Monthly Archive: February 2016

Blocked in on Two Sides, a Renovation Opens a Quebec Apartment to Tons of Natural Light

Plywood deck at a Quebec renovation

The new patio space is used as a semi-enclosed yard, allowing for privacy within a comfortable, urban space. The terrace is covered in light gray marine plywood, which is resistant to Quebec’s harsh seasons. The orange Chaise Solaire chair is by Fabio Fabiano and Michelange Panzini. 

Creating a quiet, sun-filled space was foremost in the minds of the owners of this Quebec apartment, located on the ground floor of a 1924 building in the Montcalm neighborhood. They decided to convert the entire level, opening up the space to create a linear living area that crosses the unit from east to west. “The main challenge,” says principal Olivier Bourgeois of Bourgeois Lechasseur Architects, “was to integrate a steel structure to allow the opening of the space.” 

Although the renovation required extensive demolition, the architect made preserving at least some of the apartment’s history a priority. A large, brick common wall was protected, while original wood boards add warmth and dimension to the bedrooms. Natural birch flooring and reclaimed furniture also add historical references, combining with the open layout to create a home that is at once contemporary and timeless. 

Seattle Lines Up Money to Help Business Owners Amid Street Project

Small business owners have seen a drop in customers because of a complete streets project in Seattle.

When the Seattle Department of Transportation wraps up its 4.5-mile, $43 million complete streets project on 23rd Avenue through the heart of the Central District neighborhood, it will be a corridor transformed. The busy four-lane arterial is being repaved and reduced to two travel lanes and a turn lane, and getting new streetlights, widened sidewalks, new traffic signals for transit priority and a new water main. But at least one group of locals fears they won’t be around to see the upgrade by the time it’s completed next summer. A coalition of mostly minority-owned businesses along 23rd Avenue cites a major decline in customers, thanks to all the construction.

“My business is being bankrupt by an effective closure. I had 15 customers yesterday. Vehicle, bus and foot traffic is down to a trickle. This is a full taking. Sales are down 80 percent,” Sara Brereton said at a Feb. 16 city council briefing on the issue. Brereton owns 701 Coffee at the corner of 23rd and Cherry.

She continued, “23rd Avenue people of color-, transgender- and family-owned businesses are sending out an SOS to the council … our businesses are hanging on by a thread.”

It’s likely that every road project in the history of road projects has been met with grumblings from nearby residents and businesses over loss of parking and reduced revenue. SDOT typically offers marketing help and sets out “businesses are open” signs along projects and has done so with 23rd. But, in some ways this project is atypical.

For one, SDOT didn’t follow its own plan to phase construction. When it discovered it needed to redesign the light poles during phase one last summer, SDOT decided to push ahead with phase two rather than put the whole project on hold. As a result, there’s now just one lane of traffic and buses were rerouted around the bulk of the neighborhood’s business strip. Walking along 23rd, it’s easy to see why business would slow. The street is an unwelcoming mess of construction vehicles, materials, orange netting and cones. The asphalt has been ground off the single travel lane, while the rest of the road is down to dirt.

The Central District is Seattle’s historically African-American community. Impacted by pervasive redlining for much of the 20th century, it has followed a classic trajectory of many black and low-income neighborhoods in America. Decades of disinvestment gave way to new, wealthier residents who spurred gentrification and displacement. In the 1970s, 73 percent of the neighborhood was African-American. Today that number is less than 20 percent.

Brereton and a dozen other 23rd Avenue business owners were at the Feb. 16 council briefing to plead for direct financial compensation to keep them afloat. Prior to that, Mayor Ed Murray had committed additional money to help with marketing, but told the businesses the city does not pay mitigation money for construction projects as a matter of policy. The Washington State constitution explicitly prohibits local governments from gifting local tax dollars to private entities.

The one exception to Seattle’s no mitigation money policy is the ongoing waterfront tunnel project. Because businesses had to close down during construction (a process called a “full taking”), the city provided $15 million in mitigation.

Seattle’s policy is in keeping with other U.S. cities. In 2010, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee produced one of the few academic studies of city construction mitigation programs. Of the 33 surveyed, just two cities — Cedar Rapids and Kansas City — offered direct compensation to businesses during construction on a “case-by-case basis and only if the construction project included unexpected street closures or extended well beyond the scheduled end date.” Nine respondent cities offered low-interest loans to businesses during construction.

Central District business owners say the 23rd Avenue project might as well be a full taking. Nop Zay, owner of First Cup Cafe at 23rd and Union, broke into tears as she described her desperation at the council briefing: “This year is the worst year I’ve ever had. I’m drowning with four credit cards. I’m about to go bankrupt. … By my age, I couldn’t find no job. I’m 70 years old. You think somebody would hire me?”

Gerald Hankerson, president of the Seattle-King County NAACP, said he believes the city is intentionally driving out minority businesses.

“The city has orchestrated this plan, in my opinion, to gentrify this community,” Hankerson said. “The intention is for these businesses to be gone for the new CD to come into place … that’s part of this whole strategic plan.”

In response to mounting pressure from the community and the serious allegation from the NAACP, Murray relented on mitigation funds last week. The city has pulled together $400,000 from federal Community Development Block Grants and $250,000 from federal New Markets Tax Credits meant to support local development.

“I’ve gone to 23rd Ave. and inspected the project … it is obvious that the project is having serious impacts on those business,” Murray said at a press conference announcing the mitigation money. “It is obvious they need help.”

The city is still hashing out exact details, but according to its website, “the fund will be focused on assisting micro businesses that have struggled the most during the project, with an emphasis on low-income business owners and those in danger of displacement.” The Murray administration estimates 20 to 30 businesses may qualify for funds. In addition, the city will offer affected entrepreneurs the option to defer payment on utility bills, business permits, signage permits and the city portion of the business and occupation tax.

Murray was clear that this is not an ongoing fund for businesses impacted by construction. “We’re not going to get in a situation of giving limited transportation money to businesses simply because there’s a construction project going on,” he said.

But he did admit a need to better involve the community as the city moves forward on transportation investments. (Thanks to the recently passed $930 million Move Seattle Levy, the city has plans for many new transportation projects down the line.)

“Do you leave neighborhoods that are minority and economically depressed out of infrastructure improvements?” Murray asked rhetorically. “We need to do community development with community input.”

Rebecca Saldaña, executive director of Puget Sound Sage, hopes the city does exactly that. The Seattle-based nonprofit’s environmental, urbanist work centers around social justice and a community development-centered approach.

“It’s so critical that as growth is happening that we’re not erasing the history of racial segregation and also remembering the vibrancy of black community and economy that grew despite community disinvestment to make sure we’re not going to repeat that ugly history,” says Saldaña. “Communities that have been disinvested in must be engaged as we figure out how to develop in a fundamentally inclusive way.”

Shop Houzz: Set Your Table for Easter (103 photos)

Set a lovely table for your Easter celebration with springtime pastels and theme-friendly accessories. Flowers in milk glass vases enliven the table, and wooden crates bring a charming cottage vibe. Whether you’re planning to host an outdoor brunch or a springtime dinner, shop this collection to create…

11 Ways to Go for Baroque (14 photos)

Baroque style hit its ornamental, over-the-top stride in the 17th and 18th centuries, but lately it’s been making its way back into even the most modern of homes. Though less fussy and more minimalist style has reigned for the past few years, today’s designers know that elements of Baroque style like…

Original Storage Ideas Under Stairs

Are you planning to remodel your house or the living space to a new one? Here we come bearing gifts way long before the housewarming party- some ideas to use the space under the stairs. The stairs that take us to the rooftop are also the ones having huge unused space beneath them. When we

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Why Cities Need to Stop the Eviction Cycle

Demonstrators protesting against evictions last year in San Francisco (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

It’s a crowded courtroom in Milwaukee. Arlene pokes her head through the door, and whispers to get the attention of her landlord, Sherrena, sitting in the gallery. Like most people in the courtroom, both are black.

Sherrena steps outside into the hallway, and chastises Arlene by showing her a bill of her own, a tax bill for a condemned property, in the amount of $11,465.67. It is more than Arlene earns in a year. Sherrena goes back inside to wait. Arlene waits outside in the hallway.

The judge eventually hears Arlene’s case, and she admits to being behind on rent. But instead of receiving a formal eviction and ruling, Arlene is told she must pay the back rent, and the judge works out a deal for Arlene to move out before the start of the next month, eight days away (or else the court will hand down a formal eviction). Sherrena is eager to have a new tenant move in on the first of the next month and accepts the deal. She gives Arlene a ride home.

That was December 23, 2008. It was one of several forced relocations Arlene went through in the relatively short time Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond spent living among eight Milwaukee families (some white and some black). His new book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City documents that period.

Historically, eviction has never been as frequent as it is today. In 2013, 1 in 8 poor renting families nationwide was unable to pay all of their rent, and a similar number feared eviction was imminent. In Milwaukee, a city of fewer than 105,000 renter households, landlords formally evict 16,000 adults and children each year. Numbers are similar for Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago and other cities. Since many public housing authorities and private landlords consider past evictions to be a strike against prospective tenants, evicted families end up in substandard housing.

Eviction further negatively impacts school and work for families. Desmond documents how resulting depression can lead to poor work performance and losing one’s job. Children who constantly must change schools fall behind in the classroom.

“Add all that up, and it’s hard not to conclude eviction is a cause, not just a condition of poverty,” says Desmond, who also won a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2015.

In his attempt to understand the unprecedented rise in evictions, Desmond shadowed the two landlords of the families he features in the book.

“To really understand this problem, I had to understand the landlord’s perspective. I had to understand what motivates them. I wanted to understand their business model, why they buy properties, how they decide to evict you and not me,” Desmond says. “Understanding landlords is to understand things in new ways like mechanisms of segregation, the loss of home stability and poverty.”

He rented a room from Sherrena who, in the book, is often accompanied by her husband, business partner and property manager, Quentin. Altogether, Desmond estimates they netted around $120,000 in yearly income from their 36 rental units on the historically black North Side of Milwaukee. Sherrena also ran a credit repair business and a shuttle van business connecting residents to incarcerated loved ones. In one chapter, they had just returned home from a vacation in Jamaica.

“The ‘hood is good. There’s a lot of money there,” Sherrena tells Desmond.

Desmond details how Sherrena’s worst-kept properties yielded her biggest returns. Tenants, fearful of being evicted or of having city officials call child protective services about living conditions, are wary of complaining too much about disrepair. “Tired of a property,” she would let a building default on its mortgage and end up under city control. Defaults don’t hurt her financially because she registers each building as a separate LLC, essentially an anonymous shell company, which she can create easily online through the state of Wisconsin. When the building defaults, only that building defaults. Sherrena moves on.

Matthew Desmond’s new book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

While Desmond shadowed both white and black families, his in-person research and later surveys show that, among Milwaukee renters, 1 in 5 black women reported having been evicted as adults, compared to 1 in 12 Hispanic women and 1 in 15 white women. In a typical month, three-quarters of people in Milwaukee eviction court were black, and of those, three-quarters were women. The total number of black women in eviction court exceeded that of all other groups combined.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women,” Desmond writes. “Poor black men are locked up. Poor black women are locked out.”

Arlene’s first eviction was around 1992, when she was 22, and she figured she had rented 20 houses since turning 18. She had moved about once a year, more than one time because of an eviction. As her court case involving Sherrena demonstrates, many forced relocations don’t get recorded as formal evictions. In Desmond’s research, more than half of forced relocations in Milwaukee were informal evictions that don’t show up. Counting both formal and informal, Desmond estimates 1 in 8 Milwaukeeans experience eviction per year.

Having children doesn’t help — the opposite, in fact. Desmond’s research revealed that having children tripled the odds of a person receiving an eviction judgment, because landlords worried about children causing property damage, attracting police for nuisance complaints, attracting child protective services inspectors or testing positive for lead poisoning, among other reasons.

In Evicted, Desmond calls for some broad policy strokes, including a universal housing voucher program. Under such a program, everyone earning below a certain income level would get a voucher, and there would have to be strict enforcement against source-of-income discrimination of those using a voucher to pay part of their rent. There would also likely be some code enforcement reform and streamlining of inspections, in order to give voucher-holders real options, not just more concentrated poverty.

Desmond also covers legal assistance for tenants in housing court. Some 95 percent of landlords go to court with a lawyer, while 90 percent of tenants go without one. Since FY2014, NYC has increased funding for tenant attorneys in housing court tenfold, to more than $60 million. So far, formal evictions have dropped from 26,857 in 2014 to 21,988 in 2015.

“I think those conversations happening around NYC are very encouraging,” Desmond says. “It’s a potentially high-impact solution that could stem a lot of the fallout from eviction downstream.”

“I’m recommending Evicted to everyone I know. It’s essential reading for anyone who cares about poverty in America,” says NYC Council Member Mark Levine, who has been leading the charge to support legal assistance for tenants. Levine co-introduced a bill last year to establish a legal right to counsel for all low-income tenants in housing court. While 38 co-sponsors have signed on, no hearings have yet been scheduled to move the bill forward.

Evicted goes on sale tomorrow.

shigeru ban integrates concert venue and food hall in réinventer paris proposal

restricted to a height of 25 meters, the design exists in harmony with surrounding buildings, presenting a fully glazed façade to the adjacent street.

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Philadelphia’s Public Spaces Could Get a $500 Million Makeover

Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia’s parks and other public spaces could be getting a huge upgrade in coming years.

Last week, Mayor Jim Kenney revealed details of an initiative to repair and improve parks, recreation centers and libraries in neighborhoods across the city.

The plan — which Kenney is expected to outline in full in his March 3 budget address — would involve the city selling $300 million in bonds, plus securing around another $200 million from state and federal governments and philanthropic foundations over the next few years.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation currently runs on a budget of around $60 million a year, which, according to the Kenney administration, is the lowest of the top 10 cities in the country and well below the national average. Kenney told news site PlanPhilly that many communities don’t have the public spaces they deserve.

“When we have a football league in South Philadelphia where we have suburban people come into our communities and look at what our kids have to play with, and then our kids go out to the suburbs and play in pristinely manicured fields, it makes us feel like second-class citizens, and we’re not,” he said. “I think this investment will give people in every community a sense of equity and fairness, that we care about them and we value them as citizens.”

During his campaign for mayor, Kenney, who took office last month, promised to reach beyond investment in Philly’s Center City and focus on more neighborhoods.

There are already some grants secured to help with the planning stages of the upgrade.

On the market: 1960s midcentury modern property in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA

Sadly we don’t know the name of the architect behind this design. But we know we love what he has done with the 1960s midcentury modern property in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA. A great house in an equally wonderful lakeside setting, located on a three-quarter acre site on Wing Lake. You can see why the […]