Beauty Inspiring Beauty: Skid Row Housing Trust
Social change merges with urban architecture and thoughtful design in one of the largest recovery communities in the United States. Mike Alvidrez, Executive Director of the Skid Row Housing Trust, speaks about the importance of design in permanent supportive housing. “Everybody has the right to live in the best designed home that we can come up with,” says Alvidrez.
“Beauty has a way of inspiring potential and more beauty,” says Mike Alvidrez, Executive Director of the Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles. This year, the Trust will complete three new permanent supportive housing apartment complexes. The Abbey Apartments, Carver Apartments, and Cobb Apartments will add 282 new rentable units of affordable housing to Los Angeles, part of one of the largest recovery communities in the country.
The Trust develops, manages and operates permanent supportive housing that provides a complete range of support services. These services are needed to help residents move beyond poverty, illness, and addiction.
“Skid Row” refers to the slice of downtown Los Angeles with one of the largest populations of people who are homeless in the United States. It is estimated that 7,000 to 8,000 homeless persons live in Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
The Trust is working to re-define Skid Row by bringing stability, support, and well-designed housing to Los Angeles’ most vulnerable residents.
“When we open a new building and see large numbers of people having a chance to get off the streets, you see, hear, and feel the depth of their experience. It is part of regaining their lives again. It is so compelling. When people tell you their stories, it makes you want to cry sometimes. It is unbelievably poignant and this is what drives the Skid Row Housing Trust,” says Alvidrez.
Properties developed by the Trust offer a unique take on permanent supportive housing. By working with award-winning architects and designers, the group is successfully creating homes with the understanding that space has an impact on how people feel about themselves.
Michael Maltzan, of Michael Maltzan Architecture, has worked closely with the Trust on several properties. He understands the needs and concerns about merging social change with urban architecture. With each architectural project, their firm has come to a greater understanding of how to improve their designs.
“One of the real strengths of the Skid Row Housing Trust is that they see these projects as progressive and they see architecture as having a strong role in supporting that progressivism on many levels,” says Maltzan.
“Everybody has the right to live in the best designed home that we can come up with,” offers Mike Alvidrez. “Design is very important. It has been important to the Trust since its inception. There has always been a strong belief that people deserve high quality housing.”
“Moving into a well-designed building can have a tremendous therapeutic effect. It instills a sense of hope and potential, and an opportunity to regain one’s life in a civic community,” says Alvidrez.
These buildings have been designed to create connectivity to the larger community and to inspire dialogue between interior and exterior spaces. The entryways are large and bring in light from the street. Focal points for engagement have been created with community laundry areas, and viewing decks with views of the LA skyline that are connected to communal kitchens.
According to Alvidrez, it is critical to understand the people who will call these spaces home. “Our perspective is that we have to figure out who the client is. We find the best designers that we can, but we are not the clients. The more we know about our clients and their needs, the better we are able to address the building needs. Since we manage our own properties, we get feedback on how they are used. Because we have a services component, we get feedback from our own partners.”
“We try to bring as much light into the area as possible. We are working with people who have been through every institution and who have fallen through the cracks in institutions that are not dedicated to recovery. Our properties look nothing like institutions,” says Alvidrez.
The Trust has succeeded at combining diverse funding streams. While there were traditional funding sources, such as low -income housing tax credits, all three of these buildings also benefited from city and state dollars. The City of Los Angeles has an affordable housing trust fund and there was state money available through Proposition 1 C from 2006. Two statewide affordable housing bonds passed and there was funding available through the Multi-Family Housing Program (MHP), which is a program of the California Housing and Community Development Department.
The Trust is part of the Skid Row Collaborative, one of 11 federally funded demonstration projects to address chronic homelessness in the country’s large urban communities.
Alivdrez’s views on funding and design speak to his organization’s ability to defy conventional wisdom and to break the barriers that have been created by the stigma associated with affordable housing.
“It is gratifying to finish a building that impacts people’s lives. While funding is limited, we cannot afford to not have great design.”
Click here to learn more about the Skid Row Housing Trust, and click here to learn more about architect Michael Maltzan's work
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