A new, colorful and attractive L-shaped apartment complex in the Bronx has a unique purpose: to provide housing and social support for vulnerable individuals in the area facing housing and healthcare challenges. Boston Road Supportive Housing, at 1191 Boston Road in the Morrisania section of the South Bronx, was built as a collaboration between the non-profit firm Breaking Ground, which carries out architecture with a societal purpose, the New York State Medicaid Redesign Team, which addresses the link between healthcare cost and homelessness through housing solutions, and Alexander Gorlin Architects out of Manhattan, who have previously collaborated with Breaking Ground.
Breaking Ground’s site explains that their mission,
“is to strengthen individuals, families, and communities by developing and sustaining exceptional supportive and affordable housing as well as programs for homeless and other vulnerable New Yorkers”
Their work at Boston Road falls under the umbrella of the Housing First initiative and philosophy, which the National Alliance to End Homelessness defines as:
“a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing as quickly as possible – and then providing voluntary supportive services as needed.”
Within this framework, housing is provided without condition to those that need it. Breaking Ground’s project embodies this principle with a vital focus on multi-faceted, personally responsive, on-site resident support. They explain Boston Road’s purpose in this way:
“to help improve the lives of high-cost users of health care …[it] provides 154 units for formerly homeless single adults – many living with HIV/AIDS or special needs – and low-income working adults from the South Bronx community.”
Breaking Ground has already carried out numerous community-oriented architectural projects in the city, sometimes re-vamping old apartments or hotels and sometimes building new spaces. NY Books shares that they’ve created about 3,500 units total in the city. Gorlin Architects work on a combination of luxury, religious, and socially responsive building projects, ranging from high-end modern homes to creative synagogue designs to collaborations with Breaking Ground.
Residents of Boston Road’ enjoy a variety of support options and amenities within this 12-story structure, including: a computer lab, self-sufficiency workshops, case management, an exercise room, landscaped terrace, recreational activities, a terrace, job center, career counseling, laundry, bike storage, 24-hour security, a medical center with nutrition and health counseling and an on-site nurse, a twelve-step program, and various discussion groups. The 154-unit complex also boasts a green roof and several eco-friendly traits such as water-saving fixtures and high-efficiency lighting. The exterior contrasts gray brick with colorful metal panels between the windows, the lobby’s walls and ceilings are artistically anointed with colored brick and a hanging, painted wood installation, and the halls are lined in warm wood veneers. NY Books reports that the $47 million building is attractive both inside and out and that, impressively, the project only cost “about $325 per square foot, approximately half what luxury New York condos run these days.” The studio units with accompanying, private baths are 350-square feet and cost, on average, $550—cost is dependent and adjusted on the resident’s situation and budget.
Housing costs are an increasing strain for many in the United States, these days. Mental Floss shares that the cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the U.S. varies wildly within states and even areas of one city, ranging, for example, from $470 in Wichita, Kansas to $3600 in San Francisco, California. In a Zillow search I carried out on December 16, 2016, I found one studio (one-room) apartment for rent in the Bronx for $900 and a few for $1,000. In all of New York City, only 64 studio apartments came up for $1,000 or less. This explains why over 900 neighbors who qualified as working poor applied for the 60 apartments earmarked for them, with a preference given to locals. These sixty were chosen by lottery. The other 94 apartments were for the homeless, who were referred to Boston Road by city agencies.
Social Solutions shares that, in 2016, 564,708 people in the U.S. are homeless and that 15 percent are chronically homeless. In D.C., a “Hunger and Homelessness” survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors found a rate of 124.2 homeless individuals for every 10,000 housed residents. As in most metropolises, there are many governmental and independent organizations working to help the homeless in D.C. The Coalition for the Homeless is an example—they “provide shelter and supportive services to more than 500 homeless individuals and families,” and are “always working on activities and solutions in the community to help eliminate homelessness.” Some of their programs include family services, transitional housing, permanent housing, and employment services. You can read about how their clients such as Steven Martin and Deplotide Guenaman moved into permanent housing on the success stories section of their website.
Organizations like The Coalition for the Homeless in D.C. and Breaking Ground in NYC set a great example of how we can address the dire difficulties of those in our community who are without housing this winter and in any season. Providing shelter along with supportive social services to those that are struggling with finding a place to live, their health, aging, and/or with making a living wage, shows respect for the severity of their challenges, allows them to experience safety and community, and carves out paths for them to heal and work toward self-sufficiency.