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Posts Tagged ‘affordable housing’

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Photo: Tim Crocker/RIBA/PA
The Goldsmith Street project in Norwich marks the first time the UK’s Stirling architecture prize has gone to affordable housing.

I’m looking at pictures of a handsome affordable-housing project in England and remembering that during my short stint at Rhode Island Housing, a similar building, restored to provide affordable housing for homeless veterans, also won a prize. I blogged about interviewing one happy resident here. Clearly, homes for low-income people need not be ugly.

Oliver Wainwright reports at the Guardian, “One hundred years since the 1919 Addison Act paved the way for the country’s programme of mass council housing, the prize for the best new building in the UK has been awarded to one of the first new council housing projects in a generation.

“Goldsmith Street in Norwich represents what has become a rare breed: streets of terraced homes built directly by the council, rented with secure tenancies at fixed social rents. And it’s an architectural marvel, too.

“ ‘A modest masterpiece’ is how the RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] Stirling prize judges described the project, designed by London firm Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, representing ‘high-quality architecture in its purest most environmentally and socially conscious form.’

“The 105 creamy-brick homes are designed to stringent Passivhaus environmental standards, meaning energy costs are around 70% cheaper than average. The walls are highly insulated and the roofs are cleverly angled at 15 degrees, to ensure each terrace doesn’t block sunlight from the homes behind, while letterboxes are built into external porches, rather than the front doors, to reduce any possibility of draughts.

“Immense thought has gone into every detail – from the perforated brick balconies to the cleverly interlocking staircases in the three-storey flats at the end of each terrace – to ensure that every home has its own front door on the street. The back gardens look on to a planted alley, dotted with communal tables and benches, while parking has been pushed to the edge of the site, freeing up the streets for people, not cars. …

The architects won the original competition because they were one of the few firms to propose streets, rather than slabs of apartment blocks.

“They took inspiration from the city’s Golden Triangle, a desirable neighbourhood of Victorian terraced houses, where the streets are laid out more tightly than modern overlooking regulations would allow. The architects used this precedent to argue that their new neighbourhood could be just as humanely scaled, while fitting in more homes.

“Marking the first time in the 23-year history of the Stirling prize that it has been awarded to social housing, the project beat stiff competition from the revamped London Bridge station, an opera house in a former stable block, the Macallan whisky distillery in Scotland, a visitor centre for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and a house made entirely of cork. …

“This year’s choice sends a clear message that, despite government cuts, it is eminently possible for brave councils to take the initiative and build proper social housing.”

Read more here.

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom
An impressive coalition of funders, including Rhode Island Housing, collaborated on this 2015 award-winning mill restoration to house homeless veterans.

030716-vets-for-tomorrow-providence

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Photo: Elizabeth Hafalia, The Chronicle
Facing a need for affordable housing and arts space, San Francisco’s Mission Economic Development Agency is joining with Dance Mission Theater and the Mission Neighborhood Centers to repurpose this neglected 1919 building.

Have you ever visited San Francisco’s Mission District? A poor, immigrant neighborhood, it is nevertheless a vibrant experiment in people-oriented housing and support for food entrepreneurs and the arts. The creative energy there is tangible.

Moreover, the neighborhood’s community-development folks never stop turning dreams into reality. J.K. Dineen has an update at the San Francisco Chronicle.

“A historic but long-neglected commercial building at Mission and 18th streets in San Francisco is poised to be rejuvenated with a mix of affordable housing, child care and dance.

“The dilapidated 1919 structure, a former furniture store that was remodeled with an Art Deco flair in the late 1930s, has been on and off the market for more than a decade. …

“Finally the Mission Economic Development Agency, a politically powerful group that often opposes market-rate housing, reached a deal to buy it by collaborating with Dance Mission Theater and the Mission Neighborhood Centers, which will open a child care facility there.

“ ‘We are all going in together to do a new model of cooperative living and dancing and taking care of our children,’ said Krissy Keefer, executive director of Dance Mission Theater. ‘It’s going to be very communal.’ …

“Brokers with the San Francisco office of the realty firm Marcus & Millichap … said market-rate developers were scared off by the Mission’s anti-gentrification political environment and that ‘MEDA was very good to work with.’ …

“The building will be the group’s first home ownership project — the others are rentals — and the first targeting middle-income families rather than low-income folks. Mission Neighborhood Centers is providing some of the project funding, along with two nonprofits: Low Income Investment Fund, a financial intermediary that provides capital for community developments, and the Neighbor to Neighbor fund.”

I’m sure everyone has read about the housing crunch in San Francisco, with tech employees pushing prices up. It’s good to hear of anything designed to ease the shortage. More here.

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Photo: Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times
Noreen McClendon, executive director of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, works to create affordable housing and job opportunities. A byproduct: crime reduction.

When people focus on getting “tough on crime,” crime can get worse. Emily Badger writes at the New York Times about research suggesting that people in communities where crime has gone way down since the 1990s “were working hard, with little credit, to address the problem themselves.

“Local nonprofit groups that responded to the violence by cleaning streets, building playgrounds, mentoring children and employing young men had a real effect on the crime rate. That’s what Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, argues in a new study and a forthcoming book. Mr. Sharkey doesn’t contend that community groups alone drove the national decline in crime, but rather that their impact is a major missing piece. …

“Between the early 1990s and 2015, the homicide rate in America fell by half. Rates of robbery, assault and theft tumbled in tandem. In New York, Washington and San Diego, murders dropped by more than 75 percent. Although violence has increased over the last two years in some cities, including Chicago and Baltimore, even those places remain safer than they were 25 years ago. …

“This long-term trend has fundamentally altered city life. It has transformed fear-inducing parks and subways into vibrant public spaces. It has lured wealthier whites back into cities. It has raised the life expectancies of black men. …

“The same communities were participating in another big shift that started in the 1990s: The number of nonprofits began to rise sharply across the country, particularly those addressing neighborhood and youth development. …

“Nonprofits were more likely to form in the communities with the gravest problems. But they also sprang up for reasons that had little to do with local crime trends, such as an expansion in philanthropic funding. …

“Comparing the growth of other kinds of nonprofits, the researchers believe they were able to identify the causal effect of these community groups. …

“The research also affirms some of the tenets of community policing: that neighborhoods are vital to policing themselves, and that they can address the complex roots of violence in ways that fall beyond traditional police work. …

“Many similar groups did not explicitly think of what they were doing as violence prevention. But in creating playgrounds, they enabled parents to better monitor their children. In connecting neighbors, they improved the capacity of residents to control their streets. In forming after-school programs, they offered alternatives to crime.

“In the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta, the crime rate in the mid 1990s was 18 times the national average. …

“ ‘We knew we wanted to see violence and crime go down in the community,’ said Carol Naughton, who led the foundation for years and today is the president of a national group, Purpose Built Communities, that is trying to teach East Lake’s model in other cities. ‘But we’ve never had a crime-prevention program.’

“Today violent crime in East Lake is down 90 percent from 1995.”

One and one and 50 make a million. As solutions to the world’s problems fail to come top-down, ordinary folks are leading the way. More here.

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Photo: Amelia Templeton/Oregon Public Broadcasting
The Granny Pods of Portland, Oregon, aren’t just for grannies. This woman and her family live in one — technically an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) — in their landlord’s backyard. Last year, Portland issued building permits for roughly one ADU a day, easing a housing crunch.

When I was a child, I used to hear a lot about zoning from my politically oriented mother — large lots were good, allowing  residential uses in commercial or industrial areas was bad. Times change. Some industrial areas are clean; mixed-use development improves community vitality; higher density in cities is good for keeping rents affordable.

Amelia Templeton reports for National Public Radio about recent initiatives in Oregon.

Earlier this year, Michelle Labra got a notice that the rent on her family’s two-bedroom apartment was doubling, from around $620 a month to more than $1,300. She worried she was being priced out of Portland and would have to move to the suburbs.

“But Labra, her husband and their two children didn’t get pushed out of Cully, their North Portland neighborhood. They were able to stay by moving into a little house, 800 square feet, built in a neighbor’s backyard. It’s a type of housing city planners refer to as an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, often called a granny flat or granny pod. …

“With a lot of cities looking for solutions to rising housing prices, the idea of making it easier for homeowners to add small second units in their backyards and garages is gaining traction. Portland has among the fastest rising rents in the country, and it has embraced the ADU as a low cost way to create more housing in desirable neighborhoods. …

“Talking about the sudden rent increase [at her old home] brings Labra to tears. She was close to the other families in the apartment complex, and so were her children …

“The [apartment complex] was on the main street in Cully, a neighborhood on the northern edge of Portland with mobile home parks, ranch houses and small apartments built in the 1960s and 1970s.

“It’s also, according 2010 census data, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Oregon. Close to half of the people who live there are people of color.

“The residents of the Normandy started working with a community group called Living Cully and staged a protest against the rent increase. Hundreds of people marched in the streets back in February. …

“In an effort to arrest the gentrification of the neighborhood, Living Cully helped about half the families relocate to new homes in Cully. …

“Eli Spevak, a developer with the company Orange Splot, which builds smaller homes including ADUs … [says] Portland’s zoning code is contributing to its housing problems.

“On much of the city’s land, the code limits how many units you can build on a lot, so developers build the biggest house possible, to turn the most profit. There is an exception for ADUs as long as they meet certain criteria. …

” ‘The good thing about it from my perspective is they allow a neighborhood to have people with a wide range of incomes living with each other.’ ”

More here.

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Love this story by Leigh Vincola at EcoRI News.

“The Harvest Kitchen Project is one of the many arms of Farm Fresh Rhode Island that keeps local food circulating in our communities. The program takes area youth, ages 16-19, who are involved with juvenile corrections, and puts them to work making sauces, pickles and other preserves.

“The teenagers participate in a 20-week job-readiness program that prepares them for employment in the food industry. The program touches not only on kitchen skills but the on the many aspects of work in the culinary industry, from sales and customer service to local farm sourcing to teamwork and cooperation. …

“For the past several years, Harvest Kitchen has operated out of a commercial kitchen space in Pawtucket.”

But when Pawtucket Central Falls Development (PCF) “approached Farm Fresh with its rehabilitation plan for 2 Bayley St., a downtown [Pawtucket] multi-use building that would include affordable housing, retail space and job-training opportunities, the match seemed perfect.” More  at EcoRI, here.

I’ve been buying Harvest Kitchen’s applesauce at the Burnside Farmers Market, and I’m being completely honest when I say it’s the best applesauce I’ve had in years. That’s partly because I love chunks in my applesauce, but also because it’s sweet with no sugar added. If you return the empty jar, you get 25 cents back on the next jar.

Harvest Kitchen offers cranberry and strawberry applesauce, too. Other products include dried apple slices, peach slices in season, whole tomatoes, pickles with veggies, dilly beans and onion relish.

In addition to PCF, organizations that have helped to make this happen include Rhode Island Housing, RI Department of Children Youth and Families (Division of Juvenile Correction), Amgen Foundation, Fresh Sound Foundation, The Rhode Island Foundation and TriMix Foundation.

Find sales locations here.

Photo: FarmFreshRI

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Here’s a creative way to address the urgent need for housing in this country: make a deal with Canada to take the houses it doesn’t want anymore.

Kirk Johnson has the story at the NY Times.

“In the San Juan Islands of northwest Washington State, where a severe shortage of affordable housing threatens the economy and the community, a small nonprofit group has found an unlikely way to help anchor families that are struggling to stay — by lifting up unloved houses in Canada, hoisting them onto barges and hauling them to where they are needed. …

“The structures had what builders call good bones, and the group, the San Juan Community HomeTrust, discovered that the cost of transporting them across the Haro Strait from Canada and restoring them here was comparable to the cost of building from scratch. …

“The number of people living in poverty in the county has risen about 17 percent since the end of the recession in 2009, according to census figures, even as the economic recovery in Washington and around the nation gained steam.

“ ‘It’s kind life or death to keep our working families here,’ said Peter Kilpatrick, the project manager in refitting the houses to be imported by the San Juan Community HomeTrust. When the rewiring, painting and structural repairs are finished in June, buyers who have already met income and residency requirements can take possession.

“Through a combination of donated land, government and foundation grants and local fund-raising, the homes will cost the buyers — a hospital worker, several teachers and a massage therapist among them — from $160,000 to $210,000. The median market price here was almost $500,000 at the end of last year.” More here.

Nothing like a little recycling ingenuity applied to a problem! In fact, I was just commenting to a blogger who’s teaching in El Salvador that the locals’ skill at repairing and reusing items is a great foundation for creative problem solving in general. (Please read Milford Street’s report from El Salvador, here.)

Photo: Nancy DeVaux
Houses from Canada were transported by barge to the San Juan Islands in Washington State, where affordable housing is badly needed.

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In Helsinki, Finland, where young people traditionally leave home at 18 but can no longer afford urban rents, Millennials are applying by the hundreds to live with the elderly.

According to Kae Lani Kennedy at Matador Network, “Retirement homes are serving as more than a community for the elderly. These facilities are providing affordable housing for the city’s growing population of homeless millennials.

“ ‘It’s almost like a dorm, but the people aren’t young. They’re old,’ explains Emil Bostrom, a participant in ‘A Home That Fits,’ a new housing project that allows millennials to move into retirement communities. Bostrom is a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher, and though he has a steady income, it is not enough to compete with 90,000 other renters in a city that has roughly 60,000 affordable rental properties. …

“Bostrom, along with many other young adults, can enjoy discounted rent in exchange for socializing with the seniors in their community. …

“By interacting with a younger generation, the elderly involved with ‘A Home That Fits’ have the opportunity to be engaged in an active and diverse community, instead of being left behind in a forgotten generation.” More here.

And check out a post I wrote about the same phenomenon in Cleveland, here. Both initiatives sound like fun to me.

Video: Seeker Stories

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Here’s an idea that could give a welcome boost to underprivileged children: a free connection to the Internet at their home.

It seems that Google, in the spirit of its discontinued motto “Don’t be evil,” is piloting a new public service.

Matt Hamblen at Computerworld reports, “Google Fiber [recently] announced free gigabit Internet service to residents of selected public housing projects connected to its fiber optic service in U.S. cities.

“The program was launched at West Bluff, an affordable housing community in Kansas City, Mo., where 100 homes have been connected to Google Fiber. Across the Kansas City area, Google is now working with affordable housing providers to connect as many as nine properties that could reach more than 1,300 local families.

“Google described the program as an extension of its work with ConnectHome, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Obama administration. …

“In addition to free Internet, eligible residents will work with ConnectHome partners like Connecting for Good and Surplus Exchange to be able to purchase discounted computers and learn new computer skills, Google said.” More here.

Depending on what the housing developments are like to live in and whether they provide supports like the Family Self-Sufficiency program to move people to independence, this could be a useful piece of the difficult poverty-reduction puzzle. So, good on Google!

Photo: ConnectHome 
A resident of West Bluff in Kansas City and her son are among the first of 1,300 families in area affordable housing units to receive Google Fiber gigabit Internet service at no cost.

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This is not a story about creating housing for the homeless, although it could be. It’s about cutting some of the expense of construction by recycling maritime shipping containers. A company doing just that was featured in April in a NY Times interview that Vivian Marino conducted with Paul M. Galvin.

“Mr. Galvin, 52, is the chairman, chief executive and a founder of SG Blocks, a publicly traded company that repurposes maritime-grade steel cargo shipping containers into green building blocks for use in commercial, industrial and residential building construction. The containers are provided by ConGlobal Industries, a partner.”

Galvin says, “I had gotten into real estate development through a charity that I co-founded and was involved in running, and we were developing housing programs for individuals and families with AIDS. So we had to figure out a way to give them continuum care — we had to get good at real estate. And we started to develop affordable housing.

“If you’ve ever done any development in New York, you know that the construction process is not always as predictable as you would like, and so I saw this as a way to create a sustainable alternative in the marketplace and eliminate some of the risk of site-base construction. …

“We’re doing a restaurant today — Do you know Bareburger? — in Oyster Bay Cove. It’s an 11-container restaurant, so around 2,300 square feet. We just did the first seven containers between 8 o’clock and 12 o’clock today. And then tomorrow morning the last four will come. And the building will be closed in a day and a half. …

“We meet or exceed all of the structural codes.  … We’ve really approached this as an engineered building system. Every building system has some constrictions. Every product and every site works for containers. I would say that within reason we’ve been able to date to create the structure and the space plan that the structure affords.”

More here.

Photo: SG Blocks

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Time for a new post on street art. Have you been following the Banksy-in-New-York saga? He was living in the city for a while last year, creating a new piece of street art every day. People ran around to find it, some New Yorkers even trying to charge admission. An HBO movie was made about it.

Banksy is always interesting, but today I want to tell you what street artist Stik has been up to.

The Londonist website says, “Street artist Stik has just finished creating the tallest piece of street art in the world — a 38.2 metre high mural on a condemned council tower block in Acton [a district in the west of London].

” ‘Big Mother’ depicts a mother and child looking forlornly from their council block at the luxury apartment complexes being built around them. The mural is visible from not only the Piccadilly Line, but also on some London flight paths.

“Stik, who was once homeless, said: ‘Affordable housing in Britain is under threat; this piece is to remind the world that all people need homes.’ ”

And I guess in this season a homeless mother and child is especially resonant.

Thank you to @ecpulford for retweeting the story from Bernadetta Keefe (@nxtstop1).

Stik’s website is here. His minimalist, wistful beings remind me a bit of Finnish artist Tove Jansson’s children’s books about the Moomin family.

First picture below, cover of paperback Finn Family Moomintroll

Second picture: Joyce/Division
The 38.2 metre mural has been painted on a tower block which is due for demolition in 2016. Image © Stik

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Photo: Shareable
The tiny village in Austin will include tiny houses, mobile homes, teepees, and refurbished RVs,

Housing the homeless is not something that we as a country have done very successfully yet. Some solutions work for some families, but many solutions don’t.

Some communities have tried supportive housing, which provides extra services that some homeless families need. Others build wonderful programs to get people on the road to independence. But I have also read about weird little pods just big enough for one person to sleep in. (That was in a design article. You never hear afterward how these designs work out for actual humans.)

Austin, Texas, has recognized that failing to house the chronically homeless costs the city too much. So it is inaugurating a village of tiny houses that will have a lot of community-building elements and could be just the ticket. My friend Mary Ann put this on Facebook.

Kelly McCartney writes at Shareable, “In Austin, Texas, a project to offer affordable housing to some 200 chronically homeless citizens is on the move. Community First! Village, which has been in the planning stages for nearly 10 years, is set to soon break ground on a 27-acre property sprinkled with tiny houses, mobile homes, teepees, refurbished RVs, a three-acre community garden, a chapel, a medical facility, a workshop, a bed and breakfast, and an Alamo Drafthouse outdoor movie theater.

“Supporter Alan Graham, of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, notes that the price of not housing these folks costs taxpayers about $10 million a year, not to mention the emotional and psychological tolls on the homeless themselves. …

“Graham has been working with the homeless in his community for more than 14 years and cites broken families as the leading cause of homelessness. With Mobile Loaves and Fishes, Graham has not only helped feed the homeless all these years, but he has helped transition them into homes and jobs, as well.” More.

3/2/14 Update: At the Associated Press, Carrie Antlfinger describes how the movement has spread, here.

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