demolition of Robin Hood Gardens fresh in the public’s mind, Brown had been scheduled to host a debate on social housing in February later this year.
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SOM-designed library and public housing complex to break ground in Chicago

The SOM-designed Roosevelt Square library branch in Chicago has received its first construction permit, despite community opposition to the six stories of housing that will also be built on the site. A public-private collaboration between the Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Public Libraries and developer Related Midwest, the Roosevelt Square project is the third and final of these combined library-housing developments to be permitted. Following the West Ridge and Irving Park branches, Roosevelt Square will feature a 17,000-square-foot, single-story library topped by six stories of residential units. The tower section will contain 37 public housing units, 29 affordable units, and seven market rate apartments. Development at the site, at 1342 West Taylor Street in Little Italy, has faced pushback from community organizations that have taken issue with the project’s size and impact on neighborhood tax revenue. Most recently, the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association had sought to file a restraining order to head off the library’s construction, but those efforts seem to have fallen through. SOM and Related claim that they’ve taken community feedback into consideration and have reconfigured the building accordingly. The street-level library portion facing Taylor Street was redesigned to include cascading setbacks that would make the building appear shorter, while the residential section has been shunted to the back of the lot. A community garden has been planned for the lot behind the library, as well as a parking lot with 26 spots. While the library entrance will open with a triple-height atrium and feature an accessible green roof, the residential building has been separated programmatically to reduce noise. But the building has a homogenous visual language across both sections, clad mostly in glass and vertical wood paneling that descends from the concrete overhangs covering the length of the building. Perkins+Will's Ralph Johnson will be designing the West Ridge library, which will showcase exposed V-shaped columns and a corrugated metal cladding, while the Irving Park library will be designed by John Ronan and emphasize its extruded windows. The Roosevelt Square development will cost an estimated $36.1 million, and is expected to open the winter of 2018.
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Trump to reap millions from Brooklyn public housing development sale

Will the President of the United States make up to $14 million from the sale of the largest federally-subsidized public housing development in the country? This is an unfortunate question to pose in an era where affordable housing seems increasingly scarce. Starrett City, also known as Spring Creek Towers, is an extensive housing complex situated between the Brooklyn neighborhoods of East New York and Canarsie overlooking Jamaica Bay. This summer, it will be sold for an estimated $850 million, and President Donald J. Trump's family business collectively owns about 16% of the development, so they stand to profit a hefty sum. As The New York Times reported, Trump himself could reap up to $14 million from the sale. Now that Trump manages the federal agency involved in its sale – Ben Carson's Department of Housing and Urban Development – concerns about potential conflicts of interest have understandably bubbled up among both the public and Congress members. In early July, two congressional Democrats – Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York – requested extensive records from the Trump family regarding their organization's communications with the development's owners, banks, and federal officials after the 2017 election. The potential conflicts of interest raise larger concerns about the operation of HUD in general, with massive budget cuts perhaps leaving "the type of federal aid that flows to the owners of Starrett City mostly intact" while cutting off support for others, as the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Trump, Carson, and others on July 7. Starrett City is being bought by a partnership between a real estate firm, Brooksville Company, and a private equity firm, Rockpoint Group, with the official announcement released Wednesday. Both firms are restricted from rent gauging and potentially forcing out long-time residents by rent regulations effective for another twenty-two years, and both have expressed their intention to keep in line with the site's original purpose as affordable housing for low- to middle-income tenants. Donald Trump's father acquired up to a 20% stake in the development when its construction was handed over to a private real estate company in the early 1970s, and it has since functioned as a convenient tax shelter for the family. The sale is the end of a long and involved succession of failed deals, with the development's residents hoping for a fate different than those of comparable Manhattan complexes like Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village and Riverton Houses – i.e., bought up piecemeal and rented out at market value during the real estate boom of the early 2000s. What Trump's individual profit margins will look like is still a matter of speculation, however – and lawmakers retain a healthy skepticism while awaiting the more thorough background on the sale.
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Frank Lloyd Wright and NYC's first public housing development together in new exhibit

  This Friday, September 8, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University's Manhattanville campus will open a new exhibition, Living in America: Frank Lloyd Wright, Harlem, & Modern Housing. Developed by Columbia GSAPP's Temple Hoyne Buell Center, the Wallach Art Gallery, and the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, the exhibition is presented in tandem with MoMA's current show Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive. This exhibit, however, will center two parallel narratives: Wright's vision for Broadacre City, an exurban solution to questions around housing as an alternative to dense urban environments, and the simultaneous development of Harlem's first public housing for working-class African Americans. Presenting a range of drawings, archival photographs and other paraphernalia from the late 1920s to the late 1950s, the show aims to present conflicts around what inclusive housing can and should look like, and the particular problems this question posed in an era of trenchant segregation and economic inequality. Tracing Broadacre's inception in 1935 and its afterlife in much of Wright's later work alongside the 1936 groundbreaking of the Harlem River Houses under Roosevelt's New Deal, Living in America abuts not just questions about housing but its social consequences, from the structure of the nuclear family to debates about the privatization of public space. The show's title is drawn from an inscription on panels accompanying the physical Broadacre City model – now iconic and highly disputed among planners, architects and landscape architects alike. In addition to the exhibit, The Buell Center will host a symposium on September 28 and 29 as part of its longer-term research project, Power: Infrastructure in America, which has previously presented programs with the likes of Forensic Architecture's Eyal Weizman and author Kim Stanley Robinson.
Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery, Columbia University
Lenfest Center for the Arts
615 W. 129th Street
Opening reception:
September 8 from 6 – 8 p.m.
On view:
September 9, 2017 – December 17, 2017
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NYCHA’s new guidelines for rehabilitation of public housing push for sustainability and preservation

Who knew the launch of a document about putting new rooftops on old buildings, raising boilers above flood levels, and updating kitchens and bathrooms in municipal housing would be the East Coast elite’s hottest ticket in town? The release of New York City Public Housing Authority’s Design Guidelines for Rehabilitation of Residential Buildings had to turn away dozens of attendees to its January 12th panel packing three stories at the AIA’s Center for Architecture.

Part of the reason for the overflow crowd may be the sheer number of partners, collaborators, and offices involved. Led by the agency’s Office of Design, the Design Guidelines implicated its Capital Projects and Energy & Sustainability divisions, affordable housing developer Enterprise Community Partners (ECP), the AIA’s Design for Aging and Housing Committees, participants in NYCHA’s Design Excellence program, including Andrew Bernheimer, Domingo Gonzalez, and Claire Weisz, and dozens of maintenance staff members and residents.

Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow Jae Shin served as embedded coordinator of many of these conversations within the agency and co-edited the guidelines. “She really helped facilitate a lot of the internal discussions that we had with our various groups at NYCHA as well as external partners,” said Bruce Eisenberg, deputy director of NYCHA’s Office of Design, who spearheaded the project. “We really wanted to make it a very interactive process.”

Produced in collaboration with ECP and supported by a $100,000 grant from Deutsche Bank, the Design Guidelines belong to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s NextGeneration NYCHA, a 10-year agenda to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of America’s largest and most successful public housing agency.

“This will impact all of our capital projects,” Eisenberg said. “We have a five-year plan of scheduled projects, and so we really wanted to raise the bar of design in how we execute them. This is a roadmap to enable us to do that.” It has implications for a vast and practically unending scope of work. If fully funded, renovation of NYCHA projects, which comprise 2,500 acres in 328 complexes containing 125,000 units and serving more than 400,000 residents, would require $17 billion in current capital costs. Allocations over the next three years amount to $784.4 million from the city’s budget.

In some parts, the Design Guidelines formalize the standards employed in recent capital projects, such as the exterior lighting installed at Castle Hill and Butler Houses in the Bronx, which replaces the dim yellow light of old with nearly 1,000 bright and energy-efficient LED fixtures to improve public safety. In other outdoor areas, the guidelines aim to reduce metal fencing around grass and add amenities to create more active and healthy spaces. They take cues from the guidelines set forth by the Center For Active Design, while encouraging visual sight lines. In-progress projects like KPF and Olin’s landscapes for Red Hook Houses—funded as part of the post-Sandy $3 billion FEMA recovery grant—indicate a High Line–like attention to detail.

“We’re starting to be more aspirational in that area,” Eisenberg said. “We’re looking to make our open spaces more attractive and useful to our residents and the community at large.”

NYCHA’s push toward environmental sustainability nudges projects to install subsurface infiltration systems, sidewalk bioswales, and porous pavers rather than asphalt to limit stormwater overflow and heat sinks. Pilot projects in Bronx River Houses, Hope Gardens, and Seth Low Houses will slow stormwater, while the Edenwald Houses in the Bronx will contain the city’s largest green infrastructure installation. For other areas vulnerable to stormwater rise, the guidelines recommend concrete retaining walls to double as seating, like the floodwalls as wood-clad benches by Nelligan White Architects in Baruch Houses below the Williamsburg Bridge.

At Sotomayor Houses, NYCHA will begin installing the new standards for kitchens and bathrooms later this year, expanding cabinet space and adding accessible grab bars and sinks. That is, after the roofing is done: Mayor de Blasio has dedicated $100 million annually to roofs alone for the next two years, recently supplemented by another $1 billion over 10 years. Upgrading the troublesome low- or no-slope roofs of its modern-era buildings is NYCHA’s biggest capital projects burden.

The Design Guidelines’ release landed on the same day as nomination hearings for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, adding a collective spirit of defiance to talk of preserving the country’s largest public housing agency. The De Blasio administration vows to press on, regardless of the new administration’s priorities, which appear to involve gutting all federal agencies the President’s cronies cannot use for profiteering.

“We have a 10-year strategic plan NextGeneration NYCHA that’s not a kitchen sink plan; it’s very specific, and we’re moving forward,” said Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, director of NYCHA’s Office for Public/Private Partnerships and president of newly formed Fund for Public Housing nonprofit, which coordinated privatesector grants for the guidelines. “We don’t know what the policy priorities will be, but we know what New Yorkers’ priorities are, so we are moving forward with that plan, because it’s the best investment in public housing in New York City.”

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Feds to cut $35 million in funding for New York City public housing

New York City's perennially in-the-red public housing authority is set to lose millions in funding from the federal government.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is facing a $35 million funding cut, the largest in five years and the first cuts New York has received under the Trump administration. That figure breaks down to $7.7 million in housing voucher funding (Section 8) and $27.7 million in operating funds.

NYCHA units are home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers, so the funding decrease is sure to have a negative impact on some of the city's most vulnerable residents. Even though the agency ended last year with a $21 million surplus, it now confronts a $14 million—or greater—deficit.

Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent pledge of $1 billion to shore up faulty roofs, NYCHA faces an estimated $17.1 billion shortfall in capital repairs that consign residents to live with mold, lead paint, vermin, and, in low-lying complexes, Hurricane Sandy damage. The WSJ reported that up to $150 million in cuts to the agency are possible, and those cuts would reverse any recent improvements NYCHA has made.

"The direction we're moving in is one where public housing is drastically different or doesn't exist," NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye told the WSJ. "The progress we have made over the course of the last three years—it's not that it's at risk. It evaporates."

NYCHA is looking for money in all the places it can, but some fear that revenue-building initiatives like the city's plan to build infill housing and sell housing authority property could compromise the agency's mission.

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NYC connects low-income communities to the worldwide web with digital vans

In its latest effort to expand internet access within public housing communities, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has hopped on the Pokémon Go craze.

Nestled in the heart of the LaGuardia Houses on Madison Street next to a mushroom-tiled sculpture—which is, itself, a Poké Stop recognized in the game—NYCHA invited Pokémon trainers to catch some Pokémon and tour its digital van, which was unveiled toward the end of the summer. The van, NYCHA’s third, offers access to free wi-fi and computers for low-income residents, as well as instructions for those less familiar with technology.

On September 21, with Pokémon trainers assembled, NYCHA chair and CEO Shola Olatoye described the vans as “an effort to better connect our residents to the city and the resources it has to offer,” and recognized Pokémon Go as a “great way to drive foot traffic to the digital van.”

In addition to free wi-fi, NYCHA’s digital vans are equipped with eight laptops, two tablets, scanners, printers, staplers, pencils, rulers, and calculators—anything you would need in a standard workplace environment.

“Basically I’m a mobile office,” Kim Maxwell, the digital van instructor, said with a grin.

According to Maxwell, most people utilizing the van’s resources are young people doing research for school, or creating resumes to apply for jobs.

“In 2016 you have to have a digital resume,” Maxwell said. “The days of asking, ‘Are you hiring?’ or ‘Can I give you my resume?’ are over. And not only do you have to present your resume online, you also have to take an assessment. You need a computer to do that.”

And the vans aren’t just serving young people on the job hunt. The second largest segment of users, according to Maxwell, is the elderly in the communities, who seek him out for more than just computer help. With regard to his engagements with the elderly during his visits, Maxwell said he gets a lot of repeat customers.

“They’ll come at first because they want to use their phone better, and they end up chit-chatting,” Maxwell said. “I’ve become a familiar face in their residence—it’s very rewarding that way.”

The digital vans are funded through a city grant, with partners at the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications. Since the first van launched in 2014, they’ve won several awards for municipal innovation. Earlier this summer, the city won a competition by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to participate in ConnectHome, an initiative by President Barack Obama to expand broadband access and digital literacy programs for low-income communities.

Nydia Vasquez, a senior resident and member of the executive board at the nearby Smith Houses, said she saw the van for the first time as she was walking home. When asked about her initial thoughts, Vasquez immediately perceived the vans as “a great advantage.”

“It’s excellent for the older people who need to talk to their families far away, get their emails, or make their medical appointments,” Vasquez said. “I hope they get more money so they can do it in every housing development.”

Each of the three digital vans cost about $175,000, with a $200,000 yearly operating budget, and visits between 18 and 25 developments over the course of a two-week rotation—still only a fraction of the 334 developments citywide.

When asked about the possibility of more vans, the NYCHA chair suggested that continued collaboration could make it a reality, citing close collaboration with the city government.

“We’d very much like to see this replicated,” Olatoye said.

As for Vasquez, she plans to spread the word among residents in her building and to inquire about getting the vans over at the Smith Houses at her next meeting with NYCHA.

“My complex is big—we need one on the left and one on the right,” she said. “And I don’t know about this Poké-stuff, but I’m going to find out today!”

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A new book explores the fight—past, present, and future—to realize NYC's public and affordable housing

I can trace my interest in New York City’s public housing to a very specific moment back in 2005. New to the city, on a visit to the Queens Museum of Art, I marveled at the “Panorama of the City of New York,” the great model of the city built by Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair. While taking it all in—the Manhattan grid and Central Park, the bridges and piersand waterfront, the city’s terrific expanse—I wondered about the many clusters of red towers cropping up all over the five boroughs. “What are those?” I asked a friend. “The projects,” he answered. “What do you mean the projects?” I asked. “Public housing,” he said—“It’s where the poor live.” I blushed.

Affordable housing, its state, and most pressingly, the lack of it, has been a concern in New York City for more than a century. Most recently Mayor Bill de Blasio has made it a central focus of his administration, promising to create and preserve 200,000 affordable units over ten years. That’s a monumental goal. In 2015, as we learn in the introduction to Affordable Housing in New York, a wonderful new book edited by Nicholas Dagen Bloom and Matthew Gordon Lasner, 8 percent of the city’s rental apartments (some 178,000 units) were still in government-owned and -operated public housing developments, with hundreds of thousands more New Yorkers living in complexes like Co-op City, privately-owned, below-market buildings developed with governmental aid and subsidies.

Bloom and Lasner, and the exquisite group of contributors they assembled for this volume, look into the first hundred years of projects, programs, policies, communities, and individuals that brought to life this one-of-a-kind housing stock. They focus on what they call “below-market subsidized housing,” noting that “affordable housing,” a term that is in wide use today and one that they use in the book’s title, is “a comparative term that can be stretched to include many kinds of housing”—much of what today is called “affordable,” in fact, can hardly be afforded by working-class families, let alone the poor. Anyone who tries to understand how below-market subsidized housing works in New York City is faced with a mind-boggling tangle of terms and myriad city, state, and federal programs, laws, subsidies, stimuli, grants, tax credits, and abatements, not to mention rent regulations and alternative ownership models. This book offers a way to untangle and understand these terms and their histories.

The volume begins at the turn of the 20th century, when housing the urban poor was essentially a private, philanthropic endeavor. In 1926, in response to mounting pressure due to the abysmal nature and magnitude of the problem, Governor Alfred E. Smith opened the way for governmental involvement in housing with the Limited Dividend Housing Companies Act, the nation’s first law to offer tax exemptions to developers of affordable housing and, most important, to allow the use of eminent domain for site assembly. Organized in six chapters that trace a roughly chronological trajectory, the book offers critical overviews of different waves of housing development as well as a series of essays that analyze case studies of representative communities and short sketches of key figures and programs. Most interestingly, the book tackles this history with what the editors call a “humanistic, longitudinal, large-scale approach,” training “a humanistic lens on discussions usually dominated by designers, social scientists, and policy analysts.” By analyzing about three dozen housing projects of different eras in their social and historical context, the book sheds new light on this multifaceted history without falling into the trap of becoming an obscure laundry list of housing policies.

The housing supplied over this troubled century, as the country was being radically transformed by two world wars, several immigration waves, and the Great Depression all the way to the Great Recession, never seems to meet the demand. Displacement, racial segregation, and the stigma of poverty were (and remain) persistent problems. It is especially frustrating to realize how far behind we are lagging as a society when one considers that, to this day, we cannot meet a goal set 80 years ago by Langdon Post, a housing activist appointed by then-mayor Fiorello La Guardia to head the newly created New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), who claimed that the First Houses, a public housing complex built in 1936 in the Lower East Side, were “the first dwellings which are predicated upon the philosophy that sunshine, space, and air are minimum housing requirements to which every American is entitled.”

Many of the people that advocated and fought for public housing were larger-than-life personalities. Their battles, as well as their successes and failures, were big, and we live to this day with the legacy of their work. (The stories of New York City housing activists told in this book could well be optioned for a movie.) Women, in particular, were central for bringing about the much-needed changes in housing policy in New York City and beyond. In addition to an essay on the writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs, a revealing essay is dedicated to Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch (1867–1951), a housing activist who played a key role in “transforming the Progressive Era movement for settlement houses and tenement regulation into a local and national movement for tenement destruction and public housing construction.” Developing her ideas on housing management based on the work of another important woman, the 19th-century London social reformer Octavia Hill, Simkhovitch became “the force behind maternal systems of tenant management.” She also worked with the housing reformer Edith Elmer Wood and with Catherine Bauer Wurster, a leading public housing advocate and author of the influential 1934 book Modern Housing, with whom Simkhovitch drafted many of the provisions for the United States Housing Act of 1937. Closer to us, we read about Yolanda Garcia’s work as the leader of the Bronx coalition Nos Quedamos and about Rosanne Haggerty’s innovative approach to “supportive housing” with the organization Common Ground.

Bloom and Lasner argue that, despite many setbacks and shortcomings, New York City’s efforts are ultimately a success story: There are lessons to be learned from the complex process of building and preserving, physically and socially, publicly subsidized housing. If the book is a historical study of the city’s first century of below-market housing, its larger aim, the editors write, is that of “securing more resources for a second.”

One of the book’s happiest merits is that it tries to put a face to the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the projects—with a powerful photographic essay by David Schalliol. Affordable Housing in New York also lets us hear some of the voices of public housing residents. A revealing essay is dedicated to “Hip Hop and Subsidized Housing.” Hip-hop’s genesis can be traced to a 1973 party in General Sedgwick House, a Mitchell-Lama rental complex built in 1969 in the Bronx. In the words of Jay Z, who grew up at the Marcy Houses in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, “Housing projects are … these huge islands built mostly in the middle of nowhere, designed to warehouse lives. People are still people, though, so we turned the projects into real communities, poor or not.” Meanwhile, he continued, “even when we could shake off the full weight of those buildings and just try to live, the truth of our lives and struggle was still invisible to the larger country.”

Affordable Housing in New York is a worthy step toward lifting this veil of invisibility.

Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City Nicholas Dagen Bloom and Matthew Gordon Lasner Princeton University Press, $39.95