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Danilo Ramos / Flickr
In their fight against the displacement of local communities, activists are appropriating central São Paulo’s abandoned spaces

Abandoned and obsolete structures have become the newest field of exercise for architectural imagination around the world, converted into bright, mirrorsurfaced corporate towers, world-class hotels, shopping malls, museums or convention centres – real-estate products identified and priced in the global financial market. Without flag or face, global finance is the new colonial empire seizing cities. Deterritorialised and abstract, fictitious and speculative by nature, it occupies cities and materialises into landscapes for rent. Thanks to innovative financial instruments and the digital revolution, architecture – the most tectonic of all the arts – is dematerialised and made to circulate, through technologies and information flows, as pure value — or rather, as the future expectation of value, enabling rapid capital inflows and outflows, without heavy or complex transaction costs. Yet these same spaces are contested by those who are struggling to survive while also aspiring to prosperity. When neglected by urban planning and architectural imaginaries, abandoned sites are appropriated by those with limited resources, generating landscapes for life.

‘The hegemonic paradigm of individual property has been one of the most powerful motivations and justifications for denying other forms of territorial ties the right to exist’

Central São Paulo witnesses these disputes on a daily basis. The creation and consolidation of new urban and real-estate expansion fronts since the late 1960s, as well as widespread use of the car as the preferred means of transport for the middle and upper classes, has encouraged residential areas, services, commerce and cultural facilities to migrate to the south-western region of the city. This resulted in an exodus of the upper and middle classes out of the city centre, and the consequent abandonment of a considerable stock of both commercial and residential buildings. On the other hand, there have been social movements fighting for housing rights ever since the 1970s; although largely based in self-built settlements in the peripheries and favelas, they have also included dwellers of buildings converted into tenements, who partly laid claim to the stock of vacant buildings in the centre for social housing. This combination of factors, coupled with the decades-long insufficiency and inefficiency of housing policies in tackling the huge demand for, and precarity of, social housing in the city, produced the perfect urban and policy environment for the emergence of occupations in empty properties. These squats, usually led by organised housing and homeless movements that had been forming in the city centre for some time, came into being from the second half of the 1990s onwards.

The permanence of an occupation in space and time opens the possibility for the creation and construction of broader dynamics, such as alliances and networks with other movements, collectives, and social and political actors, that seek to claim public resources and focus on public-housing policies, creating other ways of building the city. That is how some of these occupations were able to gather enough public funding for their buildings to be renovated. Formerly a hotel, then a squat, São Paulo’s Hotel Cambridge building now comprises 121 residential units created by the Companhia Municipal de Habitação de São Paulo (COHAB) and the Peabiru Technical Advisory who were hired by the squatters. Even when they don’t reach that stage, the existence of these occupations, focused on fighting for space in the city, transforms how space is created and appropriated. This manifestation of the relationship between a social movement, professionals and activists is one of the ongoing insurgent, counter-hegemonic movements in central São Paulo, a hotly disputed territory.

The occupation of the former Hotel Santos Dumont, named Mauá, is the oldest of its kind in central São Paulo. The hotel, opened in 1953, is located near the city’s old and busy bus station, and in front of Luz train station — an imposing structure built with iron imported from the UK, one of the many manifestations of the coffee economy boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The station’s closure during the 1980s contributed to the hotel’s deterioration an
KTGY Architecture + Planning
With a rapidly aging population, an inward flux of new urban residents, and developmental pressures forcing displacement and homelessness on growing numbers of people, housing design finds itself at a critical nexus in the United States.

And while many architecture firms are surely working on innovative housing projects, few have dedicated teams focused on pursuing housing innovation from an integrated, transformational perspective. KTGY Architecture + Planning is one such firm, however. The R+D Studio at KTGY exists to "explore new and emerging ideas related to building design and technology," with an eye toward integrating new housing developments into their surroundings, re-thinking existing design paradigms, and prototyping cost- and time-saving construction approaches all the while expanding the realm of housing design to include co-living arrangements, contemporary senior housing models, and supportive housing.

We talked with Marissa Kasdan, director of KTGY's R+D Studio, to discuss how well-designed housing can serve more people, the changing nature of domestic spaces, and to highlight innovations coming out of her team's work.

What is the focus of KTGY’s R+D Studio? And of your position?

KTGY’s R+D Studio was created as a dedicated effort focused on furthering KTGY’s vision, “to move the discourse of architecture forward by continuously searching for better.” With that goal in mind, the R+D Studio explores new and emerging ideas related to building design, shifts in residential demographics, and trends in the way people live. My role, as director of the R+D Studio, is to maintain the focus of the studio in a way that also supports the design efforts of the various studios within KTGY. I coordinate with studio leaders from KTGY offices across the country and look for opportunities to develop design concepts that support the building types and market segments we serve.

The R+D Studio seems to pursue an integrated approach that considers design, urban-scale considerations, and constructability issues simultaneously. Can you share an example of a project (or an approach/idea) that has most benefited from this arrangement?

The Skytowns concept considers how townhome unit plans in a high-rise configuration could maximize building efficiency while minimizing elevator stops and shared circulation space, all while providing multi-level unit layouts in an urban setting. On every other level, the townhome units recapture the corridor area as unit area, increasing the overall building efficiency to nearly 90%. The inherent nature of the multi-story units creates a unique opportunity for vertical variation along the high-rise façade.

One of your research focuses revolves around expanding the definition of co-living. How is the research coming out of the R+D Studio informing the design of unit plans for this type of housing?

Initially, we developed a co-housing concept to address urban affordability for young professionals trying to manage their rents, leading to the development of an 11-bedroom, 11-bathroom prototype unit. Since then, we have discussed with many of our clients and other interested individuals the opportunity to apply the benefits of shared living in new ways to help address a variety of issues and serve a wide range of demographics.
The first images of Kanye West's prototype housing for the homeless have been revealed, as the musician faces an order to tear down the structures following complaints over construction noise.

One photo, captured by tabloid news site TMZ, shows a series of incomplete structures at West's sprawling home in Calabasas Hills, California. Another set of aerial shots, published by Metro, captures structures of different sizes and shapes being built.

Comprising domes covered in a wooden lattice, the constructions are believed to be prototypes of the prefabricated, affordable Yeezy Home units, which mark West's first foray into architecture. TMZ added that a source close to West told the publication that the structures are temporary.

West ordered to take prototypes down

TMZ captured the housing as West has encountered some road blocks in the construction of the mock-ups on the site of the property he shares with reality star Kim Kardashian.

Attention was brought to the site when several of his neighbours complained to the Los Angeles County Department of Works about construction taking place late at night.

West has also claimed that the structures were temporary, however, inspectors reportedly found them built atop concrete foundations, which suggested otherwise.

This week, the musician was asked to apply for a building permit to allow him to legally construct the prototypes, or take down the domes, within 45 days.

Yeezy Homes take cues from Star Wars

The hip-hop artist and producer revealed that the units are intended as low-income housing or accommodation for homeless people in a cover interview with Forbes.

The domed structure takes cues from the houses on the fictional desert planet of Tatooine, the home of Luke and Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars series.

The homes are also expected to be partially sunken, like the residences on the movie set, with a lightwell carved into the top to provide plenty of illumination. In the new photos, each of the structures features a large opening in the top.

Musician wants to use architecture to "make the world better"

The musician has been vocal about his passion for architecture for many years, telling students on a visit to Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2013 that "the world can be saved through design".

In 2018, he announced his plans to add the architecture arm, Yeezy Home, to his Yeezy label via Twitter in a bid to "make the world better".

Shortly afterwards, fashion designer Jalil Peraza revealed renders of prefabricated concrete affordable-housing for Yeezy Home on Instagram but the posts have since been deleted.

While some may be skeptical of Kanye's expertise in the architecture field, "hip-hop architect" Michael Ford spoke to Dezeen about the importance of black musicians like West and Pharrell Williams, who heavily promote their involvement in architecture, in improving diversity in the profession.
Maria Saxton studied the habits of 80 recent tiny home buyers

Tiny house proponents have long lauded the compact dwellings as an environmental savior. The smaller the home, the smaller the footprint, right? That argument has helped boost the popularity of tiny homes, but until now, there wasn’t much in the way of actual research on the topic.

Maria Saxton, a PhD Candidate in environmental planning and design at Virginia Tech, spent a year studying the environmental impact of people who moved into tiny homes, and she found that most tiny home dwellers reduced their energy consumption by 45 percent upon downsizing.

How did she get to this number? Saxton lays out her methodology in The Conversation:

To do this, I calculated their spatial footprints in terms of global hectares, considering housing, transportation, food, goods, and services. For reference, one global hectare is equivalent to about 2.5 acres, or about the size of a single soccer field.

I found that among 80 tiny home downsizers located across the United States, the average ecological footprint was 3.87 global hectares, or about 9.5 acres. This means that it would require 9.5 acres to support that person’s lifestyle for one year. Before moving into tiny homes, these respondents’ average footprint was 7.01 global hectares (17.3 acres). For comparison, the average American’s footprint is 8.4 global hectares, or 20.8 acres.

After surveying 80 downsizers, she learned that a change in square footage often leads to a change in lifestyle habits. People living in tiny homes were more likely to grow their own food, buy less stuff, recycle more, and generate less trash. On the flip side, some tiny dwellers traveled more often and ate more meals out due to the constraints of the tiny home lifestyle.

Saxton hopes that the information will be useful to cities considering how to zone for tiny homes. It’s also a wealth of information for tiny home designers, who can start to think about how to build a kitchen that inspires downsizers to cook their own meals.
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
It’s not easy to raise a family in a big U.S. city—but it’s not any easier anywhere else in this country

In January, a young mother wheeled her stroller into a New York City subway station that—like most New York City subway stations—had no elevator. As many city parents have done out of desperation at one time or another, she picked up the stroller and carried her baby down the dozens of stairs to the platform. The 22-year-old mother, who had a history of heart problems, fell to her death. Her 1-year-old survived.

This tragic event epitomizes how American cities are openly hostile to families, and it was the only thing I could think of when I read a story in The Atlantic this week that opens with a New York City mom trying to get her two kids and a stroller up a staircase.

“The mom would fold the stroller to the size of a boogie board, then drag it behind her with her right hand, while cradling the younger and typically crying child in the crook of her left arm,” writes Derek Thompson in “The Future of the City is Childless.” “It looked like hell—or, as I once suggested to a roommate, a carefully staged public service announcement against family formation.”

Thompson’s essay addresses what’s become an obsession for urbanist writers, including the writers at his own publication: For all the people, attention, and money currently pouring into U.S. cities, it turns out that few of those resources are being devoted to raising the next generation of city-dwellers.

The narrative presented by Thompson is that young adults who move to big cities end up facing unsurmountable debt and housing costs, wait longer to have kids, then voluntarily leave once they decide to procreate.

San Francisco, which is cited in the story, is the most notorious example. In 2017, only 13 percent of the population was under 18, the lowest percentage of any major U.S. city. There are officially more dogs than children in San Francisco.

That statistic seems shocking until you consider a few other city stats, like the fact that one out of every 100 people in San Francisco doesn’t have a home.

Across the country, many Americans are spending too much on housing to contemplate the added expense of having kids: Over 11 million Americans—the populations of New York City and Chicago combined—spend more than half of their paycheck on housing costs. San Francisco might get all the headlines, but this is not a city-specific problem. There’s not a single county in the U.S., urban or rural, where a person making minimum wage can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment and have enough money left over to purchase basic necessities for living—let alone the necessities for two or three additional people.

In Los Angeles, where I live, rising rents and a shortage of affordable units mean that the number of families who are homeless went up again last year, even as the city’s social services placed a record number of families in supportive housing. According to a Los Angeles County report, families headed by women are more likely to be evicted, forcing them to live in overcrowded apartments, in vehicles, and on the streets.

Those families aren’t leaving cities. They’re getting left behind.

Sure, affluent parents might opt to pack up the SUV and flee to the suburbs, but the truth is that most people in this country who have children do not have that type of economic mobility. In 2016, the percentage of Americans who moved to another home during that year fell to all-time low of 11.2 percent—about half the rate of domestic migration in 1965.

At the same time, America’s suburbs are also failing families. In a recent Los Angeles Times series, columnist Steve Lopez spent weeks at an elementary school located in a corner of the San Fernando Valley lined with ranch-style homes, grassy yards, child-friendly dining options, and box-store parking lots filled with minivans. Yet a quarter of the school’s children are homeless—living in garages and motels.

In his piece, Thompson poses a handful of solutions that might spark an urban baby boom. “Surely, downtown areas can be made more family-friendly,” he writes. “Mayors can be more aggressive about overcoming the forces of NIMBYism by building affordable housing near downtown areas. The federal government can help.”

But it’s not just a laundry list of kid-friendly amenities that families need, it’s giving parents the financial breathing room to enjoy them. Within
Architect Magazine
From 89 submissions, the jury picked eight entries that prove architects can be at the helm of innovation, technology, and craft.

Do we control technology or does technology control us? Never has that question seemed more apt than now. The use of computational design, digital manufacturing, and artificial intelligence, if mismanaged, can have frightening consequences, the implications of which society is just beginning to comprehend. But the jury for ARCHITECT’s 13th annual R+D Awards was determined to accentuate the positive side of these advancements, seeking the best examples that “melded technology, craft, and problem-solving,” says Craig Curtis, FAIA.

The eight winners selected by Curtis and fellow jurors James Garrett Jr., AIA, and Carrie Strickland, FAIA, prove that designers can remain solidly in the driver’s seat despite the frenetic pace of technological developments in the building industry and beyond. “Architects are anticipating the future, helping to shape it, and giving it form,” Garrett says. “Moving forward, we are not going to be left behind. We are going to be a part of the conversation.”


Craig Curtis, FAIA, is head of architecture and interior design at Katerra, where he helped launch the now 300-plus-person design division of the Menlo Park, Calif.–based technology company and oversees the development of its configurable, prefabricated building platforms. Previously, he was a senior design partner at the Miller Hull Partnership, in Seattle.

James Garrett Jr., AIA, is founding partner of 4RM+ULA, a full-service practice based in St. Paul, Minn., that focuses on transit design and transit-oriented development. A recipient of AIA’s 2019 Young Architects Award, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, a visual artist, a writer, and an advocate for increasing diversity in architecture.

Carrie Strickland, FAIA, is founding principal of Works Progress Architecture, in Portland, Ore., where she is an expert in the design of adaptive reuse and new construction projects and works predominantly in private development. She has also taught at Portland State University and the University of Oregon, and served on AIA Portland’s board of directors.
Skender believes it can shave time and costs off the standard construction process, resulting in more affordable housing.

Skender, an established, family-owned builder in Chicago, is making a serious play in a sector associated with young startups: modular construction. The company is building steel-structured three-flats, a quintessential Chicago housing type that consists of three apartments stacked on top of each other in the footprint of a large house. It believes it can deliver them faster and at lower cost at its new factory than by using standard methods of construction.

Skender’s 100,000-square-foot factory on the Southwest Side, which began production in late May, contains four bays with hulking gantry cranes overhead, as well as welding jig tables that are dozens of feet long. But don’t look to be wowed by sci-fi feats of robotic automation—there’s not a robot in sight (yet). Instead, the technology is aimed at seamless coordination.

Spaced at every few columns, the company will install media screens that workers will use to check off each step in the building process. “Every step and instruction in basically built into an app,” said Stacy Scopano, Skender’s chief technology officer. “If each crew gets off-sync, they can project [it] onto the TV, show the drawings, [and] float around the model. And over time, as we’re developing and modernizing these platforms, that’ll be how we’re watching the productivity of the install.”

Even with humans and not robots doing the work, the company is confident that continual refinement will yield efficiency. A three-flat apartment building can now go up in 90 days, Skender claims, instead of nine months. Swanson estimates that the three-flats will cost $335,000 per unit to build, not including land. In time, company leaders hope that economies of scale and increased efficiency will bring down that price.

The company has been investing in design talent as well, hiring Tim Swanson, formerly of the architecture firm Cannon Design, to be its chief design officer. That allows it to combine design, manufacturing, and construction within one vertically integrated system.

There’s an age-old tension between architects’ craving for creative freedom and the efficiencies of standardization, which Swanson greets with a taboo acknowledgement: “Eighty to 85 percent of our buildings should be the same.” Because codes dictate how many individual elements come together, buildings are well-suited to modular repetition, he says.

t Skender, this repetition begins once an order is placed, and staff begin identifying the relevant components and writing assembly-line schedules. When materials arrive, numbered and bundled with an instruction set, they’re laid out on massive welding frames that allow line workers to affix clamps that secure steel elements. It’s not super-high-tech, but it means that welds can be accurate to 1/1000 of an inch. (“If I’m out on the dirt at a site, I’m talking about 1/16 of an inch at best,” said Scopano.)

These elements are carried by gantry from station to station as fabricators log each step of the process in the system, via the media screen. “We can watch the efficiency of a specific task, for a specific weld, for a specific corner, and just keep going. The granularity of data we’ll be looking at and analyzing will be pretty fun,” Scopano said.

Company leaders expect to install some automated welding by the end of the year. They plan to use data they gather to isolate the “squeakiest wheel” and fix it with automation, “rather than carte-blanche throwing robots up and down the line,” according to Scopano.

Peter Murray, Skender’s president of manufacturing, anticipates a five-day construction cycle inside the factory before each unit is fitted together and loaded onto a truck. Units will leave the factory 95 percent complete. On site, the apartments will be stacked together with a bolt-and-pin system and some additional welding. Facades (stone accents and brick claddings) are clipped on, and the building is complete.

Recently, a few other companies have grabbed headlines for reviving the dream of omnipresent modular building. Unlike them, Skender is not a startup. As a legacy builder, it has long industry experience, and has staffed its factory with builders well-versed in its local market.

As well as economies of scale, proponents of modular architecture tout its freedom from weather-related delays, unpredictable site conditions
Jaime Navarro via Dellekamp Schleich
Mexico City-based architectural firm Dellekamp Schleich designed a modular timber home as an inspiring prototype for affordable and eco-friendly housing in Mexico. Originally created as one of 84 experimental proposals for the 2017 “From the Territory to the Dweller” showcase in Morelos, Dellekamp Schleich’s housing prototype is currently on show at INFONAVIT’s Laboratorio de Vivienda (Housing Laboratory) in Apan. The Laboratorio de Vivienda is an exhibition of 32 housing prototypes that sensitively rethinks low-income dwellings in Mexico. Created for self-construction, the low-cost housing prototype was built with a modular system of timber parts.

Both the “From the Territory to the Dweller” program and the Laboratorio de Vivienda exhibition are initiatives of Research Center for Sustainable Development, INFONAVIT, which invited national and international architecture firms to prototype affordable housing for different areas in Mexico.

At “From the Territory to the Dweller,” Dellekamp Schleich was asked to design a housing prototype for Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro, a small village in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The site-specific house is based on the local vernacular styles of the village. Because the timber industry is a major part of the town, Dellekamp Schleich’s housing prototype is built primarily of readily available pine and features construction techniques and styles traditional to that area.

Built atop a raised foundation, the modular housing prototype is lined with unfinished wood inside and out. The building is topped with a gable roof painted red and hemmed in by a small fenced-in yard. Operable folding doors open up to a small deck and yard to expand the living areas to the outdoors. Inside, the interiors are dressed with timber furnishings and bathed in natural light from large windows. A compact living area occupies the ground floor, while the bedroom is located in a lofted area.

In Laboratorio de Vivienda, Dellekamp Schleich’s housing prototype is one of 32 dwellings that incorporate traditional and locally sourced materials as well as concepts of scalability. The housing prototypes are located within a master plan designed by New York-based MOS Architects and include a Dellekamp Schleich-designed Materials Laboratory as well as a MOS Architects-designed Welcome Center. The exhibition is on show in Apan until June 23, 2019.

Whether it’s enlightened self interest or flat recognition of the housing crisis, Google’s pledge to create 20,000 homes is nothing to ignore. The tech giant has the money, land and motivation to deliver in meeting a major challenge.

The firm is promising a mix of units spread across its holdings in the South Bay, regularly cited as one of the costliest residential markets in the nation. Google has run into criticism that a new campus in San Jose will drive up rents even further.

Other entities such as Wells Fargo and Kaiser along with the Facebook-backed Partnership for the Bay Area’s Future are pouring nine-figure sums into moderate-priced housing. It’s a late blooming realization that soaring job growth comes with inescapable side effects. The big winners, especially in tech, have a role to play.

The Google plan calls for $750 million to create 15,000 units across the income scale over 10 years. Another $250 million would be available for private developers to build their own projects tailored for moderate incomes. Compare Google’s studied proposal with the approach Amazon took in pressing for concessions in locating a second headquarters.

Along with the size of Google’s and other housing initiatives will be the timing. It can’t happen fast enough.

As Google CEO Sundar Pichai noted, the 2,000 units per year pace that his firm is outlining compares with 3,000 dwellings built last year in Silicon Valley. He also rightly acknowledged where the need lies: moderate- and low-income housing that’s squeezed out by roaring development.

Both the state and cities such as San Francisco are putting money into new housing plans. But those efforts aren’t enough. Huge firms such as Google should be willing to play a part both for their own workforce and the larger communities where they’re located.

Google’s blueprints are receiving warm words, most notably from local groups worried about the persistent pressure on scarce housing. Such corporate contributions to the housing challenge are a trend to welcome and encourage.
Los Angeles Times
To our dismay, we in Los Angeles have become increasingly familiar with homelessness. But some of the things we “know” about the phenomenon are simply untrue. Dealing with the problem requires knowing the facts and dismissing the myths.

It also requires understanding why those myths persist.

Begin with the falsehood that most homeless people come from out of town, drifting here from colder climates or meaner streets in order to live a life of relative ease on L.A. sidewalks and freeway medians.

Not true. The official counts and companion studies of L.A.’s growing homeless population have consistently shown that most homeless people have lived in Los Angeles for at least 10 years. These are our longtime neighbors who were priced out of their apartments by rents that are rising faster than their incomes, or who were struck by some crisis that rendered them unable to keep a permanent roof over their heads. It may have been a job layoff, a divorce, a cataclysmic and costly health breakdown, an addiction.

The proportion of homeless in L.A. who are in fact relatively new arrivals pretty much tracks with the numbers in other big cities around the nation. Homeless people do not flock to L.A. for the sunshine.

But there are two points about supposedly newly arrived homeless that require attention. One has to do with homeless youth. Los Angeles, particularly Hollywood, has long been a destination for young people who feel shunned or mistreated by their families and leave their homes in other parts of the nation. The latest homeless count showed a troubling jump in youth homelessness, including kids from out of town. Deeper study is required to understand and respond to this phenomenon.

The second point is that some people are coming to L.A. from other parts of Southern California. As The Times recently reported, some L.A. officials are accusing neighboring municipalities of pushing their own homeless populations across city limits, dumping their problems on Los Angeles.

This is an old problem. More than a decade ago, the county’s first comprehensive response to homelessness completely fell apart because cities like West Covina and Santa Clarita would not participate and instead encouraged their homeless to go to L.A. Los Angeles itself has had a profoundly inadequate and untimely response to homelessness, but some neighboring cities have been even more irresponsible and must be held accountable.

Another homelessness myth is that most people are on the street because they are mentally ill. Again, not true — although it’s easy to see why the misunderstanding persists.

Counts and studies consistently find that between a quarter and a third of homeless people are seriously mentally ill or have serious substance abuse problems. But substance abusers and the mentally ill are the most visible face of homelessness because their behavior draws the most attention. And mental illness is more prevalent among people living on the street — and in public view — than among their homeless counterparts who are couch-surfing or living in cars or shelters.

The nation broke its promise to provide community-based care and treatment for the mentally ill following the closure of state mental hospitals beginning in the 1970s. It’s a promise that ultimately society must keep, and for which it must pay.

If we were to house all seriously mentally ill homeless people in Los Angeles (and we should), homelessness would immediately become less evident. But of the more than 100,000 people in the county who were homeless at some point last year, two-thirds were not dealing with serious mental health problems or addiction problems, but fell into homelessness because of the widening gap between wages and housing costs.

Another myth: L.A. isn’t doing anything about the problem. Also not true. The city and county housed more than 20,000 last year, including people who had fallen on economic hard times and many who could not care for themselves because of mental or physical health problems.

But it’s clearly not enough. As people were lifted out of homelessness, more fell in. The net increase was about 17 per day.

It is exasperating, and it leaves the region to wonder whether the proper next step is to double down on current solutions, or somehow change course.
Cloe Poisson
In southwest Connecticut, the gap between rich and poor is wider than anywhere else in the country. Invisible walls created by local zoning boards and the state government block affordable housing and, by extension, the people who need it.

A dirt field overgrown with weeds is the incongruous entrance to one of America’s wealthiest towns, a short walk to a Rodeo Drive-like stretch replete with upscale stores such as Tiffany & Co.

But this sad patch of land is also the physical manifestation of a broader turf war over what type of housing — and ultimately what type of people — to allow within Westport’s borders.

It started when a developer known for building large luxury homes envisioned something different back in 2014 for the 2.2 acre property: a mix of single- and multifamily housing that would accommodate up to 12 families. A higher density project is more cost efficient, he said, and would allow him to sell the units for less than the typical Westport home.

But the site was zoned to hold no more than four single-family houses, so he needed approval from a reluctant Westport Planning and Zoning Commission, which denied his plan. Residents erupted in fury each time he made a scaled-back proposal, and it took the developer four years after purchasing the property to win approval to build two duplexes and five single-family homes.

“You are selling out Westport,” one resident yelled out as the final plan came up for a commission vote last spring. Other residents picketed commission meetings with signs reading “Zoning is a Promise.”

The commission’s discussion was couched in what some would regard as code words and never directly addressed race or income. Chip Stephens, a Republican planning and zoning commissioner, voted against the plan, declaring, “To me, it’s too much density. It’s putting too much in a little area. To me, this is ghettoizing Westport.”

Now under construction, these two-bedroom duplexes and single-family homes have a price tag of $1.2 million, the going rate for a home in this swanky village just outside Bridgeport and Norwalk.

“We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this through. Would I do this all over again? No. Probably not,” said the developer, Johnny Schwartz, of Able Construction.

Welcome to Connecticut, a state with more separate — and unequal — housing than nearly everywhere else in the country.

This separation is by design.

Westport is only one example of a wealthy Connecticut suburb that has surrounded itself with invisible walls to block affordable housing and, by extension, the people who need it.

In a liberal state that has provided billions in taxpayer money to create more affordable housing, decisions at local zoning boards, the Connecticut Capitol and state agencies have thwarted court rulings and laws intended to remedy housing segregation. As far back as data has been kept, Connecticut’s low-income housing has been concentrated in poor cities and towns, an imbalance that has not budged over the last three decades.

Many zoning boards rely on their finely tuned regulations to keep housing segregation firmly in place. They point to frail public infrastructure, clogged streets, a lack of sidewalks and concerns of overcrowding that would damage what’s often referred to as “neighborhood character.”
Ric Carrasquillo/for The Washington Post
A Tuesday afternoon in the Mission District of America’s tech wonderland.

Michael Feno stands outside Lucca Ravioli, his beloved pasta emporium on Valencia, a vestige of old San Francisco, puffing on a cigar while posing for pictures, his customers in tears.

Living in this city’s radically shifting landscape, veterinarian Gina Henriksen found comfort by telling herself, “Thank God, Lucca is still here. If Lucca goes, I’m going to have to leave San Francisco. What do we have left?”

Lucca is no longer here.

After 94 years, doors shuttered on the last day of April. The parking lot sold for $3.5 million. A three-building parcel, including the store, listed for $8.3 million and was purchased by — need you inquire? — a developer..

A few blocks away, in this neighborhood of shops hawking $2,600 electric bikes and $8 lemonade, Borderlands Cafe — a throwback with plants cascading from the ceiling — closed the same day after a decade in business.

Owner Alan Beatts couldn’t retain staff, even with a $15 minimum hourly wage. Who can live on $15 an hour in this city transformed by innovation?

How can Alba Guerra, co-owner of nearby Sun Rise restaurant, continue to charge $10.95 for the housemade vegan chorizo platter after her rent spiked 62 percent last year to $7,800 a month?

For decades, this coruscating city of hills, bordered by water on three sides, was a beloved haven for reinvention, a refuge for immigrants, bohemians, artists and outcasts. It was the great American romantic city, the Paris of the West.

No longer. In a time of scarce consensus, everyone agrees that something has rotted in San Francisco.

Conservatives have long loathed it as the axis of liberal politics and political correctness, but now progressives are carping, too. They mourn it for what has been lost, a city that long welcomed everyone and has been altered by an earthquake of wealth. It is a place that people disparage constantly, especially residents.

Real estate is the nation’s costliest. Listings read like typos, a median $1.6 million for a single-family home and $3,700 monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

“This is unregulated capitalism, unbridled capitalism, capitalism run amok. There are no guardrails,” says Salesforce founder and chairman Marc Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan who in a TV interview branded his city “a train wreck.”

You no longer leave your heart in San Francisco. The city breaks it.

The city is filthy rich in what other regions crave: growth, start-ups, high-paying jobs, educated young people, soaring property values, commercial and residential construction, a vibrant street life, and so much disposable revenue. But San Francisco, a city of 883,305 residents, 100,000 more than two decades ago, is the Patient Zero of issues affecting urban areas. The sole constant is its staggering beauty.

Downtown is a theme park of seismic start-ups — Uber, Airbnb, Slack and Lyft, with Twitter in the nearby Tenderloin, every app a skyscraper. The 58-story Millennium Tower is a sinking, tilting luxury condo folly that will take $100 million to right — writer Rebecca Solnit dubbed it “the leaning tower of hubris.”

In the shadow of such wealth, San Francisco grapples with a very visible homeless crisis of 7,500 residents, some shooting up in the parks and defecating on the sidewalks, which a 2018 United Nations report deemed “a violation of multiple human rights.” Last year, new Mayor London Breed assigned a five-person crew, dubbed the “poop patrol,” to clean streets and alleys of human feces.

The small downtown’s streets are choked with Google and Apple employee buses, and 45,000 daily Uber and Lyft drivers, some commuting from hours away and unfamiliar with the city. By comparison, there are 25,000 ride-sharing drivers in Philadelphia, a much larger and more populous city.

There’s an ongoing battle between the NIMBYs and YIMBYs over development in one of the nation’s densest cities. Tech companies here are the beneficiaries of gilded carrots, tax breaks. Longtime residents worry that tech workers are drawn here for the jobs, not the city, and may never become stakeholders in San Francisco’s future.

“Our rich are richer. Our homeless are more desperate. Our hipsters are more pretentious,” says Solnit, who
Alessandro Benetti
Homeless charity New Story has teamed up with Yves Béhar's design agency Fuseproject and construction company ICON to develop a pioneering solution to the issue of the housing for all.

Will 3D printing put an end to the issue of giving every human being a house which is worth of this name, especially in the most disadvantaged areas of the planet? A home which is not only a salubrious, safe “container”, but also a space for life and happiness?

Amongst the supporters of this vision stands the multidisciplinary team formed by non-profit New Story, Yves Béhar's San Francisco-based design agency Fuseproject and construction company ICON, who have recently announced the soon-to-begin construction of the very first village built with this technology – shall a neologism be invented, though, to name the 100% printed urban agglomeration?

The difficult balance between standardisation and customisation, the not obvious correspondence of quantity and quality, searching for cost optimisation while avoiding pauperism: these are the same challenges, which recur on a cyclical basis in every historic moment requiring to quickly build a lot of homes – such as in Europe during the last after-war period – and which the youngest technologies also have to tackle today.

Without bringing into place the rhetoric of the “cure for all ills” – back in the day, traditional prefabrication was also considered as such, with the devastating effects that we all know – 3D printing has great potential, that New Story’s project is able to build in: for instance the speed of construction (24 hours are deemed sufficient to produce the structure of a house), as well as the possibility to integrate several built-in elements in the original file.

At the tropical latitudes of Latin America, the members of a countryside community, involved in a process of collaborative design, will soon become the very first users of this futuristic experiment. Their homes, whose size ranges from 55 to 75 square meters, will go to print this summer. A few adjustments were made to adapt them to the harsh tropical climate, such as the overhanging canopy, protecting them from heavy rainfalls, and the partially perforated envelopes, enhancing natural ventilation.

Future generations will comment on the outcomes of this heroic quest: for the moment, we can only praise this political approach to the architectural profession, one which re-thinks its boundaries and its tools, on the basis of the actual needs of the contemporary world.
The systems that have kept black families from building wealth in the U.S. were designed to do so. A series of initiatives are trying to build new systems that support equity and empowerment instead.

Black families currently have an average wealth of $3,600, compared to white households’ $147,000. It could take black Americans as many as 228 years to reach the level of wealth white households currently control. And that’s an optimistic forecast: A report from the Institute for Policy Studies this year found that black wealth in the U.S. is actually declining, so many families of color might not stand a chance at reaching levels of prosperity currently enjoyed by white households.

The racial wealth gap that persists in the U.S. today is the result of discrimination and designed exclusion. Slavery, segregated housing, redlining, unequal investment in communities of color, and mass incarceration all played–and continue to play–a role in making it more difficult for black families to access and build wealth. But if this wealth gap is the result of discriminatory design, could the systems that uphold it be redesigned to support black prosperity?

That is the question that a three-year-long program operating in six cities across the U.S.–Seattle, Tacoma, Portland (Oregon), Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Des Moines–aimed to address. The African American Financial Capability Initiative (AAFCI) was created by Prosperity Now, a nonprofit established to help low-income people of color achieve financial security. Across the six cities, the initiative worked with local leaders and communities of color to identify key drivers of the racial wealth divide in each place. They then worked together to design and implement programs to counterbalance those factors. The work was funded by the Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF), a St. Paul-based organization that awards grants across eight states and 75 native nations across the northwestern part of the country. The results of the three-year initiative are now available, and will set the groundwork for future work in the cities.

The states within the NWAF’s funding footprint, says Lillian Singh, director of Prosperity Now’s Racial Wealth Divide initiative, “tend to skew more white than African American.” While the majority of the country’s black population lives either in the south or in major cities like New York and Chicago, this project drew attention to the particular struggle of trying to build black wealth in overwhelmingly white contexts. And working with the relatively more compact black populations in each of the six cities allowed the program organizers, through in-depth planning talks with local community members and leaders, to design initiatives to meet very specific needs. “We wanted to let communities lead with their understanding of the issues as they were creating the ideas for the projects,” says Cat Goughnour, senior program director at Prosperity Now.

In Seattle, for instance, the AAFCI conveners learned that displacement and gentrification was a significant issue for the local black population. The Central District, a neighborhood east of downtown, was 70% black in the 1960s, but today, it’s just 14%. Average black family wealth in Seattle is $37, 696, compared to white families’ $125,824, and homeownership rates are around 24% versus 50.9%. It’s incredibly difficult for black families to build wealth through real estate in this city, which consistently ranks among the most expensive housing markets.

In response, the AAFCI worked with four black-led local organizations to create a community land trust in the Central District. Community land trusts are nonprofit-owned parcels of land designed to remain permanently affordable, due to rules that govern how much profit owners can make when they sell. The half-acre of land in the Central District is owned by Africatown Land Trust, which will become a mixed-use building comprising affordable housing, black-owned businesses, and office space. As that project prepares to break ground next year, the local organizations and AAFCI opened another 115-unit affordable complex nearby that’s already home to 80 families and three black-owned businesses at risk of displacement.
But the path to building and preserving black wealth looked very different in Seattle than it did in Des Moines, where the community felt displacement was not so much a threat as the lack of access to banking and financing. Over one-quarter of the city’s black population is unbanked. That means they struggle to access credit or loans, which in turn limits black families’ ability t
Now you can add a tiny home or cabin kit to your cart.

You can buy just about anything on Amazon these days, from mundane household necessities to garish novelty items—and now, there are even DIY kits to help you construct your own tiny guest house, shed, office, or lounge. Take a look at the prefabricated units Amazon has to offer below, and get ready to upgrade your backyard.

Allwood Arlanda XXL
Ideal as a detached office, garden shed, or yoga studio, this 273-square-foot kit unit from Allwood will run you $10,695. The structure has large windows, a small porch, and a simple, clean design.

The Arlanda XXL from Allwood is available on Amazon for $10,695.

Ecohousemart Laminated Log House Kit
Made out of glulam—an engineered wood product made out of glued, laminated timber—this house kit has a gross area of 1,290 square feet. The home is designed to have three bedrooms and one bathroom, but note that additional materials not included in the kit are required.

Allwood Solvalla
This studio cabin kit from Allwood provides 172 square feet of outdoor and indoor space. The indoor space is well-lit from large windows on two sides, while the partially enclosed portion is covered with a shed roof and has vertical battens on one side to provide shade. The kit sells for $7,250.

Weizhengheng Expandable Container House
Geared toward those with an interest in sustainable design and lowering their carbon footprint, this expandable container house is made out of a galvanized, light steel frame and runs on a solar power system. The home is made in Germany and is available for $24,800.

Timber Frame House Lounge Kit by Ecohousemart
This prefabricated, cabin-like building is made out of a glulam and clad in northern spruce wood. The 1,000-square-foot structure can be customized depending on the type of foundation, windows and doors, or other requirements you might have, but does not come with these items: the kit mainly includes framing elements.

Allwood Getaway Cabin Kit by Lillevilla
Priced at $18,800, this cabin kit features 292 square feet of space, including a sleeping loft in the taller portion of the gable roof. Because the home has minimal insulation, it would ideally serve as a summer house, home office, or even a stand-alone retail building, but could easily be used as a residence or in colder climates with utility hookups and extra insulation.

Sunray by Allwood
This 162-square-foot cabin kit is available for $8,690 and is typically available to ship within three to five weeks. The kit is ideal for a lake or beach house, with large windows and shading on a deep front porch.
Mike Blake/Reuters
State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 50 would rewrite the state’s single-family zoning codes. What's wrong with that? A lot, say opponents.

In a hearing room in California’s capitol on Tuesday, State Senator Scott Wiener described a widespread housing crisis in stark terms. California is short about 3.5 million homes, he said, citing a McKinsey report that projected housing demand by 2025. Buying a home at the Golden State’s median price—over half a million dollars—is a fantasy for most households. Rents are soaring, homelessness is up, and displacement is refacing storied neighborhoods.

“Red or blue, all of our communities are struggling,” Wiener told an audience of lobbyists, citizens, and members of the state senate housing committee, who would later have their say about how to address the housing crisis.

As they spoke, the painted figures in a Depression-era mural depicting the state’s romanticized origins looked on. Flanked by a missionary, a prospector, a frontiersman, and a native Californian, Calafia, the Amazon goddess from whom the state supposedly gets its name, graced its spectacular and varied terrain. In the foreground, a white working-class couple, child in arms, surveyed their land of promise.

As the hearing on April 2 on made clear, rarely has California’s mythic story of opportunity seemed further from reality. From Sonoma to San Diego, the state faces a massive affordability crisis; across the political gradient, few residents disagree on that, even if they don’t see eye to eye on how to solve it. Investment in below-market-rate housing? Stronger tenant protections? Better city planning? They’re all part of the solution, said Wiener. But what California fundamentally lacks is adequate housing supply, he said, and it needs to tear down needless barriers to market rate construction.

That’s the intention behind Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, which proposes to rewrite the laws that have blocked high-volume housing construction. Like its predecessor SB 827, the transit-oriented housing bill that captured national attention last year, SB 50 faces vigorous opposition from many angles. It cleared its first legislative hurdle in early April, when it passed that housing committee (which Wiener leads) with a bipartisan 9-1 vote.

But on May 16, SB 50 was made a “two-year bill” by the Senate Appropriations Committee, delaying a full vote on the contentious legislation until 2020. “While I’m deeply disappointed that the Chair of the Appropriations Committee has decided to postpone SB 50 until 2020—since we have a housing crisis right now—we are one hundred percent committed to moving the legislation forward,” Wiener said in a statement.

The bill would set an unprecedented state standard for residential zoning codes in certain corners of California. Currently, it is illegal to build anything but single dwellings designed for single families, sometimes with an in-law unit, in roughly 80 percent of California’s residential neighborhoods. SB 50 would change those laws in areas that are near high-frequency transit lines, job clusters, and good schools, prying open opportunities for developers to build to taller heights, with more units per square foot.
Dallas & Harris Photography via Charles Cunniffe Architects
The small resort-town of Telluride in the Colorado Rocky Mountains is known for its world-class skiing, remote location and, until now, lack of low-cost housing. When the tourist numbers begin to pile up during the busy season, those working in the hospitality industry at restaurants, shops and resorts are often forced to endure a long commute from the areas outside of town, where prices are cheaper.

The expensive hotel rooms and vacation homes are a dream for visitors, but when it comes to lower- to middle-class workers, affordable accommodations are scarce. Architecture firm Charles Cunniffe Architects out of Aspen recently completed a low-cost option for housing just outside of central Telluride, with rents as low as $385 per person.

The complex consists of a boarding house with room for 46 tenants, another building with 18 separate apartments and three tiny homes. You wouldn’t know by looking at it that Virginia Placer is considered low-cost housing. The architects blended the structures among the plentiful high-end resorts and expensive housing for which Telluride is known.

The buildings are placed at the base of a tree-covered mountain, and the exterior is made of high-quality wooden panels and a variety of metals, including steel. The apartment building utilizes open-air stairs and wooden balconies, while the boarding house has a huge deck with mountain views and a canopy for protection from the elements. Inside the boarding house, communal lounges and two kitchens are available for tenants to use.

With a focus on sustainability, the designers installed oversized windows into the apartments for passive solar and ventilation. The tiny homes across the street from the main two buildings share the same design of metal and cedar and total 290 square feet of living space per dwelling.

Scoring a spot in the development is a literal win — potential tenants are chosen through a lottery. Apartments range from $850 to $1430 a month, while a tiny home costs $700 monthly. The cheapest option for individuals is the communal boarding house for $385 per month per person.

Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle
Greg Dunston and Marie Mckinzie lived on Oakland’s streets for almost 10 years, pushing their carts around with all their belongings and sleeping in the doorway of an Alameda County building.

But for the past three months, the couple have lived among the wealthy — on a nearly $4 million property in one of the Bay Area’s most exclusive neighborhoods in Piedmont. The homeowner, Terrence McGrath, did something few in his position would dare do: He opened his doors to homeless people in need.

Poor, black homeless people — in a mostly white, rich neighborhood.

“My officers are very familiar with who’s living in that house and what (the homeowner’s) trying to do,” Piedmont police Capt. Chris Monahan told me. “When people have called, we’ve not even responded. We’ve called them and said, ‘Oh no, those are the people that live in the house. (The homeowner’s) trying to help them.’ ”

McGrath, who is white, read about the couple in a column I wrote in January. I shared their story of survival and hope. When I met them, they camped in a doorway at the Alameda County Probation Office on Broadway in Oakland. But peaceful nights of sleep were few, because street life — the threats, the fights, the retaliations — can be loud for people who want to avoid that kind of noise. Dunston always had to be on the lookout for thieves looking to prey on the weak.

They packed everything they owned — their entire lives — into two utility carts before the building opened in the morning. They wearily pushed the carts everywhere they went, spending most of their days near Jack London Square before again settling down for the night.

McGrath arranged to meet the couple in a downtown cafe. It was there he saw their carts tucked into a nearby corner — and that’s when he knew that letting them move in was the right thing to do.

He was living in a 4,500-square-foot home on an idyllic, tree-lined street. His daughters had gone off to college. And he had an empty in-law unit with a separate entrance, kitchen and bathroom.

But the couple weren’t sure moving to Piedmont was a good idea.

“They were a little bit anxious about it right from the start, partly because of the neighborhood,” their friend John Reimann told me.

Piedmont is a city of approximately 11,000 residents that’s surrounded by Oakland. According to the 2010 census, 74% of residents are white and 18% are Asian. Less than 2% of residents are black. The median home value is $2.3 million, according to Zillow.

Reimann, who befriended the couple at Jack London Square two years ago — and sometimes paid to put them up in hotel rooms during bad weather — nudged them to move to Piedmont.

It was hard for them to believe that someone they didn’t know who had more money than they could ever imagine wanted to help them. What did McGrath want in return?

Nothing, McGrath told me.

McGrath, 60, was raised in St. Helena in Napa County. He was one of nine children, and he told me his family was poor and on welfare for significant periods of time.

Today, McGrath is a real estate developer and investor. The UC Berkeley graduate is the founder of McGrath Properties, which focuses on the acquisition and development of properties in the East Bay. The company renovated a nine-story building on Clay Street in downtown Oakland that was the former headquarters of PG&E. And it’s one of the developers of the 24-story, 402-unit high-rise apartment building going up feet from MacArthur BART Station.

I asked McGrath why he’d let people off the street live with him.

“It’s helped bring me back to my roots as a young kid,” he said. “I cannot avoid the responsibility I have to life around me. I have a personal obligation to take responsibility when I see injustices. And to me, this is a clear injustice.”

Reimann drove Mckinzie and Dunston to McGrath’s house for a tour on Jan. 23. I watched Mckinzie rub an arthritic wrist as we sat in McGrath’s living room that’s filled with captivating sculptures and paintings. Mckinzie was excited about the in-law unit’s bathroom.

“It has a shower and a tub,” Mckinzie said happily.
Matthew Chamberlain
University of Westminster graduate Matthew Chamberlain has designed a sustainable treehouse to provide starter homes on London's streets, while also tackling the city's high pollution levels.

The Street Tree Pods are teardrop-shaped structures made from wood, designed to merge with existing or new trees.

Taking up the same amount of space as a single car-parking bay, each structure would offer short-term accommodation to a single occupant. Chamberlain sees them being occupied by students, young professionals and first-time buyers, or to people who are homeless or in the process of being rehoused.

"Street Tree Pods seeks to offer a fresh insight into urbanisation and community living within London, tackling and challenging both the current housing crisis and the growing pollution issues within the city," explained Chamberlain.

"These self-sufficient, low impact urban tree pods merge the house and street tree together, facilitating humans innate attraction towards nature and natural processes, along with focusing on the importance of wellness and sustainable architecture."

The curved wooden form of the design is intended to reference inosculation – the natural phenomenon where the branches, trunks and roots of two trees grow and merge together.

Cedar shingles would give the buildings a natural, textured cladding, while wooden bird boxes would be installed on top, set amongst the tree branches.

Chamberlain, who completed the project as part of his MA in architecture at University of Westminster, believes the project can help people to realise that trees are "a vital piece of infrastructure for a city".

He claims the project could increase both the density of greenery and housing in the UK capital, while also allowing residents to enjoy the psychological benefits of being surrounded by nature – often overlooked in urban environments.

"Trees have proved to decrease obesity, reduce certain health risks and aid mental behaviour and ultimately make people feel happier and more positive in their day to day lives," he told Dezeen. "Too often, however, they are disregarded as a vital component of urban master planning infrastructure and healthcare."

"This project is quietly arguing that more should be made to live among our natural landscape," he continued.

"It is not enough to simply move it out of the way for our architectural interventions. Trees are imperative to the success, health and wellbeing of all people and only ever provide advantages to our quality and way of life."

Tree trunks would run through the core of each structure, providing structural stability and ensuring no weight is placed on the branches.

The trunks would be enclosed in an ETFE shell – a system that would allow water to reach the tree and run through to the ground – while a rubber gasket between them will allow the tree to expand whilst remaining sealed.

Outside, the leaves of the trees would be used as a natural shading device.

John Medina/Getty Images for New York Times
Salesforce chairman and co-CEO Marc Benioff has dedicated a lot of energy, and money, to the homeless crisis in his hometown of San Francisco. In 2018, he poured $2 million into the Proposition C ballot initiative campaign for a new business tax that promises to raise around a quarter billion dollars per year for housing and homeless assistance. (It passed, but has been tied up in the courts.)

Today, he and his wife, Lynne Benioff, have pledged $30 million to create a new program at the University of California San Francisco focused on studying causes of and possible solutions to homelessness across the country. (This comes on top of about $30 million donated to other housing projects, such as $6.1 million last November to lease a renovated hotel.)

It’s a common joke in public policy to say something like: What this urgent problem really needs is … another study. And at least some aspects of the homeless crisis in San Francisco and other U.S. cities are obvious. The rent is too damn high–due to an influx of well-off people bidding off constrained housing stock. Growing income inequality exacerbates the problem.

“We know for sure that the solution to this crisis is going to involve a massive investment in deeply affordable housing or subsidized housing. We don’t need to do research on that,” says Margot Kushel, director of UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, and now also director of its Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative.

But details of solutions are still foggy, she says. Rent subsidies can keep people from falling into homelessness in the first place, for instance; but it’s not obvious which people are most at risk and the best candidates for aid.

There’s also more need to understand subsets of homeless people, says Sam Lew, policy director at the nonprofit Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco. (The Coalition is unaffiliated with the Benioff Initiative. Lew learned of it the same day I did–yesterday.) “We have very little data on undocumented [immigrants] who are homeless or LGBTQ-identifying people who are homeless, or other marginalized populations,” says Lew. (There’s now a generational split, too, says Kushel, between homeless people in their 30s and 40s and a new elderly contingent.)

The coalition is preparing its own research project, together with San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley, to survey the shelter, mental health, and substance abuse treatment systems used by the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

But Lew knows and values Kushel’s work, such as research showing that homeless people in their 50s have health problems like the general population in their 70s and 80s. Data like that bolster the case for better assistance programs and funding, says Lew.

Making information more accessible is a goal for the Benioff Initiative, says Kushel. That can be a combination of conducting new research, evaluating other research, and presenting data in a user-friendly way for the public, journalists, politicians, and program managers. The goal, she says, is that, “when they act, they can act with confidence, and they can make sure they’re spending the money the best way possible.”

There are reasons for optimism already. “Of the [homeless] people who get engaged with permanent supportive housing, about 85% stay housed long term,” says Kushel. But that statistic raises new questions. How many people never make it into those support programs in the first place, and why? And of those who do get help, “How about the other 15%?” says Kushel “What do we need to do to get them to safety?”
A new program in Los Angeles seeks to finance and build accessory dwellings for homeowners who agree to rent them to Section 8 voucher-holders.

Looking at the pressing shortages of low-income housing in each and every state in the country, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that NIMBY homeowners are winning the fight against new housing, and especially against affordable housing. But there’s one potential foe that reactionary homeowners are ill-equipped to dominate: their own neighbors. Other homeowners, that is, who have elected to house Section 8 voucher-holders in their backyards.

That’s the proposal by LA-Más, an urban-design nonprofit in Los Angeles, and other organizations involved in The Backyard Homes Project. Led by designer Elizabeth Timme and public-policy expert Helen Leung, LA-Más has previously worked on placemaking projects and convenience-store redesigns that highlight healthy food options. Now, Timme, Leung, and their partners hope to finance and build backyard homes, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), for homeowners who agree to rent them initially to Section 8 voucher-holders for a minimum of five years.

The plan would leverage the prerogatives of private homeownership to the public end of increasing the affordable-housing supply. LA-Más is looking to begin with 10 pilot units (some of which would receive financing), and Leung and Timme say they are in the final stages of getting loans underwritten.

The project is enabled by recent regulatory changes in Los Angeles. By starting with single-family homes, it meets L.A. where it’s at—a sprawling city with nearly half a million single-family lots. “There’s just a lot of space in Los Angeles,” as Timme says. Homeowners get access to loan capital to finance construction, an opportunity to add significant equity to their home, a potential stream of rental income, and administratively, a single point of contact to help navigate a network of city agencies and nonprofits. (The first round of applications for the program closes today, and interest has been high.)

The one-stop-shop idea began with the explicit desire to use backyards homes for affordable housing. Two years ago, LA-Más cobbled together some grant money toward this end and began assembling a panel of expert advisors—developers, housing-policy wonks, builders. Timme and Leung also talked to focus groups of homeowners, asking them, “What would it take for a homeowner to house a Section 8 tenant?” according to Leung.

They learned that homeowners didn’t how to find Section 8 tenants and thought the process of dealing with local housing agencies was too complex. Homeowners said they also needed financing and a better idea of their responsibilities as landlords. Finally, these potential landlords didn’t know how to hire an architect or deal with contractors. LA-Más could certainly help with the last problem, and local housing nonprofits and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) could guide them through the bureaucratic maze.
Civic-minded techies are finding ways to digitize, demystify, and improve local government

The latest buzz-phrase catching fire in planning and technology? Smart city concepts. The various strains of reactive infrastructure and efficient transportation that make up these new ideas for smart cities suggest a cleaner, less crowded, and more clever version of urban life is right around the corner.

But with developers and technologists anointing everything from digital signage to entire neighborhoods with the smart city label, it can be hard to figure out what the term really means. Who gets to decide what these technology-infused visions of urban life look like—and how they operate? Even the best-publicized smart city concepts, like the Toronto waterfront project from Sidewalk Labs, have generated significant blowback when it comes to issues of data privacy.

More importantly, what makes them “smart”? Convenience is one thing, but there’s a big difference between data and wisdom, between the information gathered by smart cameras and the vision of lifelong citizens. That’s why a new raft of technological advancements being adapted for cities can be so transformative.

Over the last decade, programs like Code for America and Startup in Residence have become incubators that help civic-minded techies find ways to digitize, and demystify, local government. Successful case studies have saved cities money and made strong cases for increased investment in better tech. In California, Sen. Kamala Harris recently proposed a plan to invest $15 million annually in tech for local government.

Here are a few examples of how cities have used technology to shape development and improve neighborhoods.

Tech is fostering civic engagement—by letting citizens suggest their own development policies

When Mesa, Arizona, launched Imagine Mesa, a digital forum for community engagement, in 2017, Mayor John Giles hoped to create a more “bottom-up government.” Two years later, the crowdsourcing platform, where residents make suggestions for proposals and click on the ones they support, has led to a number of initiatives and projects, including a new farmers market and the conversion of a historic home into a restaurant that promotes locally sourced ingredients.

Oliver Wainwright.
Oliver Wainwright is arguably one of the world's most influential architecture and design critics. He writes chiefly for The Guardian and has also written for a range of publications including Building Design, Architects’ Journal, Icon, Domus and Frieze. He has also won a number of awards for his extensive reporting on the housing crisis and the planning system. Ahead of his sell-out Robin Boyd Centenary Address during the 2019 Melbourne Design Week, he talks to ArchitectureAU editor Linda Cheng about the link between financial markets and the shape of our cities.

Linda Cheng: Your talk is titled “Form Follows Finance.” Where does this phrase come from and why is it relevant to architectural practice today?

Oliver Wainwright: It’s a play on the modernist rallying cry, “form follows function.” Increasingly architecture is not the product of functional needs, but the financial forces that are driving development. Form Follows Finance was the title of a great (1995) book by American historian Carol Willis, charting the birth of the skyscraper in Chicago and New York at the turn of the last century, and it has since become quite a well used phrase to describe how money shapes our cities.

LC: How did homes become financial assets?

OW: Homes began to be conceived as financial assets a very long time ago – since the enclosures of the 18th century, when common land was privatized – but the rapid “financialization” of housing is a phenomenon of the late-20th century. An important United Nations Human Rights Council report in 2017 defined financialization as: “structural changes in housing and financial markets and global investment whereby housing is treated as a commodity, a means of accumulating wealth and often as security for financial instruments that are traded and sold on global markets.”

It goes on to say the financialization “disconnects housing from its social function of providing a place to live in security and dignity and hence undermines the realization of housing as a human right. It refers to the way housing and financial markets are oblivious to people and communities, and the role housing plays in their well-being.”

Essentially it is about the fundamental shift of housing from being primarily a means of shelter, to an instrument for accumulating wealth.

Several major factors came together in the 1990s: a sudden surge in global population growth; the explosion in buy-to-let lending; rise of mortgage-backed securities; “golden visa rules” which allowed foreign investors to receive citizenship in exchange for investment in property; and the entry of China and Russia into the global economy, producing a global elite seeking a safe home for their cash.

As the banks stopped lending after the 2008 financial crisis, developers and local authorities have been forced to look elsewhere for funding. They turned to sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and Chinese-owned construction companies etc. All of these global institutional investors are looking for a safe return on investment: their concern is with profit maximization rather than the wellbeing of local communities.
KZ RV Sonic X
But what does that mean?

KZ Recreational Vehicles just introduced the Sonic X, described as “the industry’s first self-sustainable lightweight RV." Now, when I am not writing for TreeHugger, I am teaching sustainable design at the Ryerson School of Interior Design in Toronto, and one question I put on every final exam is “What is sustainable design?” I keep hoping that some day someone will give me an answer that makes sense – and I have no idea what “self-sustainable” means.

Bill McDonough has a standard joke about the word sustainable, once telling Andrew Michler at Inhabitat:

"I think it’s a nice word because so many people can use it. But, nobody knows how to define it. That’s part of the issue, and that’s why we never use it. For example, if I say what’s your relationship to your wife? Do you say just say sustainable? Don’t you want more than that? Don’t you want creativity and fun and all these things? If we just sustain what we are doing now, then we’re all dead."

That is the root of the problem with this Sonic X. If we keep towing three-ton trailers behind giant pickups, we are all dead. Is this "sustainable" at all?

But they are trying. Making it out of carbon fibre is theoretically a plus; it will be much lighter and take less fuel in the pickup to tow it. The unit has “the same durability and lighter weight of some of the world’s fastest and most luxurious supercars. The lightness of the carbon fiber allows for greater versatility, as it can more easily navigate the confinements of a city as well as the great outdoors.”

But they left it in its original carbon black, which is not going to be comfortable in the sun. And the material itself is actually carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, layers of carbon fibre laid up in a plastic resin. Mark Harris of the Guardian calls it "the wonder material with a dirty secret." The fibre and the plastic cannot be separated and the material cannot be recycled. It may not even be legal to make luxurious supercars out of it in Europe soon, because of EU rules that state that 85% of a car must be reusable or recyclable. That’s not sustainable.

There are a thousand watts of solar panels on the top, and nine batteries of unspecified capacity that are said to provide “endless solar power.” There is also a "Secondary Infinite Water System (S.I.W.S) with a heavy-duty water pump, 25-foot hose and water filtration, which can be connected to fresh water sources such as a stream, river or lake and can store up to 100 gallons of water."

But judging from C.C. Weiss's photos at New Atlas, there is a standard RV toilet and blackwater tank which is not infinite, and has to be pumped out.
Michael Kooren/Reuters
In an effort to make housing more affordable, the Dutch capital is crafting a law that says anyone who buys a newly built home must live in it themselves.

If you want to buy a new house in Amsterdam, you’ll have to actually live in it.

That’s the message from the Dutch capital as it prepares a new proposal to restrict sales of newly built housing to owner-occupiers, blocking out anyone who wants to buy the properties only to rent them out.

The plan, which is expected to be adopted into law without any great hitch this autumn, remains at proposal stage for now: It’s not yet been clarified, for example, how long an owner would have to occupy their home before being able to rent it out. It is nonetheless part of a clear push in Amsterdam to improve housing options for a group that increasingly struggles to secure affordable housing: the squeezed middle class.

Some of the reasons why this group is facing problems—ones that have a knock-on effect all the way through the housing chain—may sound familiar. The Netherlands has relatively high home-ownership rates, with 67 percent of the Dutch population living in owner-occupied housing as of 2014. Middle-income households that would have formerly expected to buy, however, are increasingly finding themselves priced out of the market, substantially by investors who then place the property on the rental market.

The challenges of investor-dominated rental markets is hardly limited to Amsterdam, and there’s a growing determination across Europe to show a tougher, more heavily regulated approach to large-scale housing investors. Barcelona, for example, is imposing massive fines for landlords who leave properties empty, and Berlin plans to start renationalizing private housing after investors scooped up much of its rental housing in recent decades.

Rental units do, of course, provide somebody with a home, though it’s often on far less secure terms than ownership. As more units have become rental housing, many in Amsterdam’s middle class find they could have purchased a home if the market looked like it did a decade or so ago, but its changes mean they remain stuck renting.

Amsterdam’s proposed laws wouldn’t stop new rental housing from being built—according to the city’s proposal, that housing would simply have to be proposed and approved as rental property in the first place. On its own, the measure isn’t a fix for a malfunctioning housing market, but it should serve to reduce a certain amount of pressure at the upper end of the rental market.
Amit Dadlaney
Completed on a bare-bones budget of under $20,000, this tiny house led to financial freedom for a family of four (and two dogs).

Downsizing to 200 square feet is no easy feat, but for Jilan Wise and her husband Josh Farley, it was a decision grounded in financial necessity. The couple had been renting a 2,500-square-foot house in Kansas City, Missouri, with two kids and two dogs—but they were overwhelmed with increasing living expenses, maxed-out credit cards, and student loans.

Tiny house living, the duo surmised, would be their escape plan from debt. The couple spent over a year designing and scraping together a bare-bones budget of $18,000—including opening a line of credit—to fund the construction of their tiny house.

"We spent so much time researching this project," Jilan says. "The learning curve was massive, and the inspiration was our budget. We wanted to create a beautiful space with new material for not a lot of money."

The couple temporarily moved their family into Josh’s parents's home and built the tiny house with help from Josh’s father, a certified electrician. In just over two months, Jilan and Josh completed their tiny house and set off on a move to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Without money to buy property, and obstructed by Las Vegas’ stringent rules for tiny houses, the couple first moved into a "questionable" trailer park—a last resort, since many RV parks and other mobile home communities Jilan called had refused to accept their tiny house.

The old trailer park, described by Jilan as seedy and uncomfortable due to an antagonistic neighbor and petty thefts, was less than ideal, but living there gave the family the means to climb quickly out of debt and adopt the minimalist lifestyle they craved.

With their newfound financial independence in hand, the family seized the chance to move onto private property after nearly two years of living in the tiny house. "Moving away from that trailer park brought such an overwhelming sense of peace to our family, it was unbelievable," says Jilan.

As Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and Slack finalize plans to go public, real estate braces for impact.

Marco Carvajal, a long-time real estate agent with Vanguard Properties, says the city’s upcoming frenzy of initial public offerings (IPOs) has become an everyday topic of conversation among San Francisco’s very plugged-in residents. Over the next two years, some of the decade’s biggest tech firms, among them Pinterest, Uber, and Airbnb, are expected to go public, with Lyft alone just announcing it would seek a value between $21 and $23 billion. Talk of IPOs and potential IPOs has everyone thinking about money, home values, and the threat of another prosperity bomb accelerating the city’s already sky-high cost of living.

“When I go to the dog park, my 75-year-old neighbor starts to drill me on how the Pinterest IPO will impact the value of her home,” says Carvajal.

The Bay Area is no stranger to tech firms, money, and the instant wealth created when startups go public. When Facebook and Twitter went public in 2012 and 2013, respectively, the region quickly found itself home to roughly 2,500 new millionaires.

The upcoming IPO storm of 2019 and 2020, expected to include eight to 10 major companies, may dwarf that. Many estimate that at least 6,000 new millionaires, some of whom are sure to seek out housing upgrades, will be clustered within a relatively small city that sells roughly 6,500 homes a year, according to Patrick Carlisle, an analyst for the real estate company Compass.

Carvajal expects many of these new millionaires to drop money on new homes, since so many have been stuck in a familiar Bay Area trap: paying stratospheric rent for apartments near the office without having enough left over to save for a down payment. Many of his clients, who didn’t want to be quoted for this article, can’t wait to stop paying someone else’s ridiculous mortgage and start paying their own.

All this new tech money will change the market. But the frenzy many expect won’t come to pass, he believes.

“This IPO rush isn’t going to be a bonfire,” says Carvajal. ”You’ll be adding kindling to the fire the entire year. It’s going to be a constant burn.”
David Goldman/AP
No matter the nature of the locale—urban, suburban, or rural—differences stem more from who we are than what we want in our communities.

Our images of life in urban, suburban, and rural America are dominated by clichés: urban hipsters living in loft apartments, suburbanites mowing their lawns, rural Americans hunting and fishing.

Now, a fascinating new survey explores many of these long-standing tropes and finds that urbanites, suburbanites, and rural residents are much more alike than different in what we want from our communities. The survey, conducted in January of this year by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy in conjunction with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, covers a random sample of more than 1,000 Americans across all 50 states.

Not surprisingly, more Americans identify as suburbanites than urbanites or rural dwellers. Almost half of survey respondents (46 percent) say they live in a suburban area, 27 percent in rural areas, and a quarter in urban communities. This is a slightly smaller share of suburbanites than identified by the U.S. Census, which cites 52 percent of Americans as living in suburban neighborhoods.

Even though Americans’ mobility has declined, two-thirds of survey respondents say they currently live in a different community from where they grew up. And many have moved to different kinds of places: More than half of those who have moved say they have lived in a suburb (53 percent) or urban area (51 percent) before, while only a third (35 percent) say they have previously lived in a rural community.

The graphic below summarizes the key findings from the study, detailing the key factors urban, suburban, and rural Americans say they consider to be extremely or very important where they live. Some of the things on the list confirm intuitions, others are more surprising. But most of all, we are surprisingly similar in what we desire from our communities.
On the eve of the NAHB International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, the design-build and technology firm Katerra announced a broad series of products aimed at improving the quality and lowering the cost and delivery time of design and construction projects.

The Silicon Valley company’s new offerings will be launched throughout 2019. They include a building platform tool that allows for design and mass customization, manufacturing, and construction of market-rate, garden-style and affordable multifamily housing. Also in this panoply of goods and services are Apollo, a software platform that manages design, cost, material, and schedule data for the lifecycle of any building type; structural and panel systems made from cross-laminated timber (CLT) that can be flat-packed for shipping and field assembly; proprietary energy and HVAC systems known as KES and KTAC, respectively; a bathroom kit designed for rapid field assembly; windows; and two series of interior fixtures and finishes, KOVA and KOVA Select, which include lighting, plumbing fixtures, flooring, and tile.

Katerra will also open two new high-tech manufacturing facilities in 2019—one in Spokane, WA that will make CLT, and another in Tracy, CA that will produce building components such as utility walls, cabinets, and truss assemblies. The company plans to establish similar facilities on the east coast in future years, though it declined to discuss specifics. “Down the line, for cost efficiency, we aim to have 80 percent of our projects located within 500 miles of one of our factories,” says Trevor Schick, president of Katerra Materials and a former manufacturing executive at Hewlett-Packard.

By adding a portfolio of products to its existing design-build services, Katerra is doubling down on its ambition to become a fully integrated one-stop shop for buildings—the Amazon of design and construction, if you will. With more than 5,000 employees worldwide, “the company has taken a collaborative and inclusive approach to working with builders, architects, and others to inform its strategy,” says Craig Curtis, president of Katerra Architecture, who was previously a partner at The Miller Hull Partnership.

The firm’s investment in CLT is a bet that mass timber, more commonly used in Europe and Canada, will gain broader acceptance in the U.S. due to its durability and smaller environmental footprint relative to steel and concrete. Recent proposals to update U.S. building codes for mass timber structures have paved the way for approval of timber-framed buildings up to 18 stories tall, far higher than its current limit of five stories. That being said, Katerra’s new multifamily housing building tool can be used for both timber- and lightweight steel-framed structures, giving it broader application in today’s U.S. market.

Curtis wouldn’t name the number of architects Katerra currently employs on a full-time or contractual basis, but points to its acquisitions and partnerships to indicate the importance of architecture to the company’s mission. Since 2017, Katerra has acquired Nystrom Olson Architecture in Spokane as well as Michael Green Architecture of Vancouver and the multi-based office of Lord Aeck Sargent. The Texas architects Lake|Flato and Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates are listed as collaborators. “Right now we can’t be in all markets at all times, so having strong relationships with firms that offer expertise in needed areas will be crucial to our long-term success,” he says.

Over time, Katerra plans to roll out platforms similar to its multifamily tool for all types of buildings, enabling designs based on kits of parts that are tailored to the needs of the client, program, site, and climate. Curtis says its system offers architects “the best of both worlds, enabling designers to spend time on the details that matter rather than reinventing the wheel with every project.”

Jake Christiansen
Great use of recycled and repurposed materials, too.

We love cross-laminated timber (CLT) because building with wood stores carbon. But there is more to it than that – there is an elegance and simplicity to the way CLT panels go together. That's one of the reasons to love this new house in Fernie, BC, built by Jake Christiansen.

Fernie is ski country, and ski chalets have often been lined with wood; it just feels warm and cozy. I have sometimes questioned whether CLT is the most appropriate way to build with wood on houses and low-rise buildings; it uses a lot more lumber. But it uses a lot less of other stuff, particularly drywall. It is both a structure and a finished wall. And a bonus is the biophilia effect:

A Canadian study showed that wood in interiors was perceived by a majority of subjects as more “warm,” “inviting,” “homey,” and “relaxing” than all other tested materials (Rice et al, 2006). The top-rated rooms in the study were “completely wood dominated, containing little to no artificial materials and having large windows with views of nature, while the bottom five rooms were characterized by a marked lack of anything natural,” and the lowest-rated room of all, a modern living room, was perceived as “cold” and “uncomfortable” by most respondents.

But there is more than just biophilia going on here; there is also a serious attempt to get away from plastics. On the outside of the CLT the house is wrapped with Rockwool comfort board insulation, with the various cladding materials framed over that. And much of that cladding is recycled, old boards and even old rusty siding. I wonder what the neighbours thought when that went up.

It can be applied to many human endeavours, denoting a principle of action having speed or economy and purpose or utility. Basically it involves using an available system or dealing with an existing situation in a new way to solve a problem quickly and effectively. It is a method of creation relying particularly on resources which are already at hand.

Sidewalk Labs
Plans for a high tech Toronto community led by an Alphabet Inc.-backed entity should be scrapped, say politicians and prominent Canadian business and technology leaders.

In the wake of a leaked report last week that revealed Sidewalk Labs’ interest in laying claim to developer fees and taxes usually routed to the city in exchange for funding Toronto’s waterfront transit, longtime critics of the project said it is time to revisit whether the project should continue to move forward.

The project — a partnership with Waterfront Toronto that hopes to bring affordable housing, heated sidewalks, raincoats for buildings and autonomous vehicle infrastructure to 12 acres of the city’s waterfront known as Quayside — has been mired in controversy since Sidewalk won a contract in 2017.

In addition to funding a light rail transit line, the latest round of ideas floated by Sidewalk includes plans to provide infrastructure to a waterfront area bigger than, but surrounding, Quayside.

City councillor Gord Perks, who represents the west-end Parkdale-High Park neighbourhood, has long fretted about Sidewalk’s data privacy policies, lack of transparency and desires around solid waste and transportation, but considered Thursday’s revelations around it wanting to fund a light rail transit line a “confirmation of our worst fears.”

“The three governments who are involved should halt the process with Google and go to the public and say we have an area of land as big as the downtown, what would you like to do?” he told The Canadian Press.

“Based on that we should figure out what pieces need to be developed publicly and which pieces involve the private sector.”

Perks was adamant that he would not support Sidewalk’s light rail transit plan and said “rather than wasting time chasing after a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, we should get on and do what we know does work: build it with public dollars.”

Despite the criticisms, Sidewalk spokesperson Keerthana Rang said in an email to The Canadian Press that the company is still “excited” about the project, which she said “will be up to residents, Waterfront Toronto and all three levels of government to decide if it should go forward.”

“Unfortunately, there are some who have never been open to exploring what a partnership between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs might make possible on the waterfront, and so this is not particularly surprising,” she said.

Waterfront Toronto spokesperson Andrew Tumilty wrote in an email that his organization “values all points of views from the community and remains committed to a full evaluation of Sidewalk Labs’ proposal when it is received.”

An Ontario government source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Canadian Press previously that the scope of Sidewalk’s ideas was “concerning” and said “As it is written, there is no way our government would sign off on that plan.”

Among those who were calling for the project’s cancellation Monday was Bianca Wylie, the co-founder of the advocacy group Tech Reset Canada, who has long been advocating for the project to end.
will start with a confession: I was part of the fawning media swarm that lauded and applauded the accomplishments of Make It Right, Brad Pitt’s bold attempt to rebuild a portion of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The project was, it seemed once, one of the few post-Katrina success stories coming out of that flood-ravaged community.

I still believe the project played a role in helping the neighborhood. But along with everyone else, I was very dismayed by recent events: a class action suit by unhappy residents as well as total radio silence from an organization that once prided itself on community engagement. Late last week, Bloomberg published “When Brad Pitt Tried to Save New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward,” an excellent and even-handed account by journalist Rob Walker. (Full disclosure: Steven Bingler, co-founder of Common Edge, is quoted in the story. His firm, Concordia, designed 10 Make It Right homes. According to Walker, “The 10 homes his company designed—with a pitched roof and prominent, New Orleans-style front porch—have had only routine maintenance issues.”) Prior to that article’s publication I talked to Walker—author of the forthcoming book The Art of Noticing—about his Make It Right reporting and the lessons for social design that we can draw from the story.

MCP: Martin C. Pedersen
RW: Rob Walker

MCP: You live in the Lower Ninth and have watched Make It Right evolve. Tell me about your experience with it as a resident.

RW: I had seen early stages of it, before we moved back to New Orleans. And as a development, I thought it looked really strange. Then when we moved back four years ago to Holy Cross—another section of the Lower Ninth Ward that’s a short bike ride away from the Make It Right houses—I had a change of heart about it. It looked pretty good. But this was literally based on me riding my bike through the neighborhood.

MCP: That is research of a type. You managed to find a resident who had done a fairly detailed study on all of the homes. Talk about how that happened, and then we can talk about her findings.

RW: To set it up a little: The turning point that made me want to take a closer look at Make It Right was the news, over the summer, about a house that had become so blighted they had to demolish it. This was noteworthy, let’s say. There are an awful lot of blighted houses in New Orleans, especially in the Lower Ninth Ward. But this house was only eight years old. And the idea that it was in such bad shape that it had to be destroyed was a little eyebrow-raising.
Rental-assistance programs and public housing see increased funding

Months of political gamesmanship over the federal government’s budget came to an end Friday when President Trump signed a bipartisan compromise that will keep the government open through the rest of the year.

The issue at the core of the impasse—a barrier wall along the southern border—has yet to be resolved as Trump declares a national emergency to obtain funds for it. But the budget deal ends a period of alarm and uncertainty for people who rely on federal assistance to pay for housing, and in fact gives the programs that provide that assistance a funding boost.

For 2019, tenant-based rental assistance, including Section 8 rental vouchers, got a 2.65 percent increase in funding to $22.5 billion. Project-based rental assistance got a 1 percent increase to $11.7 billion.

The public housing capital fund—which is used to make repairs and improvements on public housing units—saw a modest increase of $25 million in funding to $2.7 billion. Likewise, the public housing operating fund got a 2.26 percent increase in funding to $4.6 billion. Given that the funding increases are modest, it’s unlikely they will go toward any new initiatives.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, most of the housing programs operated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) got slight funding increases. Among the programs that received modest budget cuts are housing for persons with disabilities and Section 521 rental assistance, which aids rural areas of the country.

The slight increases in funding are a sigh of relief for affordable housing advocates as HUD’s budget had been slated for drastic cuts by the Trump administration in previous budget requests since Trump took office in 2017.

For 2019, Trump’s budget request cut numerous programs in their entirety, including the popular block grant programs such as community development block grants (CDBG), Native American housing block grants, and the HOME Investment Partnership program, which provides grants to state and local governments to aid low-income housing. Similar cuts were proposed in 2017 and 2018.

But all three years the proposed cuts were shot down in Congress, where many members represent communities that depend on federal housing assistance and community development grants. Trump eventually signed the budget each time and has taken heat from hard-line conservatives for doing so.

The budget deal brings some peace of mind to those who rely on federal aid for housing after the government shutdown in December and January put them at risk of not being able to pay their rent in full, and, at worst, face the prospect of eviction. While it’s unclear how many were actually at risk of losing their homes, the shutdown caused panic among those who receive aid, and there were reports of eviction threats from landlords who house low-income tenants.
Los Angeles has a plan to quickly convert vacant land into space and services for its homeless population–and this design could be part of it.

L.A. is spending more than a billion dollars to build thousands of new units of supportive housing for homeless Angelenos–but while that process will take years, it’s also working to build shelters and other housing across the city much more quickly. One concept for that process, from L.A.-based R&A Architecture and Design, shows how a small slice of land could turn into a comfortable community in around 90 days.

“We’re interested in how you can do a project like this in a way that’s ultra-fast, but also very clearly about the neighborhood and the quality of space and quality of architecture,” says R&A partner Shawn Gehle. The design uses decommissioned shipping containers retrofitted into housing by a local prefab company called Crate Modular, and staggers them in a flexible pattern that can be configured into larger, hall-like shelter spaces, or smaller units for families or individuals. Other containers provide offices for on-site social workers and showers and bathrooms. The site doesn’t look like a parking lot filled with shipping containers; between the units, there are terraces, gardens, and other community space.

Homeless advocates are working to engage neighbors in different ways, says Tommy Newman, who works with United Way of Greater Los Angeles to run a campaign to educate communities about these solutions. “The way this community engagement happened for decades, you put a microphone in the middle of the room, and everybody lines up and starts shouting into the microphone,” he says. “And the reasonable folks in the room sort of quietly slip out the back door because that’s not what they really want to do with their Tuesday night, and they’re not going to get any questions answered. So we’ve really pushed hard to reframe the way these community meetings happen.” Now, he says, they’re set up like open houses, with visual examples and staff who can answer questions one-on-one, countering misconceptions that building shelters might bring an increase in crime in the neighborhood.
Revesco Properties
The most surprising thing about Rhys Duggan’s grand plan is that nothing’s stopping it.

Duggan wants to build a small city in the middle of Denver. He sees tall, spindly towers rising from the banks of the South Platte River. He sees grocery stores and schools, glass and steel. He sees 17,000 more people — a huge figure for a city that has grown by 100,000 since 2011.

Remarkably, in a city wracked by arguments about development, gentrification and density, the enormous redevelopment project faces little if any resistance. With a series of city approvals last year, the River Mile project is approaching the start of what could be decades of construction.

“To me, that’s part of growing up as a city,” he said in a Denver Post interview.

“I think there’s a growing awareness of the challenges that population growth brings, and perhaps a growing awareness that the model of growth that Denver has adopted previously — i.e., more of a horizontal-sprawl model — is perhaps not sustainable. And it’s taken a couple cycles of growth to really start to realize that.”

Duggan leads the plan for a “River Mile” district that eventually would replace the Elitch Gardens amusement park and surrounding parking lots, a site just west of downtown on a light-rail line. It would take billions of dollars and decades to finish.

“I think that if you talk about potential transformation projects, River Mile, Union Station and National Western Center are probably all three in the same category,” said Brad Buchanan, the city’s former planning director and the current CEO of the National Western Center Authority.

So far, there’s every sign that it will happen. The Denver City Council last year approved high-level plans and legal changes for the project, including a rezoning that gives Duggan permission to build up to 59 stories high on the site.

Perhaps most important, the project has committed and wealthy supporters: Stan Kroenke, the billionaire owner of the neighboring Pepsi Center and several professional sports franchises, and his family. It’s “not your typical bank loan, not your typical hedge fund investor,” Duggan said.

Still, there’s no firm timeline for “vertical” construction of buildings yet. The project is likely to solve its major planning challenges, Buchanan said — but he and Duggan both say market conditions will determine everything.

Chicago’s Lincoln Yards, a $6 billion plan to revitalize an old industrial district, raises question about who benefits from such big projects

Chicago’s many nicknames, from the City of Big Shoulders to the City That Works, riff on its reputation as a gritty, hard-working, and down-to-earth alternative to coastal cities.

But the nickname that best characterizes life in Chicago may be the City of Neighborhoods, which reflects its array of diverse, distinct, and close-knit communities.

That sentiment may explain why Lincoln Yards, a new mixed-use mega-development set to reshape a wide swath of the city’s near north side, has angered so many Chicagoans. Estimating total costs to be $6 billion, the proposal, which recently passed an important vote in the Planning Commission after being re-calibrated to reflect community concerns, will ask the city council to approve $900 million in public funding in early March.

Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune architecture critic who shot down earlier versions of the plan, still says the latest version is rife with negative consequences—“snarled streets, bland street facades, and concealed park space”—while three of the city’s largest papers, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, and Crain’s Chicago Business, have all proposed braking or halting the city approval process. “Anyone have a crowbar we can shove into the conveyor belt’s gears?” the Tribune editorial board said of what they called a rushed process.

Lincoln Yards has also led to complaints among the city’s music venues and creative community, since the project would surround the Hideout, a beloved bar and club, and, in an earlier iteration, included new performance venues that were to be run by Live Nation, the concert promoter.

“They’re creating a neighborhood that’s the size of downtown Detroit, and there’s nothing fluid about it,” says Robert Gomez, owner of the Subterranean, a music club in Wicker Park. “This isn’t a city within a city; it’s suburb within a city. It looks like they took Schaumburg and plopped it in the middle of the Chicago.”

The proposal, and requests for public funding, raise fundamental questions about Chicago’s direction, which could be applied to any U.S. city contemplating large-scale re-development. Can we create working neighborhoods out of whole cloth? Should the public help fund their construction? And, more importantly, can these neighborhoods work for everyone?

“Most people who live and love Chicago celebrate [its] neighborhoods,” says DePaul professor Winifr
AP Photo
The move by the company is “potentially groundbreaking” and an acknowledgment that “government alone cannot really solve” the housing crisis.

Microsoft is pledging to spend $500 million to help build out affordable housing in the Seattle area, as well as tackle the city’s persistent homelessness problem.

With a tech boom driven by Microsoft and Amazon, along with other companies, the housing crisis has deepened in Seattle in recent years. The company’s investment, spent largely over the coming three years, plans to target not only those on the lowest end of the income scale, but also middle-income housing needed for teachers, nurses, police officers and others.

That kind of housing can be a particular challenge, said Al Levine, who for years was the deputy executive director at the Seattle Housing Authority and now teaches at the University of Washington. Construction costs plus steep prices for land, along with an arduous review process, mean that developers can have a hard time with those projects, he said.

"It is very challenging to make the financing work there,” Levine said, while also calling the Microsoft announcement “potentially groundbreaking.”

“It is an acknowledgement of the size of the crisis and the fact that government alone cannot really solve it,” he said.

Levine said he appreciated the company’s promise to allocate $25 million to homelessness, which initially will include $5 million on what he called a long-needed effort to create a consolidated agency to tackle the problem in both Seattle and surrounding King County.

Most of the investment will come in the form of grants and loans to spur housing development. In a blog post on Wednesday, Microsoft President Brad Smith and Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said that $225 million will be targeted at middle-income housing in six cities east of Seattle. The other $250 million will be spent in the entire region to help build low-income housing.
Jeremy Gudac courtesy Land Ark RV
Tiny houses: still full of creativity

Another year, another crop of tiny houses to marvel over. In 2018, micro abodes of all kinds—camper vans, trailers, prefabs—showcased boundless ingenuity, and tiny houses on wheels were not left behind.

From good-looking builds that embraced the larger design trends (like all-black exteriors and modern farmhouse style) to one-of-a-kind gems (like one designed after a lunar lander), here are the tiny homes that stood out from the pack this year.

All-black modern stunner

Land Ark RV is making some of the stylish tiny houses around these days. The Draper here, like its predecessor the Drake, fully embraces the all-black exterior trend. For a fun contrast, the interior is all light pine with a sleek modern kitchen, a U-shaped sofa that transforms into a queen-size bed, full shower in the bathroom, a “mud room” with a washer/dryer unit, and built-in shelving throughout.

The one with a sliding roof

With the Cécile tiny house from French builder Optinid, we may have finally seen everything. The roof of the home slides right open to reveal the skies, if you ever feel too cramped or just want some fresh air. Another clever feature? A staircase that does triple duty as storage and desktop.

A tiny house designed after a lunar lander

Just kidding—now we’ve seen everything. Naval architect Kurt Hughes designed the hexagon-shaped structure after the lander that astronauts piloted during the Apollo 11 landing. Sitting on three steel beams, the 250-square-foot home has plenty of nooks and lookout opportunities, plus a compact kitchen, breakfast nook, bathroom, and sleeping space for two. .