Posts Tagged ‘housing’

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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Artists seem to think differently from people who aren’t artists, which is why Renée Loth likes the idea of embedding a few in government.

“Imagine a dancer working with police officers to better interpret a suspect’s gait,” she writes. “Or a musician teaching a city parking clerk how to listen deeply. Or an abstract painter rearranging a tangle of contradictory street signs. That’s the idea behind Boston’s new artist-in-residence program, which will embed local artists inside city departments to promote creative thinking about municipal government. …

“ ‘Artists are all about asking questions,’ says Julie Burros, Boston’s cabinet-level chief of arts and culture. ‘They bring a unique set of tools to solving problems.’

“A jury of seven arts professionals and partners from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design [met in February] to winnow a field of 10 finalists to three artists, who will each receive a $20,000 stipend for a six-month residency. …

“Boston is in the throes of a comprehensive planning process that is working to inject fresh ideas into city transportation, housing, and zoning policies. Burros is directing the city’s two-year cultural plan, Boston Creates, and is a prime force behind the artist-in-residence program.

“But Boston is hardly in the vanguard of this approach. The concept dates back to at least 1976, when activist Mierle Ukeles accepted a nonsalaried position as the first artist in residence of the New York City sanitation department.

“Over the decades, Ukeles created artworks that engage questions of nature, class, and culture; her ‘Flow City,’ a video installation at a Hudson River transfer station, confronts visitors with their own role in the massive waste management task of city government. Environmental education is a dull, dutiful business — until it’s in the hands of a performance artist. …

“In 16th century Europe, wealthy rulers of church and state often commissioned artists to live and work in their courts — you might say that Michelangelo was embedded in the Vatican. Today’s artists in residence may not paint the ceiling of City Hall, but they will surely contribute to Boston’s renaissance.”

More at the Boston Globe.

Art: Pep Montserrat for The Boston Globe

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The latest thing in tiny houses is taking a vacation in one. The Boston Globe suggests that if you have been intrigued about downsizing (way, way down sizing) to a tiny house, you could test one out. Or maybe you just want to simplify your life for a week.

Jessica Geller writes, “Getaway, a new startup out of Harvard, is taking the off-the-grid retreat and miniaturizing it. …

“For $119 a night, a group of four can book a cabin complete with hotel basics, such as towels and sheets. The tiny house is stocked with snacks, bicycles, firewood, and playing cards, all available for purchase via Venmo, a mobile payment system.

“Getaway … is one of the first projects out of the Millennial Housing Lab — a collaboration among the business, law, and design schools [at Harvard] — with the goal of developing fresh housing ideas for a new generation. …

“But are they too cramped for comfort? Jon Staff, a cofounder of the Millennial Housing Lab, says no. They’re full of conveniences. And they might just teach visitors a thing or two about scaling back. …

“In addition to Getaway, the Millennial Housing Lab plans to build tiny houses for the homeless and create kits for anyone to be able to build a house in 30 days.

“At 160 square feet, the 8×20-foot Getaway cabin is larger than the average minivan, 90 square feet, and a little smaller than a school bus, 245 square feet.”

Check out a few of my past posts on tiny houses: here, here, here, and here. And be watching for a series of photographs I’m taking of a tiny house going up gradually over the summer at the Umbrella Arts Center.

Photo: Kataram Studios

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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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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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I was thinking about houses this past weekend.

First, there is this house on the grounds of a private school near where I live. I snapped it on my walk.

Concord Academy Treehouse

Second, there is this house on a Hudson River Estate falling down around the ears of the latest, impecunious generation.

Photo of Rokeby, a 43-room house on the Hudson River, by Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times. New York Times story here.

Third, there is a tiny house that a Hampshire College student is living in as a senior project.

James Sullivan writes, “As a child, Hampshire College senior Nara Williams hated being told to pick up after herself. This semester, she’s learning to keep things tidy — very tidy.

“For her senior project, she is living in a 130-square-foot house to explore the realities and benefits of living small.

“A few weeks ago, Williams took delivery on a model home used as a showcase for the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., a leader in the burgeoning ‘small house’ movement. …

“The housing project, Williams said, is her inquiry into ‘viable alternatives’ to the American dream. Blogging about the experience, she is raising questions about property ownership, material goods, consumption, sustainable living, and other issues in an era marked by housing and environmental concerns.”

Read about Rokeby, the Hudson River estate passed down through too many generations, and read about the tiny house, and pray that no one bequeaths you anything like the former. A tree house or a tiny house are what you want if you prefer to own property and not have property own you.

Update: Omigosh, a scathing memoir is just out on what it was like to grow up at Rokeby — reviewed in the Globe, here

Photo: Darren Durlach/Globe Staff
Boston Globe story here.

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Here is Middle America at 7 a.m. waking up in Boston’s financial district after a cold, rainy night in a tent — and wondering why its college degrees have not led to jobs. It’s not Hooverville. But I think it represents something real.

There is actually a wide array of causes represented. No obvious central theme has emerged. End the War, Tax the Rich, Socialism … .

Every day I get tweets from the Equal Exchange coffee trike. With the Occupiers of Boston, the curiosity seekers, the media, and the police, there has been a steady demand for coffee. Today’s message was  “EEFreeRange EE Free Range Cafe: So busy I can’t get a tweet in edgewise! Trikes are at Charles/MGH and Dewey Sq. Come see us!”

At the Washington Post, Ezra Klein is trying to figure out what it all means. He decided it probably does mean something after he started reading a Tumblr blog called We Are The 99 Percent. He describes the blog as all “grainy pictures of people holding handwritten signs telling their stories, one after the other.

‘I am 20K in debt and am paying out of pocket for my current tuition while I start paying back loans with two part time jobs.’

“These are not rants against the system,” Klein continues. “They’re not anarchist manifestos. They’re not calls for a revolution. They’re small stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it.” Read more.

In the afternoon I went over and read a few signs. Would love your comments on this one: “I couldn’t afford my own politician, so I made this sign.”

It’s 11/6/11, and I just learned about another great source of Occupy signs, at Mother Nature Network. Check out “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one” here.

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How can you not love groups that use the arts to facilitate community development goals?

In a recent NY Times article I see that a collaboration to revive a 1937 musical revue is designed to benefit the community. The show is a classic, and it’s called Pins & Needles.

“Running at the Irondale Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, from Wednesday through July 9, the show, comprising sketches and songs, is a joint endeavor of the Obie-winning Foundry Theater and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (Furee), which since 2001 has worked to increase access to housing, jobs and services for low-income families.”  Read the Times article here.

I went to Wikipedia to refresh my memory about Pins & Needles, which I have heard only on an old vinyl recording, and found this.

“The International Ladies Garment Workers Union used the Princess Theatre in New York City as a meeting hall. The union sponsored an inexpensive revue with LGWU workers as the cast and two pianos. Because of their factory jobs, participants could rehearse only at night and on weekends, and initial performances were presented only on Friday and Saturday nights. The original cast was made up of cutters, basters, and sewing machine operators.”

I have to say, I love Wikipedia — you never know what new paths it will lead you down. I had forgotten (if I ever knew) that one of the Pins & Needles creators was Arnold Horwitt, a playwright neighbor who helped me out years ago. He showed me how to write a musical on Fire Island. It was for the annual teenage show. His daughter is a tech writer in the Greater Boston area now, someone who also writes fiction.

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