Baptist Town featured in HUD magazine

We are excited to be featured in PD&R Edge, the online magazine of HUD (the US Department of Housing and Urban Development). An excerpt is below or read the full article.

“The cottages are part of the Baptist Town neighborhood revitalization project, which includes new parks, streetscape improvements, job training, and a community center… According to Emily Roush-Elliott, an architectural fellow…, the built environment often reinforces social and economic inequity instead of helping residents. One of the goals of the Baptist Town Cottages is to reverse some of that inequity by providing desperately needed affordable housing and helping residents build financial equity through homeownership…The installation and finishing of the cottages were seen as a ‘joint investment in both the built environment and human capacity,’ says Roush-Elliott, and were used to enhance the job readiness of some Baptist Town residents [who] received on-the-job training in carpentry and other building trades as they helped complete the cottages.”

lora and michael’s cottage story

Lora and Michael

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas continues the series featuring Cottage buyers with a great PR Newswire article about Lora and Michael.

Lora and Michael Gallion were lifelong renters and living on a fixed income. The only houses the couple could afford were run-down spaces that were almost uninhabitable.

Then one day, the Gallions saw a sign about the Baptist Town Cottages, a revitalized neighborhood in Greenwood, Mississippi, with new homes for families earning less than 50 percent of the area median income.

“I’m so glad we saw the sign,” said Mrs. Gallion, 50, a former certified nursing assistant now living on disability. “We had looked at other homes to rent, but even at $400 a month, the condition of them was not good.””

Continue reading the article at PR Newswire.

he who seeks truth… in apartment buildings

By far, one of the highlights of the American Institute of Architects 2015 National Convention was Moshe Safdie’s acceptance of the Gold Medal Award. Safdie’s work strikes the difficult balance between sensitivity and scale, between humane and replicable.

In this TED talk from 2014, Safdie shares design and planning lessons learned over nearly fifty years, beginning with Habitat ’67 and spanning to projects currently under construction in Singapore. Though he discusses low and middle income housing throughout this video, his focus is on nature and shared spaces, underlying the lack of ego with which Safdie approaches architecture.

He who seeks truth shall find beauty
He who seeks beauty shall find vanity

He who seeks order shall find gratification
He who seeks gratification shall be disappointed

He who considers himself a servant of his fellow beings shall find the joy of self expression
He who seeks self expression shall fall into the pit of arrogance

Arrogance is incompatible with nature
Through nature, the nature of the universe and the nature of man, we shall seek truth
If we seek truth we shall find beauty
-Moshe Safdie

eleven families will open the door to their new home

As we wrap up construction of the first phase of the Baptist Town Cottage Project, Enterprise continues to support the work in a variety of ways. Most recently, it’s exciting to see a news release about the project, and to be cited by Michelle Whetten as contributing to the overall mission of Enterprise.

“At Enterprise, we are committed to ending housing insecurity within a generation, which means no more homelessness and no more families paying more than half of their income on housing. The Baptist Town cottages will help this community meet the need for affordable housing beginning with these 11 families,” said Michelle Whetten, Enterprise Community Partners Inc.’s Gulf Coast Market Leader. 

Read the full release here.

Below, utilities have been connected at the cottages, and the previously vacant lot is no longer dark.

IMG_0806 night

rock, paper, people

(concrete, permits, homeowners)

Developing affordable housing is not easy. It’s a complex, political process that requires a team to realize at any scale. After years of effort from multiple project partners, the Baptist Town Cottage Project is making strides. With permits in hand, concrete is being poured for the first foundations today!

Perhaps more important than these visible steps, the project team hosted Fred Johnson of the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Foundation last week. Fred is a home ownership counseling expert who taught a class to future cottage owners on the “rights, privileges, and responsibilities” of home ownership. After many months of hard work, Fred’s enthusiasm and perspective reminded us all how excited we are about this opportunity for eleven families to move toward increased economic stability.  Many thanks to Enterprise Gulf Coast for sending us just the expert we needed.

a message from Enterprise

On any given night, 630,000 people in the United States are homeless. One in six of these people is a veteran and one in five has a child to support.

With your support, we can begin to change these conditions through the thoughtful design of affordable, supportive housing for formerly-homeless populations; design that promotes physical and mental wellbeing, recovery, and community.

Design makes all the difference for at-risk populations. Star Apartments in downtown Los Angeles is a perfect example. Since completing her fellowship in 2012 with SkidRow Housing Trust, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow Theresa Hwang has continued to use her design background to direct the development of this pivotal project. The results; 102 apartments for formerly homeless individuals; the first mixed-use, multi-unit supportive housing project employing entirely green construction methods in Los Angeles.

Please help support our mission through our year-end CrowdRise Holiday Challenge. Plus, thanks to a generous grant from The Kendeda Fund, your contribution will be matched, dollar for dollar! To date, we are at 50% of our fundraising goal and the Holiday Challenge ends January 9th at noon.

Again, my deepest thanks for supporting our work over the years, and thank you in advance for your support during the Holiday Challenge.

Best wishes,

Katie Swenson

And, if you donate $50 or more from January 5th at 12pm EST – January 8th at 12pm EST, you will automatically be entered to win a Droid Ultra Smartphone!

skidrow for blog

soft metrics

I believe strongly that design and thoughtful implementation add value to every project, but social impact work takes place in such a complex and variable environment that tracking outcomes based on specific projects is rare and imperfect. As I mentioned in my last post, we may not even know of the positive or negative ripple effects our work is having. Despite this, I also believe it is the responsibility of social impact designers to make an effort to document metrics associated with their work.

If we want the field of public interest design to grow, and funding to be dedicated to the projects and the jobs we believe make the world a better place, there is no alternative to demonstrating a compelling value proposition.

Rebekah Levine Coley, a professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, and her colleagues from Tufts University make just such a proposition through a six-year long study that tracked the development of 2,400 low-income children within poor families. The research concluded that “the quality of a child’s home predicted academic success and susceptibility to emotional and behavioral issues” more strongly and consistently than any other factor.  As Emily Badger writes in her report on the study, the breadth and depth of the research is important because it indicates causation over correlation. Read an excerpt below or the entire article here.

In retrospect, that study amassed precisely the kind of data you’d need to understand how housing itself – not the social environment of a “family home” – might influence children. The study recorded whether a home was rented or owned, or rented through public housing or subsidies, how affordable it was relative to a family’s income, how often families moved from house to house, and the quality of the property. Researchers looked for working refrigerators, holes in the wall, rodents, functioning heat and hot water, adequate light and fresh air – many of them signs of poor-quality housing outside of a family’s control. All of the families were low-income, but some had considerably more run-down housing than others.12837889-old-and-weathered-grey-barn-wall-with-empty-hole-from-broken-and-missing-barnwood-board-showing-aged

Controlling for other factors like a parent’s employment status and income, Coley and her co-authors concluded that the poor quality of housing more strongly and consistently predicted a child’s well-being than all of those other housing characteristics (including whether the home was considered “affordable” to the parents or not). Children in more derelict housing had lower average reading and math skills. They had more emotional and behavioral problems.

The information presented in this study is important in gaining traction for the broad assertion that where a person lives shapes who they are. As stated above, the breadth of this study is important, but public interest designers, rather than be daunted by the idea of studying 2,400 of anything, should see their own projects as an opportunities to reinforce the study on a case by case basis.

I am new to metrics, and am beginning to delve deeper in two ways. First, by frequently asking myself, “What are the intended outcomes of my work in Mississippi?” I have tasked myself with assigning three specific outcomes to track to the Baptist Town Cottage project by the end of November. I will then measure these outcomes before, during and after construction.  Of those three, I would like one of them to be a “soft metric” – something that is not numerical, hard to measure, and tied to well-being similar to Coley’s study.

17 heads are better than 1


From the first days of design school, the concept of perspective is introduced. Technically, we think about how to draw or model something so that it looks realistic, often at eye level. We also learn about the experience of gaining various perspectives within or around a building, and how those perspectives impact the inhabitant. Less design oriented, is the idea of perspective from the standpoint of the background with which a professional approaches a project. Through the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute, Enterprise Community Partners engages designers and developers in a unique opportunity to bridge the gaps between these professionally diverse perspectives as they relate to community development and affordable housing.

 The two and a half day conference began with presentations and discussion of two projects that provided a platform for the remainder of the conference. Robert Ivy, the Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) led a panel featuring the developers and architects of two award winning projects: Chicago’s own La Casa, the Richard H. Driehaus Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design Winner; and Via Verde, the AIA/HUD Secretary’s Awards for Design Excellence in Affordable Housing Winner. The locations, challenges, financing, and joys of these projects were shared by the teams, and a theme that resonated throughout the conference became apparent: the human factor. The designs of both projects are rooted in the desires of residents, and the development teams were driving forces in realizing community stated goals. The collaborative processes pursued by both of these teams resulted in buildings that are not only applauded by the design community, but also respected by neighbors and cared for by residents. Both projects exemplified a James Rouse quote Sunny Fischer of the Driehaus Foundation shared, “Good design doesn’t cost, it pays.”

Building upon the opening night, the conference continued at the offices of Cannon Design. The agenda alternated between design team members discussing best practices that they have learned through experience, and development team members presenting projects in the schematic design phase. These development team presentations then became the basis of a round table format charette. While nuts and bolts often were the starting point of these charettes (dimensions of fire truck access and the differences between 4% and 9% housing tax credits), these concrete questions became jumping off points for broader, more probing topics. How can shared spaces encourage physical activity? How can assets and obstacles in the site plan be seen in a new way? Who will user groups be and what will they want?

Each year at AHDLI, development teams explore their work through the lens of the designer and vice versa, but the unique and pervasive theme of AHDLI 2013 was the importance placed upon the perspective of neither the designer nor the developer, but the resident.

8 days a week


American Public Media’s Marketplace segment yesterday, High Rents, Low Income, included a succinct segment describing the gap between what is an acceptable hourly wage in the US compared to monthly rent rates. The two don’t match up, and something has to give. The options individuals and families are left with include skimping on essentials like health insurance and healthy food, or as a last resort, homelessness. At the community level, businesses and lawmakers should take note of who is leaving and when, taking with them their contribution to the local economy as well as the social fabric.

Some may argue that such problems are a result of laziness, but as the map above shows, 8 days a week still wouldn’t be enough to cover the rent at minimum wage in any state.