2018 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition Site Visit – Dover Housing Authority at Whittier Falls, New Hampshire
This year’s Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition was markedly different from previous competitions. Rather than focus on a single, overriding design theme, the student teams were challenged to develop proposals incorporating innovative community engagement strategies for seniors, veterans, and persons with disabilities at two sites identified by the Dover Housing Authority in Dover, New Hampshire. The adjacent properties are situated between Niles and Union Street and Union Street. The students will have a chance to revise their previously submitted site plans involving the construction of 154 units designed specifically for these populations. They are strongly encouraged to go beyond physical improvements to the properties and identify ways to improve the provision of community services. The four finalist teams, which were selected by a panel of housing and development professionals during the initial phase of the competition, are the Pratt Institute in New York; the University of Texas at Austin; the University of Colorado Denver; and the University of Maryland, College Park. Dodging rain, sleet, and snow, the students traveled to Dover to meet with staff from the Dover Housing Authority, aptly renamed Whittier Falls after the abundant waterfalls and lakes in the surrounding communities. The students’ objectives were to explore the sites under construction, ask the housing agency staff probing questions about site-specific issues, and compile useful information for their revised project proposal.
Dover is the fastest-growing city in New Hampshire. That distinction brings a myriad of challenges to the rapidly changing community, including an affordable housing shortage, an opioid epidemic, a disconnected transportation system, and a fast-growing senior population that is largely low income and in search of quality housing. Mayor Karen Weston spoke about tackling these challenges through Opening Doors to Opportunities, Dover’s ambitious campaign to provide various supportive services through a 24-hour homeless shelter and the Seymour Osman Community Center, a local community hub that provides services for low-income seniors, drug addiction recovery programs, job training, and childcare. Seniors engage with nearby high school students on various beautification projects, recreational activities, and other social events. For this year’s Innovation in Affordable Housing challenge, student teams will reflect on the mission emphasized in the city’s comprehensive plan: to strengthen social capital, improve interaction, and create a sense of community. In other words, for Dover, housing is about more than just the building envelope; it is about the people who live in it.
Allan Krans, executive director of the Dover Housing Authority at Whittier Falls, spoke with the students about Dover’s successes. Dover, a 400-year-old, walkable city, has attracted residents earning a range of incomes. The city also leads the state in residential service provision and coordination, and it is known for its Dover Pride Clean Up Day, in which city residents gather to paint and remove litter from the streets and parks. Krans urged the students to pay attention to the city’s permaculture, such as its Complete Streets plan, as well as other characteristics that uniquely define the city, including the climate, tributaries, and density requirements that may affect connectivity and walkability. Krans also reminded the students about the need to be flexible in their designs without compromising affordability and to remain cognizant about how innovative strategies improve residents’ quality of life — even for seemingly small considerations such as the design of a curbside, the installation of washers and dryers, and the addition of doors to closets. On the financing side, the student teams were instructed on the use of 9 percent low-income housing tax credits as a vehicle for both the new construction projects and the preservation of surrounding structures. They were encouraged to look at the underwriting standards to help develop their pro forma proposals as well as the contingency plans that set aside funding reserves for housing. The state of New Hampshire has been pushing for the creation of more mixed-income projects through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) and other approaches, but the real challenge is to meet the area’s high demand for housing that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as housing for low-income seniors.
After lunch, the students toured the Niles Park and Union Court developments, which are under construction. Niles Park will consist of 36 one-bedroom units and 4 two-bedroom units. Union Court will consist of 30 one-bedroom units. Student plans must address challenges such as using building materials that are durable, resilient to natural disasters, and low maintenance; incorporating design approaches that improve the health, safety, and well-being of residents; and choosing energy- and water-efficient appliances that preserve natural resources and are cost effective. Because the properties are adjacent to Cricket Brook, students must also consider the need for stormwater and irrigation management in their revised proposals. On the social side, students have been asked to emphasize the creation of a communal space for residents. The Seymour Osman Community Center site may be restructured to create a single common area that links the two developments and their residents. Students are invited to come up with creative approaches to enhance community interaction such as modifying vehicular circulation, installing bicycle lanes, and planting trees.
Although they were hampered by snow, the student teams were determined to learn as much as possible about the community and are serious about presenting design proposals that address all aspects of the changing community.
On April 18, 2018, the four teams will present their revised proposals at HUD Headquarters, emphasizing innovation in all aspects of their site plans and devoting special attention to the environmental, financial, and social criteria associated with the new construction sites. Immediately following the presentations, the jury will deliberate and decide on this year’s winning and runner-up teams. The event is open to all HUD employees as well as the public, and it will be available via webcast. Registration for the event is required.
To learn more about this year’s Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition, visit: www.huduser.gov/portal/challenge/home.html.
To attend the awards ceremony, which will be held from 1:00-4:30 PM EDT on April 18, please register at: www.huduser.gov/portal/event/IAH-Final-2018.html.
The total budget for the project (excluding land costs) is $30 million. The Dover Housing Authority has set aside $500,000 for the project, but the remaining funding must be raised in the form of grants, tax credits, or other financing strategies.×
Financial support from the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program should come from either the 4 percent or 9 percent program but not both. In addition, RAD conversion should include an analysis of the RAD rents available; projects must comply with HUD’s RAD regulations as well as Internal Revenue Service regulations that pertain to the LIHTC program.×