Los Angeles is currently pioneering the fight against homelessness.
Traditionally, the city has combated homelessness by utilizing the Skid Row Housing Trust, an organization that provides, manages, and operates affordable housing coupled with supportive services to break the cycle of homelessness. With the Trust, Los Angeles has revitalized hotels and abandoned buildings to provide homeless folk access to housing.
This time around, the Trust has developed a more innovative technique. They are constructing a 102-unit, $20.5M building by “stacking pre-outfitted apartments atop one another in a Lego-like fashion.” The building was designed by Michael Maltzan, an award-winning architect. While this technique may seem elementary (especially, as you remember your childhood lego-playing days), it has proven cost effective and time efficient. In fact, the Los Angeles Times claims that this is the first multi-family building in the country that is constructed in this way.
Aligning with the Trust’s ideology, the new project offers many amenities to cultivate community. For instance, the space has community gardens, basketball courts, and feet upon feet of green space. Unlike traditional low-income housing, the new building is decorated with color in an attempt to infuse the space with the vibrancy of Los Angeles. In essence, the building reflects the folks that occupy the city.
The space will house up to 100 formerly homeless people, with emphasis on providing service and shelter to those who have repeatedly visited area emergency rooms or received treatment for chronic medical conditions. While the space will offer treatment for medical, psychiatric, and drug-related issues, residents will not be mandated to visit the treatment facilities in order to live in the building. The only requirement is that residents pay 30% of their monthly job or government assistance benefits in rent. (The standard level required by other housing programs, such as Section 8.) The residents are allowed to stay in the building as long as they continue to pay rent. Unlike many subsidy programs, it seems like the Trust’s mission is less about getting folks off the program and more about getting folks off the streets.
While the center is not the definitive answer to end homelessness (especially given their limited capacity), it is a step in a sustainable direction. The architecture and amenities of the space inspire community and promote self-empowerment. By placing an emphasis on community, the residents are given an opportunity to bond around a common experience and, as a result, disrupt the shame associated with homelessness. Also, by placing an emphasis on the agency of the residents (rather than implementing a top-down, hierarchical approach), the Trust illustrates trust in the residents to independently decide their futures.
Spatially, Los Angeles and New York City are vastly different — Los Angeles is spread out, while New York City is compact. Lack of space makes it difficult to build similar structures in New York City. However, the ideology behind the Trust’s program, the idea of promoting community and self-empowerment, are necessary to duplicate when thinking about combating homelessness in New York City. Additionally, this idea serves as a model for how to provide affordable housing in a less expensive and speedy manner. In order to eradicate the cyclical impacts of homelessness, it is imperative that we creatively and thoughtfully meet folks where they’re at.