Tag: 2020-02-nn-feature

Building a community of tiny homes for homeless veterans in Sonoma County

Building a community of tiny homes for homeless veterans in Sonoma County

From HUD USER, PD&R Edge, September 24, 2019

Veterans Village consists of 14 tiny houses on the Sonoma County administrative campus in Santa Rosa, providing permanent supportive housing to formerly homeless veterans through the HUD-VASH program. Credit: Ramsay Photography

An hour north of San Francisco, Sonoma County is pursuing novel ways of addressing homelessness. One such effort is Veterans Village, a project that is currently in a two-year pilot phase in the city of Santa Rosa. The project, consisting of 14 tiny homes built on county-owned land, houses chronically homeless veterans who receive supportive services and rental assistance. At the heart of this project’s success, according to project developer Community Housing Sonoma County (CHSC), is its sense of community, cultivated through programmatic elements along with carefully considered site and building design. Built by CHSC with general contractor Wolff Contracting, Veterans Village demonstrates the potential benefits of applying innovative solutions to persistent social problems.

Rents in Sonoma County, as in much of California, have increased rapidly in recent years, fueled by a vacancy rate of approximately 1.5 percent. As a result, the county’s high rates of homelessness mirror those found in the rest of the state and are roughly three times the national average. The most recent Point-in-Time count for the county found 207 homeless veterans, 70 percent of whom were unsheltered. Recognizing the need for creative action, the county commissioned a study in 2015 to compile a diverse toolkit of strategies to help policymakers address homelessness from multiple angles. One of the strategies was to use tiny homes as permanent housing for homeless individuals in Sonoma County, with the report noting that despite modestly higher costs compared with multifamily buildings, tiny homes might be a more suitable option for individuals who may find denser group living a prohibitively stressful experience. After releasing a request for proposals in 2016, the county selected Veterans Village from among the half-dozen submissions as the winning bid.

Designed for community

Veterans Village was constructed on a portion of the Sonoma County administrative campus, which eliminated the cost burden of land acquisition. The 14 fully furnished units are arranged along gently curving paths encircling a garden. The arrangement promotes a sense of community, with views of neighboring homes from each unit, while still ensuring that residents maintain a sense of privacy and a space of their own. Each unit also has a small front porch to further mediate between public and private spaces. Units are 250 square feet and are fully accessible because many residents are coping with significant medical issues. Accessible features include roll-in showers and adaptable kitchen sinks as well as a site plan that eschews stairs. Exposed gabled ceilings in the units add a sense of height, and features such as sliding bathroom doors add a feeling of modern design quality. An additional building on the site provides a small community room and houses the mailroom and laundry facilities.

Two resident peer house managers (veterans who formerly experienced homelessness and are CHSC employees) perform important community-building functions at Veterans Village, including making weekly runs to the local food bank. The house managers orchestrate food pickups for residents in the community room and serve as leaders and mentors. All these features, according to Paula Cook, executive director of CHSC, demonstrate that thoughtful, community-oriented design and programming can add meaningfully to the success of a project that provides homes, not merely housing. As Cook put it, “It doesn’t feel like just a place to live.”

Units are 250 square feet in size, come fully furnished, and are accessible. While each home is private, spaces like each house’s front porch enhance the social lives of residents. Credit: Ramsay Photography

A single source of public funding supported development, with $1.9 million coming from the Sonoma County Community Development Commission’s County Fund for Housing. Cook stressed the critical importance of additional fundraising activity, especially the donated time and labor from Wolff Contracting, owned by Marine veteran Michael Wolff. Cook describes the efforts of Wolff Contracting, which took the unusual step of working through the rainy winter season to expedite the onsite building construction, as a labor of love. The company’s work helped ensure that Veterans Village could open in February 2019, housing people during the area’s most inhospitable season. Intake is conducted by the local Veterans Affairs medical clinic and residents must meet the eligibility requirements of the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, which provides funding for case management as well as rental support.

As a pilot project, Veterans Village is demonstrating how alternative models of housing can offer their own particular strengths. Although Cook acknowledges that a tiny home development such as Veterans Village may not be the densest way to build, “from a therapeutic perspective, it’s ideal.” The project’s initial status as a two-year pilot was crucial to its development because it allowed the project to take advantage of an exception to the normal review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. Although Veterans Village may need to be relocated at the conclusion of the pilot phase in 2021, it is treated as permanent housing. Should the structures eventually be relocated, all current residents will continue to have their housing needs met by CHSC. In the meantime, the project will continue to encourage community among veterans as an important component in the larger effort to counter homelessness in Sonoma County.

Oakland 2100 – The Game
Oakland 2100. Photo: Sarah Allen, AICP

Oakland 2100 – The Game

By Sarah Allen, AICP

Oakland 2100 is a public engagement game that combines a wooden relief map of downtown Oakland with Legos of various colors to allow participants to identify where and how they would like growth to occur over the next several decades. Different sizes and colors of Legos represent different land uses and densities and allow for creative and real-time collaboration to determine how best to accommodate growth.

Organized and initiated by project team Noah Friedman, Steve Pepple, and Courtney Ferris, this temporary traveling exhibit and game was played in several locations in 2019 including the Jack London Farmers Market, SPUR Oakland, Oakland Impact HUB, a branch of the Public Library, the West Oakland Youth Center, and the Jack London Business Improvement District. The project culminated October 4, 2019, at the downtown Oakland office of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) where several youth and student groups were hosted to play. This final evening to showcase the game coincided with a First Friday Art Murmur event at the AIA office.

Photo: Sarah Allen, AICP

This “game” offered a serious method of engagement to identify community desires and values related to design and urban planning; however, the biggest benefit may have been to education, collaboration, and understanding. For example, the activity set rules to make the development process more realistic with some real-life challenges that developers, residents, and the city face on a daily basis. Participants were guided to understand and negotiate the physical, financial, and political constraints within which the built environment is shaped.

Photo: Sarah Allen, AICP

While the results of the events may not be formally used in producing plans and ideas for how to move Oakland forward — the game was neither produced nor endorsed by the City — the effort proved a useful tool to inform the community. Allowing for creativity and play engaged constituents and led to a better understanding of how cities are planned and developed. The ultimate goal, it seems, was to start a conversation about the trade-offs involved in each land use decision and to show community members how to participate in shaping the future of their built environment. You can find out more here.

Sarah Allen, AICP, is APA California–Northern Section’s Regional Activity Coordinator (RAC) for the East Bay. She began her career with the city of Lafayette’s planning department as an intern 13 years ago and is now a senior planner, working on current and long-range planning projects, including the development of a public outreach strategy for the impending General Plan Update.

Meet a local planner — Ron Golem

Meet a local planner — Ron Golem

By Catarina Kidd, AICP

Ron Golem is Director of Real Estate and Transit-Oriented Development for Valley Transit Authority in San Jose. Before heading to VTA in 2015, he was a principal at BAE Urban Economics for 16 years and a project manager and realty specialist with the National Park Service (Presidio) for seven years. He holds a master’s in city planning from UC Berkeley.

How has your career evolved over the years?

In my twenties, I was working in various aspects of real estate including asset management, leasing, and property management. After graduate school, I worked for the National Park Service in the Presidio before moving on to consulting and then finally to VTA. Each experience has a trade-off. In an agency, you work many different aspects of a project from concept to outcome, which can be dynamic and challenging. In consulting, you have a more defined role with incredible depth, and you apply your expertise to many projects.

Tell us about your current role.

I lead the real estate and transit-oriented development (TOD) programs at VTA. The real estate program includes acquiring land or rights for our transit projects and leasing programs for cell sites, paid parking, and advertising. For the TOD programs, we have identified 25 sites totaling more than 200 acres in Silicon Valley. TODs require entitlements, community engagement, developer selection, and agreement negotiations. Basically, my portfolio includes anything outside of the “fare box recovery.”

How is all the work completed?

As with other public agencies, we have a lean team of a few in-house staff, on-call consultants, and contract project managers.

With both private and public sector experience, what is your advice on selecting and managing consultants?

It is always about finding the right people and fit. You assess the person based on accomplishments and experience. When selecting a consultant for a project that involves a group dynamic, have an interview panel with knowledgeable people and establish a thoughtful process on how to reach a consensus.

For example, when conducting interviews for a large consulting assignment to study our stations, I searched for a cohesive and collaborative team. You must evaluate the subcontractors as well. The personalities should collaborate rather than compete. Those are the kinds of things you look for and communicate to your panel.

What motivates you in your day-to-day work?

I have a vision as to what can be, and I work toward that vision. In order to put the pieces into place, you need to build support. If you have a sense of where you want to go, you will see how the pieces fit into the bigger picture. That ultimate vision makes the day-to-day work interesting.

When not working, what inspires you?

You know you are a planning nerd when you put yourself in planning, even when not at work. I have served on Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) advisory panels. ULI works with organizations, usually cities, on solving large scale planning issues. These are week-long or three-day events with a panel of expert advisors that span planning, finance, development, and other disciplines. You jump in and think about different issues and help come up with a strategy. Your perspective broadens when you are able to apply your skills in a different environment.

What is a challenge you are currently tackling?

The BART to San Jose extension, which is a complex $5.5 billion project spanning six miles, five miles of which are tunnel. We must consider the type of TODs to build on top and around the entire station area. This includes coordinating with the cities and advancing TODs on private land. The vision includes both buildings and high quality environments. In the larger context, concerns around displacement, affordable housing, and business impacts require community engagement and support. Another big challenge is getting federal funding for the project.

Do you have any advice for new planners starting their careers?

Planning is an interesting field because there are areas in which you can specialize. But you can also be a generalist. Think about the skill set that allows you to be effective. A planning background is key. Basic business level understanding of finance, economics, and development can go a long way. Also, communication and engagement skills make you an effective generalist who can work in many situations.

Any specific thoughts about the planning profession?

This is an amazing time to be a planner! We are at such a pivotal moment in our state in terms of how it has evolved and developed. When you look at the current problems around housing, climate change, and wildfires, all these issues have big planning components. The state’s residents are not succeeding and things are not working very well. Planners can come up with solutions to address these challenges within the political and legal framework.

Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP, is senior development manager at FivePoint and a guest writer for Northern News. All interviews are edited.

Here are the Northern News survey results

Here are the Northern News survey results

By Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP

More than a thousand planners and related professionals read APA California’s Northern News. We want to make it better. To that end, on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, I emailed to 4,667, “I hope you’ll take this two-minute survey to help Northern News.” The primary purpose of our three-question survey was to learn who our readers are so we could better focus the news to your needs. Those opening the email totaled 1,412, or 31.5 percent. Of those, 256 (18.1 percent) clicked the link to the survey. And of those, 235 (16.6 percent) took the survey.

To what extent are the respondents readers of Northern News?

Ninety-four percent of the 235 respondents had read Northern News in 2019. Nearly half of all respondents were avid readers, selecting eight to 10 issues as their answer. Fourteen respondents did not read Northern News in 2019.

This is an APA publication. How many of our readers are APA members?

Our emailing lists primarily comprise APA members, but we also mail to many nonmembers who asked to be added. Of the 235 respondents, 190 (80.8 percent) are members of APA Northern Section. (See Question 1, below.) Another 13, or 5.5 percent, are APA members somewhere other than Northern Section. Thirty-two respondents, or 13.6 percent, are not APA members.

Where do our readers work?

We wanted a better sense of the apportionment of our readers among local governments, other public agencies, and the private sector. As the results of Question 2 above show, 82 respondents (35 percent) work for cities or counties, and another 34 (14.5 percent) work for other public agencies such as districts, states, federal government, military, ports, and public universities.

In total, 116 of the respondents, or 49.5 percent, worked for public agencies.

Another 84, or 35.8 percent, worked for private firms or are self-employed. And 31 of the respondents, or 13.2 percent, were currently not employed. Those included full-time students and retired persons.

Comments from the respondents

Forty-four of the 235 respondents added comments in the space provided. Among those, 24 were positive, eight were negative, and 11 were informative but neutral.

Of the 24 positive comments, three remarked about the format of the news magazine. One wrote, “I do like receiving the electronic Northern News.” Another said, “Northern News is an outstanding publication: informative, timely, factually accurate, visually appealing. Please keep up the good work.” And a third read, “Format is good. Able to read quickly which is good. Thanks for your work.”

The other 21 positive comments were generally appreciative of the service provided by Northern News: “Gives us local planning news from a different perspective” with “headlines that grab us.” “Always an interesting read” with “substantive and informative articles” “that are useful day-to-day.”

The eight negative comments centered on the format used by Northern News until May 2016: “I miss the PDF,” “find the new format confusing,” and “read more in the PDF.”

So, what’s next for Northern News?

My three associate editors and I will take into account the survey results as we seek and accept feature articles. For one thing, we’ll continue to reach out to non-city-county agencies and districts in interviewing subjects for “Meet a local planner,” as Catarina Kidd, AICP, has been doing since March 2018. We’ll also reach out more broadly to encourage articles from private firms and non-city-county agencies, and from the far northern and southern reaches of our Section.

And you?

Whether or not you responded to the survey, we invite you to send your comments to the editors at news@norcalapa.org. If you liked or questioned a particular article or our choice of articles, let us know (including why). If you’d like Northern News to covering a particular area of urban planning that interests you, let us know.

In the end, it is you who write our articles. Northern News can only be as good as you make it. We hope you will contribute an article or viewpoint.

In memoriam: Pioneering equity planner Norman Krumholz, FAICP

In memoriam: Pioneering equity planner Norman Krumholz, FAICP

Said equity planning was not radical

By Steven Litt, The Plain Dealer, December 21, 2019

“Former Cleveland city planning director Norman Krumholz, one of the nation’s most respected and progressive city planners, died December 21, 2019, in Rockville, Maryland. He was 92.

Norman Krumholz, FAICP. APA file photo

“Krumholz was part of a generation of urban thinkers who reacted against federally-funded Urban Renewal projects that displaced low income and minority residents.

“As planning director and later as a professor at Cleveland State University, Krumholz became a widely known advocate for equity planning, holding that planners should work to improve life for the city’s poorest residents rather than serve powerful interests in big development projects.

“Krumholz put his philosophy to work as Cleveland’s city planning director from 1969 to 1979, during the administration of Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major American city.

“Instead of producing a traditional plan for the physical development of Cleveland, Krumholz led the formulation of the city’s ‘Policy Planning Report’ — which the American Planning Association (APA) later called “a pioneering work that is the first example of equity planning being broadly applied in an American city.” APA designated the report a National Planning Landmark in 2003.

“The report stated that, ‘in a context of limited resources and pervasive inequalities, priority must be given to promoting a wider range of choices for those who have few, if any, choices.’ ” It was no accident, then, that the notion of “equity planning” began appearing in APA publications in the 1970s.

“Krumholz said equity planning was not radical in nature, calling it instead an appropriate way to address the ‘inherently exploitative nature’ of urban development, which sorts people by social class and consigns ‘the poorest and darkest to the central city or first-ring suburbs.’ ”

Norman Krumholz received his master’s degree in city and regional planning from Cornell University in 1965. He became assistant director of the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission, a post he held until moving to Cleveland in 1969. After 10 years as Cleveland’s planning director, and then leading the Cleveland Center for Neighborhood Development (1979-1984), he became a professor in the College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University. He also served on the Cleveland City Planning Commission, 2006-2014.

A longstanding member of APA, Krumholz served as APA president, 1986-1987, was a member of the APA Board, 2002-2005, and was president of AICP, 1999-2001. He received the APA Award for Distinguished Leadership in 1990.

He was the coauthor of several books, including, with John Forester, “Making Equity Planning Work,” 1990. The book is considered a classic, and APA listed it as one of the 100 Essential Books of Planning in the 20th century. The Cleveland Foundation recently funded a follow-up volume, “Advancing Equity Planning Now” (Cornell, 2018). Krumholz edited the volume and wrote the introduction. In 1999, with Dennis Keating, Krumholz co-authored “Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods.”

In 2003, Krumholz was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners, which recognized him as “a developer of equity planning, an educator to thousands, and an author who inspired a nation of planners.”

In an October 2019 article, “Bringing equity to the forefront of urban planning,” Benjamin Schneider wrote, “Since Krumholz’s tenure in Cleveland, many of his efforts were rolled back, and few other planners even attempted the depth of reforms he advocated. ‘Our model, after all, asked city planners to be what few public administrators are: activist, risk-taking in style, and redistributive in objective,’ Krumholz wrote. Today, the word equity appears on nearly every urban planning document.”

You can read the full obituary in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer here.