November 18, 2016

Field Notes: Public Interest Design for New York City’s Public Housing

By Jae Shin, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow

The current Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows share their ideas, inspirations, and photos from the field on our blog. Learn more about the Fellowship.


What is NYCHA?

As an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow, I serve as a full-time member of the Capital Projects Division at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). NYCHA is the nation’s oldest and largest public housing authority. We serve one of every 14 New Yorkers: Our public housing units provide home to 400,000 people and 213,000 more are supported through Section 8 program. But NYCHA’s importance is not only in its sheer size but that but in its deep affordability. The annual income for an average NYCHA household is $ 23,000, and rent for our units is capped at 30% of household income. For these families, NYCHA provides crucial housing security in a city experiencing housing crisis due to stagnating wages and rising rent.

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Image from NextGeneration NYCHA. Copyright: NYCHA

Who lives in NYCHA communities?

Another importance of NYCHA: People who live in NYCHA communities run some of the most important public services we enjoy in our city. Top three employers of public housing residents serve in public New York Police Department, Department of Education and NYCHA itself. In fact, 9 of top 10 employers are public agencies. So chances are, there is a NYCHA resident behind making sure your subway train runs every morning or your kids are safe at school.

How is design excellence relevant to a public housing authority? (Or, What is a Rose Fellow doing in a Pubic Housing Authority?)

If you believe in the Enterprise Rose Fellowship’s vision that design excellence can be a strategic vehicle for public advocacy, you can see how NYCHA’s scale of affordability and people it serves would make it a perfect place to invest in design innovation.

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Map from Next Generation NYCHA Sustainability Agenda. Copyright: NYCHA

Let’s take the advocacy for healthy homes, for example: 150,000 NYCHA residents, including 35,000 children under 15 years old, live in developments located in asthma hot spots. By establishing new rehab design standards with healthy homes practices like integrated pest management (IPM) and mold prevention across our portfolio, designers can play a key role in tackling this large-scale urban public health challenge.

In that sense, I see the upcoming publication of our new design standards, Design Guidelines for Rehabilitation of NYCHA Residential Buildings, as a designer’s commitment to public advocacy for creating safer, cleaner, and more connected communities (the vision articulated by NYCHA’s Strategic Plan, Next Generation NYCHA). These guidelines are one of the main projects I’ve worked on as a first year Rose fellow.

The guidelines incorporate contemporary best practices and set minimum standards and performance goals for aesthetics, cost-effectiveness, responsiveness to resident needs, and environmental sustainability.

To achieve these goals, implementation will be guided by four principles:

  • Resident quality of life is the top priority and the key measure of success
  • Outcomes are evaluated against performance goals; rigorous evidence-based practices are adopted
  • Goals, metrics and methods are communicated clearly and transparently
  • Work is undertaken in a spirit of partnership

These may seem like ambitious and complex frameworks, but their truth will be determined in the concrete outcomes of our work in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and other everyday spaces in New York City public housing.

Pages from design guidelines, work in progress. Photo: NYCHA. 

Although NYCHA is a large and complex of organization, we are driven by a simple and clear definition for public interest design and design excellence: that our residents deserve healthy and beautiful homes.

jae-shin headshot.jpgAbout the author: As a full-time member of the Capital Planning and Design department at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Jae Shin joins a team that has made a bold commitment to delivering a new standard of design quality across NYCHA’s portfolio. Jae helps NYCHA to advance its efforts to define overarching design principles for safe, clean and connected communities. Towards that end, Jae will steward efforts to develop effective, resident-focused design processes, working with designers and engineers within and outside NYCHA to innovate and improve built outcomes. Among other tasks, she works to implement design guidelines and develop strategies to activate the ground floors of NYCHA buildings.

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