Perspectives 11.22.2021

Supporting Communities through Beautiful Affordable Housing

The shortage of affordable housing has been a long-time issue in the U.S., and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the deficit in housing availability across the country. In fact, researchers at Freddie Mac, a federally-backed home mortgage company, estimated that the current shortage of homes is approaching 3.8 million, compared with 2.5 million in 2018. Given higher demand for housing and a limited supply, the shortage is only expected to climb in the coming years.

Through our Social Purpose program, we’ve been fortunate enough to partner with clients that are at the forefront of this issue and provide affordable housing for marginalized communities across the country. This venture allows us to allocate time and resources to build strong relationships with organizations that are making meaningful change while aligning with our firm’s values.

Here are a few examples of projects around the U.S. that, through exemplary design, have contributed supportive housing to their communities in meaningful ways.

Strong Foundations

Sarah’s Circle
Chicago, Illinois

According to a City of Chicago report, 38.1% of homeless individuals in Chicago identified as female in 2020. Even though women are the minority in this group, they are also more susceptible to threats of violence and harassment when living on the streets. Additionally, over two million women in Illinois have experienced domestic violence in their lifetimes. Now, with COVID-19, the rates of domestic violence and evictions have become even more correlated, creating a stronger urgency for thoughtfully organized safe homes for women.

Chicago-based nonprofit Sarah’s Circle is at the forefront of providing permanent housing solutions and supportive services for women dealing with homelessness. And for nearly a decade, we’ve partnered with the organization, designing two safe and secure homes, with a third under construction.

“The role of the building is very important. We have to keep everyone safe; the women in interim housing cannot have access to those in permanent housing; you must be open 24/7 and be able to provide three meals a day,” says Sarah’s Circle executive director Kathy Ragnar.

The newest building, which opened in January 2021, replaced a long-shuttered, dilapidated two-story red-brick facility.

The newest building, which opened in January 2021, replaced a long-shuttered, dilapidated two-story red-brick facility. The new six-story building includes 38 private apartments and interim housing for another 50 women with space for administrative offices, kitchen and dining, and community programming.

For permanent housing resident and Sarah’s Circle board member June Merritt, the new facility has transformed her life. “When I walked into my apartment, I broke down in tears,” says Merritt, who has experienced homelessness several times. “It is such a healing experience. What you are doing is basically saving lives.”

The upcoming third shelter is several blocks away and will provide homes for 28 women in permanent housing when it opens in 2022.

“They are beautiful, gorgeous buildings. You come into a first-class building with artwork that is designed to be uplifting and reflective of the diversity of our community. It sends a message: You are special; you are welcome here,” says Ragnar. “For our staff, too, this is a great building. They have really difficult jobs and having really nice spaces shows how much we value them.”

Sarah’s Circle
Chicago-based nonprofit Sarah’s Circle is at the forefront of providing permanent housing solutions and supportive services.
Sarah’s Circle
For nearly a decade, we have followed the organization’s vision of creating safe and secure homes for women.
“We have a vision to help create an affirming and inclusive community—a place where people feel good about living and that Dallas feels proud of." – Cece Cox

Place and Belonging

Oaklawn Place
Dallas, Texas

Under Texas state law, the LGBTQIA+ community is currently unprotected from housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQIA+ seniors in particular face hurdles that require a greater need for safety and sense of belonging.

“Barriers exist that make it difficult for minority communities to access housing, services and health care,” says Cece Cox, CEO of the nonprofit Resource Center, a trusted leader that serves the LGBTQIA+ community.

To aid these communities and meet the growing demand for affordable housing and services for Dallas’ aging LGBTQIA+ population, developer Matthews Southwest and non-profit Volunteers of America created a plan to partner with Resource Center. Guided by the shared mission to improve health and wellness, strengthen families and communities, and provide transformative education and advocacy, our Dallas team designed Oaklawn Place, an 84-unit affordable housing complex to be completed in 2023.

The new development will emphasize health and wellbeing while creating a sense of place for its residents and staff through materials and colors that represent North Texas. For example, the black brick and metal used on the exterior will pay homage to the Blackland Prairie of North Texas, as well as the modernization of the industrial boat salvage yard that previously occupied the area. The project will also incorporate an outdoor deck that appears to float above the sloping site and creek, emphasizing an attention to wellness and nature.

“The team at Perkins&Will really jumped in to learn about the population we’re serving and their unique needs,” says Cox. “They have expressed a real passion for understanding why Resource Center is committed to this project and why we care so deeply about this population.”

When completed, Oaklawn Place will serve as a haven for LGBTQIA+ seniors while providing affordable housing and adding to the stabilization of the neighborhood. With innovative programming designed to reduce isolation and depression among older LGBTQIA+ adults, Resource Center will help older LGBTQIA+ adults feel safe and welcome within this space.

“We have a vision to help create an affirming and inclusive community—a place where people feel good about living and that Dallas feels proud of,” says Cox.

From Pavement to Purpose

11010 Santa Monica Boulevard (11010 SMB)
Los Angeles, CA

A city-owned parking lot in Los Angeles will soon be a five-story building with 50 studio units designated for unhoused seniors and senior military veterans.

“While these 50 units won’t solve the problem we have now, it will solve problems for 50 people who need our help,” says Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Koretz. “And every bit we can do to find housing and provide long-term supportive services for homeless is vital.”

11010 SMB, developed by the Weingart Center and Valued Housing, is an innovative architectural response for permanent supportive housing within the City of Angels. Its modular construction and prefabricated design allow for efficient construction and flexibility.

Residents will benefit from a wide range of social services tailored to their needs, including medical and psychiatric treatment services, counseling and advocacy, job training, and intensive case management. This prototype offers dignity, compassion, and comfort for those most in need.

11010 SMB is an efficient modular construction that is thoughtful and responsive to its surroundings.
11010 Santa Monica Boulevard
A city-owned parking lot in Los Angeles will soon be a five-story building with 50 studio units designated for unhoused seniors and senior military veterans.
11010 Santa Monica Boulevard
Residents will receive a wide range of social services tailored to their needs in a safe and comfortable environment.

At the heart of these projects is our philosophy of designing spaces that holistically promote well-being at every scale. Humane affordable housing in particular has the potential to transform and strengthen communities down to their roots. Clients and partners that align with our values have been the backbone of these projects, turning these visions into reality. By fostering these relationships, we’re able to meaningfully impact our local communities through design.

In light of Giving Tuesday, a global generosity movement that celebrates and encourages giving back to the organizations that are making meaningful change, please consider supporting Resource Center and Sarah’s Circle.