“How High Design Can Help the Homeless
Sometimes when Theresa Hwang is visiting a project site, maybe the 102-unit Michael Maltzan apartments rising from the corner of East 6th Street and Maple Avenue on the edge of downtown Los Angeles, pedestrians will stop and gawk and inquire about what’s coming.
“What are you building?” they invariably want to know.
“Can we move in?”
“Well,” Hwang then responds, “are you formerly homeless?”
And this always throws people for a loop. Hwang’s organization, the Skid Row Housing Trust, has been renovating and providing permanent supportive housing for the city’s homeless for more than 20 years. But more recently, dating back to a first collaboration with Maltzan about eight years ago, the Trust has been building its own developments that remarkably mimic market-rate condos. Really striking market-rate condos.
The strategy is built on the idea that high design matters for the homeless, too, because it changes the dynamic between these buildings and their residents – and between both of them and the communities in which they’re located. Nothing can deflate the NIMBYism that inevitably accompanies social housing quite like a building that looks like this:
“Especially as we get closer to downtown, people are always like, ‘I don’t want you to build a complex that’s going to have all these homeless people in it, I don’t want to live next door to homeless people,’” says Hwang, who is the Enterprise Rose Architecture Fellow with the Trust. “Architecture really helps sometimes by showing it’s not a ‘homeless project,’ it’s not a shelter. It’s an apartment building.”
The Trust’s residents, all single men and women, live in these buildings permanently, for years at a time. They have rental agreements. They pay 30 percent of their income (although that income is typically one percent or less of the median in the area), and subsidies cover the rest. The whole arrangement – the construction of these buildings and the support that makes it possible for people to live in them – is funded by tax credits, state, city, county and federal money, rental subsidies and private financing. “You name it,” Hwang says, “and we use it.”
About 100 formerly homeless people live in the above Maltzan design, the Carver Apartments, which were completed in 2010. The building has a kind of protective sawtooth exterior, but a vast sunlit interior courtyard that provides safe open space.”
Via: The Atlantic Cities
Photo: Skid Row Housing Trust