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Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition

Site Visit to Emerson, New Jersey

Image of over 20 individuals observing and photographing the Peter DeBaun House, partially obscured by shrubs and trees, and surrounding property.
Finalists in the competition visit the project site, including the historic Peter DeBaun House, in Emerson, New Jersey. Image courtesy of HABC (Housing Authority of Bergen County).
HUD’s new Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition (IAH) is off to an exciting start. Launched in January 2014 by the Office of Policy Development and Research, IAH encourages research and innovation in affordable housing and raises future practitioner capacity. Also it fosters cross-discipline teamwork among design, finance, public policy, and planning students, and raises awareness of affordable housing at the university level. The competition encourages multidisciplinary graduate student teams to submit innovative solutions to a real-world affordable housing project involving design, planning, finance, and larger community elements. This year’s two-phase competition is based on a project planned by the Housing Authority of Bergen County (HABC) in New Jersey, PD&R’s competition partner. HABC seeks to create affordable housing for disabled veterans on a 1.5-acre project site while preserving a historic house that has been used as an American Legion headquarter. IAH student proposals must consider design, planning, community development, and financing elements to provide a comprehensive plan that allows HABC to meet its goal. The participants must demonstrate that they understand the needs of the prospective residents, zoning restrictions, and leveraging of financing sources.

A jury of five, including practitioners, planners, and architects, narrowed the submissions down to four finalist teams during its first phase. On March 26, 2014, the finalists traveled to a frigid and blustery Emerson, New Jersey, to visit the project site. The site visit provided a valuable opportunity for students to walk through the site, study its topography, and see the surrounding neighborhood. The historic American Legion building, known as the Peter DeBaun House, served as the students’ headquarters for the day. Students were able to see the building’s historic elements firsthand, including the original house built in 1770, which now serves as the kitchen. During lunch, Amy DeBaun, a descendent of Peter DeBaun, the original owner of the house, described the house’s history and answered students’ questions about its structural details — important information for the teams, who must incorporate the historic preservation and reuse of the building into their final presentations.

Interior image of the Peter DeBaun House, with several seated individuals listening to Rachelle Levitt, Director of the Research Utilization Division of the Office of Policy Development and Research at HUD, standing behind a podium speaking to finalists. The American flag, as well as American Legion flags, are visible in the photo.
During the site visit, Rachelle Levitt, Director of the Research Utilization Division of the Office of Policy Development and Research at HUD, spoke to finalists to help them prepare for the second phase of the competition. Image courtesy of HABC (Housing Authority of Bergen County).
Domingo Senande, executive director of HABC, and Charlotte Vandervalk, director of development of the Housing Development Corporation of Bergen County (HDC), spoke on the project’s broader objectives. American Legion members, many over age 70 and one member in his mid-nineties, were also on hand to answer questions and expressed their delight that their old meeting house would be saved and restored. The enthusiasm and support of the community was infectious and inspiring.

The site visit also served as an opportunity to discuss the second phase of the competition, in which the finalists will be asked to further refine their plans and innovative solutions for the project site. Finalists will present their plans at HUD’s Washington, DC headquarters on May 6, 2014, where the jury will have an opportunity to ask the teams questions and then will deliberate and make its final selection of the winner and runner-up teams. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan will announce the winners at the event.

The public is invited to attend this final competition event either in person or via webcast. More information and registration can be found here.