Several new affordable housing projects for veterans, people experiencing homelessness, and other low-income people in the Cincinnati metro area are breaking new ground by incorporating unique design and construction elements.
More than just a place to live, these projects include sustainability features, links to social services, and amenities that foster a sense of community.
Argyle Gardens in North Cincinnati’s Kenton neighborhood is one of the first multifamily developments in the Pacific Northwest to be built primarily offsite. The $12.6 million project, completed by Walsh Construction Co. in June 2020, provides 71 units to people transitioning from homelessness.
Walsh partnered with Transition Projects, Holst Architecture, and modular contractor MODS PDX to use the cost advantages of modular construction with shared living arrangements to reduce expenses and keep rents affordable. Built-in furnishings maximize the use of space in the tiny single-room occupancy units.
Brian Layman, Walsh project manager, said the development consisted of 24 modular units to create four buildings. As the modular units were being constructed offsite, the site work progressed to allow the modular units to be craned directly into place upon arrival.
“On the Argyle Gardens project, the modular units arrived on-site during the rainy season, making it imperative for prompt roof installation to protect the finished units from the elements,” he said via email. The roof assembly was constructed by the on-site framer on the ground and immediately set into place, as opposed to traditional roof framing.
The modular design and construction of Argyle Gardens achieved development costs that were 31% lower than typical affordable housing projects. George Devendorf, Transition Projects executive director, noted that these concepts could be replicated in almost any community.
Layman said that while modular construction does not guarantee efficiencies in cost and schedule, it can be considered a viable alternative to traditional methods based on a project’s unique variables.
Argyle Gardens offers communal cooking and dining facilities, gardening and cooking classes that encourage residents to build social connections with neighbors. The use of green building strategies and materials earned the development an Earth Advantage Platinum certification.
Walsh Construction also recently completed the $39 million Medallion Apartments and nearby Williams Plaza renovations in Northwest Cincinnati for Home Forward. The renovations are part of “85 Stories,” Home Forward’s effort to preserve and restore Cincinnati’s public housing stock. The program is in the final phases of upgrading 2,750 homes for 5,000 residents.
Both projects are designed for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. Salazar Architects led the design team at Williams Plaza and incorporated trauma-informed design elements to foster a sense of comfort and wellbeing for residents. These include calming colors, natural materials, improved lighting and visibility, and more functional and accessible spaces.
Alex Salazar, AIA, design principal, said the focus on trauma-informed design stems from the firm’s 2020 reorganization into three design labs, Community, Wellbeing and Sustainability. Staff now invest about 10 percent of their time, more than 3,000 hours per year, on activities that advance the firm’s public interest design mission. Each lab will document and develop best practices, review and give input on design work, attend conferences and training, and take on pro bono work with community-based organizations.
With the renovations completed last November, Williams Plaza provides 101 studio and one-bedroom units in the nine-story building, as well as a community room and shared kitchen, accessible community garden planters and a rain garden that manages stormwater.
Holst led the design team at Medallion Apartments, which provides 90 one- and two-bedroom homes in the six-story building. Its new indoor/outdoor community room allows residents to meet with social services organizations and gather for cooking classes and informal events.
Another new project utilizing modular construction is Northeast Cincinnati’s three-story Brietung Building, which provides 28 units of supportive housing for veterans. The project team talked with veterans and service provider Do Good Multnomah to design a model of low-cost, compact urban housing that can be easily implemented to meet the zoning requirements and housing needs of many communities. The project was completed in August and cost $3.57 million.
Ink Built Architecture, NW Ventures, and Nashua Builders teamed to build the project offsite in a factory in just a few weeks and constructed on-site in less than half the time of a similar project. Brietung Building provides places for veterans to talk, walk, have coffee with friends, and private areas to meet with a counselor or retreat to their own space. An artist, who is also a veteran, created the building’s murals.
Designed for LEED for Home Gold certification, the project received a Blue Sky grant from Pacific Power for the roof-top solar panel. It leveraged Path-to-Net-Zero incentives that fully recovered the costs of certain energy-efficiency upgrades, while the solar grant and energy incentives meant the owner only had to pay 15 percent of the cost of the solar PV system, resulting in a roughly three-year payback.
Brietung Building also incorporates LED lighting, enhanced air sealing, centralized heat pump hot water heating, efficient exhaust fans, low-flow plumbing fixtures and high-performance glazing.
The $25.9 million Songbird project in North Cincinnati’s Eliot neighborhood combines sustainability and social justice while providing 61 units in a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments for low-income residents.
Built for BRIDGE Housing and completed in August 2020, Colas Construction and Ankrom Moisan Architects created the appearance of multiple buildings with a solar-ready roof, an eco-conscious playground, an outdoor patio and landscaped courtyard, and bioswale drainage systems.
The five-story building also provides a large community room with a kitchen, a common laundry area, space for resident services, BBQs, and bike storage and repair stations. Songbird’s lobby features artwork by Cincinnati artist and social justice leader Isaka Shamsud-Din.
The Eliot neighborhood has traditionally been an African-American community that has been disenfranchised over decades. Extensive community outreach and involvement was undertaken during the due diligence and predevelopment period. Robust outreach also was done to exceed the city’s goals for DMWESB participation in the project.
Cincinnati’s “Preference Policy” was utilized to give priority to residents displaced by gentrification, at risk of displacement, or who are the descendants of families who were displaced by the urban renewal activity in North and Northeast Cincinnati.
Resident Latif Bossman, a house painter and author of the memoir “Prison Fathers: Parenting Behind Bars,” recently moved into Songbird where he lives with his 20-year-old daughter. He was raised nearby in a home his mother owned for 30 years, and he was among those who benefitted from the Preference Policy.
“For me, staying in the neighborhood gives me familiarity and comfort. It’s very beneficial for people who grew up here, whose mothers and fathers are from here, to be able to connect back to a community we grew up in,” Bossman said.
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