By Janet Le
On April 16, a group of UC Berkeley graduate students virtually presented their concept for the 2020 Innovation in Affordable Housing (IAH) Student Design and Planning Competition, which invites teams of graduate students from schools throughout the U.S. to respond to a real-world housing problem and propose their ideas for addressing social, economic, environmental, design, financial, and construction issues.
The Santa Fe County Housing Authority (SFCHA), which acted as the client, challenged student teams to design a new mixed-use development for mixed-income residents on a site in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The interdisciplinary group, which consisted of Mariela Herrick (City Planning ’20), Meaghan Lyons (Architecture ’20), Cali Slepin (City Planning ’21), Dylan Westhoff (Real Estate Development and Design ’20), and Cody Zeger (Public Policy ’21), were finalists in the IAH competition. The team created an innovative affordable housing development plan and design that dealt with zoning requirements, local economic conditions, a feasible financing model, the built environment, and community needs.
The Competition Site and Requirements
Because SFCHA had not constructed new housing in over 35 years, the competition was an opportunity to explore creative ideas for developing future housing. The IAH competition site was a vacant parcel just north of the intersection of Camino de Jacobo and Airport Road, nestled between a shopping center, a storage facility, and another affordable housing development. SFCHA expressed that the student proposals should produce a desirable community space that offers access to jobs, shopping, and services.
In March, the student team visited Santa Fe and met with key stakeholders who talked about the need for housing and the county’s vision for the new development. They learned about the rich history, architecture, and culture of Santa Fe, which the SFCHA wanted to preserve and celebrate.
Cali recalls her experience of the site visit: “It’s not a pretty site and is surrounded by a planner's worst nightmare of eight-lane roads and big box retail. Going to the site pushed us to think through what human-scale amenities meant to us and which ones we thought would be successful both in the short and long term.”
The student teams had to meet specific criteria presented by the county stakeholders, which stressed design that prioritized people over cars, integrated climate-resilient elements, and promoted energy efficiency. For housing, the stakeholders asked for one- and two-bedroom units intended for families earning at or below 60% of the median income of the area.
The Project: Focusing on an Intergenerational Community
The team presented their project, “Three Peaks: An Intergenerational Approach to Affordable Housing in Santa Fe” to a panel of six jurors. Recognizing the increasing number of households headed by grandparents and the fact that intergenerational households in the area are locked out of supportive resources and safety net programs, the team focused on creating a model that could meet the needs of intergenerational living and serve all ages and abilities, while promoting environmental, social, and cultural sustainability and resiliency.
“We honed our vision on intergenerational living that everyone on our team had a role in shaping…we were able to streamline and prioritize [this as] most important to our project and to the part of Santa Fe for which we were designing,” says Meaghan.
Their envisioned affordable housing project consists of 147 affordable rental units and 28 ownership townhome units, an active central plaza aimed at fostering community, retrofitted shipping containers serving as workspaces that artists and small businesses can rent, a childcare center, curbside bioswales, green roofs, and community murals and gardens, among many other thoughtfully designed amenities and services. The proposed feasible financing model is planned in two phases, the first of which utilizes 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and the second using 9% credits; this allows vital resident amenities to be built during the first phase. Another one of their approaches to feasibility was to increase home ownership options, which would offer low-income families the opportunity to accrue intergenerational wealth through ownership.
The team also focused heavily on fostering community by reaching out to local organizations to determine what services and amenities the community needed, and they incorporated what they heard from these community partners into their design.
“We spoke with a number of community groups in Santa Fe and made sure to incorporate their thoughts into our project. This was a huge challenge and required hours of work and compromise to fit everything in, but it was all worth the effort,” Cody recalls. “Housing is so often designed without the voices or expertise of the people already living there, so this project was a wonderful opportunity to show how community groups can play a big role in shaping incoming housing.”
Their project looked beyond the competition site by imagining how Three Peaks connects with the larger Southwest Santa Fe area and how the resources, services, and programming offered in their proposal could inspire more investment in providing long-term stable and affordable housing options through creative approaches.
Making a Difference
According to SFCHA executive director Joseph R. Montoya, the efforts of all finalists are going to have real-world impacts, because their plans and designs will inform the housing authority’s Request for Proposals and may even be integrated into the new development. “For us, this is more than just simply new units; this is really a way to inspire, create, and continue our cultural legacy that we’re really proud of in Santa Fe,” says Montoya.
“I really enjoyed working on a project where our ideas can be implemented,” says Cali. “All of our team members come from different backgrounds and each idea that we presented was shaped by hours of debate between the five of us. At first it was challenging to propose an idea and then have everyone else mold it based on their experience, but it helped our main innovations balance of design, equity, and feasibility.”
Meaghan adds, “We all had the opportunity to learn from each other and create a well-rounded project that wouldn’t have been possible in a single-discipline team. Between the narrative, the design, the financing, and the sustainability features, there was a wide range of skills required to put the project together.”
“It was a huge learning experience,” says Cody. “While I was interested in housing before this project, I had never understood how affordable housing development worked. Jumping into this project and getting to learn from every member of our team was an incredible experience…we put countless hours of work into making sure we presented the best project we could. I am so proud of our team and the affordable housing community we presented.”