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Rutgers Team Wins HUD’s Innovation in Affordable Housing Competition

Rutgers graduate students have proposed an innovative make-over of a public housing site in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ken Branson
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A team of Rutgers graduate students has created an award-winning proposal to turn an aging public housing development in Ohio into a vibrant community, where residents can interact in public spaces and on their front porches, backyards and playgrounds and mothers can watch their children play outside from their kitchen windows.

The plan, by four graduate students from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and one from the Department of Landscape Architecture in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) recently won the Innovation in Affordable Housing Competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the innovation of the Rutgers plan lies in more than the suggested deployments of brick and mortar.

“We proposed teaming up with nearby hospitals, universities and foundations to create a career-development center that would place residents directly in jobs and help the housing authority get low-interest loans for rehabilitating the site,” said Sharone Small, who served on the team alongside Chelsea Moore-Ritchie, Christine Winter, Jane Allen, all from Bloustein, and Kimberly Tryba from SEBS. “We also proposed providing free internet, and our plan would make it easier to walk or bike around the site.”

In the competition, teams of students were charged with addressing the social, economic, and environmental issues facing the Woodhill Homes in Cleveland, Ohio, an existing public housing site. The Woodhill Homes is a 478-unit multi-family development operated by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. The Rutgers team visited the site and spent four months working on their proposal.

The students proposed a redevelopment of Woodhill Homes that took into account the potential of the site and the restrictions within which any redevelopment would have to take place. “We tailored each component of the design to the needs of the current residents, and incorporated measures for financial and environmental sustainability,” Allen said.

The plan, titled “Beyond the Threshold,” seeks to connect the residents with each other and with the neighborhood around them. As Woodhill Homes now stands, its buildings are institutional, without transitions from public to private space. The Rutgers plan calls for turning the existing buildings into residential commons, opening up un-used public space, creating front porches, backyards and playgrounds.

The residential commons would be built in a “U” shape, with green space in the middle and a fence and gate at the front. Mothers – 96 percent of the households with children in the complex are headed by women – would be able to watch their children play through their kitchen windows.

The site is hilly, and in the current layout, differences in elevation separate the residents of one building from another. The Rutgers plan proposes new buildings built into the site’s hills with a series of stepped courtyards and wheelchair-accessible ramps. The new buildings would then connect the older buildings above and below them.

The new buildings would be environmentally friendly – that is, they would include better insulation, more energy efficient heating and cooling systems, new water heaters and low-flow fixtures, and passive solar design, which would let winter sun into the units while excluding summer sun. The increased energy efficiency would lower residents’ utility bills. The students’ plan proposes putting money into a fund for future repairs.

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