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Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition: NYU Wins First Place, UCLA is the Runner-Up

Photograph of five students from the University of California, Los Angeles graduate student team and Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Katherine O’Regan (third from the right), posing on stage in front of a PD&R banner.
The runner-up team, comprised of graduate students from the University of California, Los Angeles, was also recognized on stage and awarded $10,000.
The 2015 HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition (IAH) came to a close on April 21, 2015. This year’s competition was based on a housing project that is being pursued by HUD’s partner for IAH 2015, the Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority (HTHA). HTHA’s project involves Bayou Towers, an 11-story senior housing development in Houma, Louisiana. First occupied in 1971, Bayou Towers contains 300 dwelling units. IAH student participants could choose between gut rehab or new construction in order to create an all-encompassing plan that included design, community development, and financing elements that would allow HTHA to meet its goal. The final plans also need to demonstrate an understanding of resident needs and the local community.

During the first phase of the competition, a jury of five practitioners, planners, and architects narrowed the submissions down to four finalist teams: New York University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Kansas, and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In mid-March, the finalists traveled to Houma to visit the project site, which provided students with a valuable opportunity to walk through the site, speak to residents, and see the community of Houma. The students were then challenged to take what they learned from site visit and incorporate it, along with the juror’s comments, into a more comprehensive and defined final project.

Photograph of Rachelle Levitt standing at a podium onstage. A poster for the Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design Competition is visible in the background.
Rachelle Levitt, Director of the Research Utilization Division in HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research, provided background for the Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design Competition and presented the list of finalists.

On April 21, 2014, the four finalist teams presented their ideas in front of a panel of jurors at HUD’s headquarters in Washington, DC. HUD staff members and interested members of the public attended the event, with many others nationwide viewing it via webcast. Each student team devoted 20 minutes to its presentation and then spent 10 minutes answering questions from the jury.

All of the student finalists submitted innovative and intelligent plans for the project site, making the jurors’ task of choosing a winner and a runner-up a difficult one. Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Katherine O’Regan, who announced the winners, emphasized this point in her remarks while mentioning the importance of partners in the field of affordable housing. She stated, "While HUD programs such as Section 202, Promise Zones, and the Rental Assistance Demonstration have made large impacts in communities across the country, HUD cannot do it alone. We need our capable partners throughout the industry and we need a constant stream of new ideas, such as those seen today."

The runner-up team, which received a $10,000 prize, was the team from UCLA, which designed a gut rehabilitation of the existing Bayou Towers structure with an emphasis on energy efficiency coupled with strong healthcare partnerships. The jurors felt the team demonstrated a deep understanding of the senior population and its needs. The team also emphasized reuse of materials and designed an innovative modular façade.

New York University took home the grand prize of $20,000. The team employed a sophisticated design that minimized the bulk of the building in response to the local context. The team also received very high marks for its innovative financing scheme that included adopting a mixed-use strategy to create economic development and positive community-wide impact.

After announcing the results and taking pictures with the winning teams, Assistant Secretary O’Regan encouraged the students and all attendees to keep the important work on affordable housing moving forward. In this spirit, the planning is already underway for the third year of IAH, which will launch in fall 2015.