Contemporary. Hip. Accessible. Vibrant. Artistic.
These are usually not the words associated with affordable housing, let alone senior affordable housing. But that is precisely what Studio One Eleven aimed for when it was handed the development key to a collection of land parcels sitting at Anaheim and Long Beach Boulevard. And it just might be the future of not just affordable housing, but housing development in urban spaces as a whole.
Let’s go into what is simple about the Long Beach Senior Arts Colony and its attached two buildings, one another affordable housing complex and the other a soon-to-be built 12-story market rate apartment complex.
Originally a redevelopment project, the parcels were then sold to Meta Housing Corporation following redevelopment’s dissolution. Originally, Studio One Eleven was just on board for consulting—until it was discovered that the developer that was heading the project knew little about housing.
“We didn’t initially get the job,” said principal Michael Bohn, laughing. “We weren’t even invited; just hired by the City to do the peer review.”
Thankfully, the inexperience of the former developer led to One Eleven scoring the job and creating what is its most simple aspect: intelligently uses cheaper materials to make a beautifully well-made product.
Take, for example, its use of concrete blocks to simulate wood, even down to the reflection and varnish. Or, how the six-story building towers over the central, south facing courtyard. A developer building for market rate would typically set the top story or two back, providing dimension that would make the courtyard feel more open and less encapsulated. However, Studio One Eleven opted for a much more nimble approach by simply painting the top floor a differing coloring, giving the illusion that the sixth floor is actually set back.
Details like this are the reason the building is garnering accolades—so far, four awards in a single swoop: the Multifamily Executive Affordable Housing Project of the Year, the Multi-Housing News Award of Excellence Gold Award for Best New Senior Development, PCBC’s 2013 Gold Nugget Grand Award-Winner for best Senior Housing Community, and a design award from the American Institute of Architects.
But what makes the building more than just well-done in design is its more complex philosophical angle and larger scope for its future phases.
Bohn is unabashed when discussing what the urban landscape should be: vibrant, dramatic, and attractive. And the original developers, with their multiple buildings that exceeded eight stories, ignored cost and how to engage multiple backgrounds.
“There should be a place to live for evryone of all cultures and backgrounds in the urban landscape,” Bohn said. “If we were to just make one tower the centerpiece, that is, the market rate tower, we could make these other buildings senior and affordable housing areas. And then we have not just mixed income, but an intergenerational space—and that is something that hasn’t been done before in Long Beach.”
Bohn is no stranger to the benefits of mixed-income living; after all, the policy of integrating subsidized housing with market rate units rose in popularity in the 90s. The main hope in this style of development was that the resources that middle-income people had would be trickled down to their lower-income neighbors through interaction and living proximity.
However, practice was not as bright in theory within the ongoing battle to bridge the gap between poverty and affluence: many of the developments didn’t provide paths for interaction between low-income and middle-income folk; subsidized housing provided little route to investment in one’s neighborhood for those who couldn’t afford it; and accessibility to transit and other services were widely ignored in planning. And in fact, these precise points were addressed in one of the most recent reports released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the work of Vanderbilt University and the University of Chicago.
Bohn and One Eleven saw an opportunity—both financially and developmentally—to address these issues head on.
Firstly, they applied for Prop 1C funds, which provides funding to developments which are geared around public transit as well as a one parking space per unit. And given that Anaheim and Long Beach Boulevard are Long Beach’s most used and traveled arterials in regard to public transit, Bohn and friends knew they were onto something when they created a space at what Bohn called the “Main & Main” of Long Beach. People have access to the entire city along with the Blue Line all within a hundred feet.
Much to the point the altering mindset of transportation, it is not just younger or less affluent folk who would like to have access to it: at full capacity, the Senior Arts Colony parking garage—with just one space per unit—is only two-thirds full.
Secondly, they aimed for mixed-use that not only provides commercial space below the units—a common theme amongst today’s developers—but also provide community and recreational space that span between all buildings through interconnected pathways. Take, for example, the alignment of art studios that line the sidewalk below the Senior Arts Colony; this will not only encourage activity, but people on the sidewalk will pass by and seen said activity, increasing their curiosity and engagement.
Thirdly, the units are own-able—and even more, with accessibility to transit and parks around them, seniors and other residents feel and act as true stakeholders rather than stand-bys. Bohn noted the residential interest in upgrading and up keeping the 14th Street park nearby.
“The endgame is this,” Bohn said. “To have mixed-use, mixed-income, intergenerational facilities that people can cross-pollinate ideas, lives, and interactions. Imagine when you have a space where people are, for the most part, required to interact because you have a 99-seat theatre over here in the senior space where a young couple wants to go see something or the recreational space over in The Annex [the other affordable housing building]. This young couple then meets seniors and people from different backgrounds, begins to know them, empathizes with them, and maybe even perhaps seeks them out as babysitters or friends. One on hand, the senior is provided with a higher purpose and on the other, a younger generation who understands their elderly community rather than seeing them shipped to pasture.”
What lies in the brilliance of all this is not just the consideration of the issues that fell upon mixed-income housing initially, but the inclusion of going beyond with the concept of intergenerational—after all, as Bohn noted, 75% of the current U.S. population falls into the category of senior citizen or Millennial, so the two should work together. Rather than castigating seniors to a they-can’t-do-much-for-themselves role, they are encouraged to be active and engage both mind and body.
Bohn even noted an original idea to build senior housing above medical facilities, with developers thinking this would be a great idea.
“The response from seniors was astoundingly negative,” Bohn said, “and something that only hindsight proved to be obvious: Why would any senior want to live above a constant reminder of unhealthiness?”
The next phase, which is to build the 12-story market rate unit tower, will begin when the real estate market fits value.
[This post originally appeared on Streetsblog Los Angeles]