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The 2023 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition

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The 2023 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition

Alaina Stern, Social Science Analyst, Office of Policy Development & Research
Jacquie Bachand, Social Science Analyst, Office of Policy Development & Research

Group photo with the student teams. Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development of the United States, Adrianne Todman, pictured on stage with student teams during the 2023 IAH Student design and planning competition, during the final presentations and awards ceremony at HUD Headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo credit: HUD photography

This year, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition. HUD congratulates its final four teams: the University of Maryland College Park, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Harvard University, and the University of Texas at Austin (UTA).

Each year, HUD's Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition invites graduate students enrolled in accredited educational institutions in the United States to form multidisciplinary teams to respond to an existing affordable housing design and planning issue. The competition challenges student teams composed of graduate students in architecture, planning and policy, finance, and other areas to address social, economic, environmental, design, financial, and construction issues in addition to the affordable housing design challenge.

The 2023 competition partnered with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to challenge the competitors to create innovative approaches to redeveloping a property with two vacant apartment buildings.

 Aerial view of 420-430 W. North Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Aerial view of the 2023 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition’s project site located at 420-430 W. North Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The property is outlined in the red box and borders N. Hudson Avenue and N. Sedgwick Street. Photo credit: Google Earth

Located on North Avenue in Chicago’s North Side, the site is an underdeveloped parcel in a thriving neighborhood. Maximizing affordability, amenities, and density on this site while ensuring congruity with the surrounding neighborhood and alignment with the city’s Climate Action Plan is a key CHA priority. The student teams were asked to develop design and financial proposals that address the needs of both CHA and the community.

CHA staff, HUD leadership, and students sitting on tour bus.
Group photo with CHA staff, HUD leadership, and students sitting on tour bus on the way to visit and tour CHA owned property.

In March 2023, the four finalist teams traveled to Chicago for a 2-day site visit. They were accompanied by Calvin Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of PD&R’s Office of Research, Evaluation, and Monitoring, and PD&R staff. On March 9, Tracey Scott, CHA’s chief executive officer, welcomed the student teams, and Diane Shelley, administrator for HUD’s Midwest Region, shared her hopes and excitement for the competition’s involvement in Chicago. Students met and engaged with many CHA staff members, including Eric Garrett, the department’s chief property officer, and Nicole Peacock from CHA’s Planning and Strategy team, who presented data on CHA’s programs and services. After lunch, a panel of local housing experts, including Bryan Esenberg, managing deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Housing; Amy Jewel, vice president of programs at Elevate; and Juan Sebastian Arias, first deputy director of policy at City of Chicago’s Office of the Mayor — joined students in a discussion covering various local housing issues and regulatory impacts on affordable housing in Chicago.

Accompanied by CHA staff, students visited the site, which consists of two vacant buildings, three grassy lots, and a handful of designated parking spaces in the rear. On March 10, student teams engaged with several local developers — Josh Wilmoth of Full Circle Communities, Dena Bell of IFF, Vicky Arroyo of The Resurrection Project, Perry Vietti of the Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, and Joy Aruguete of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. — in a moderated panel discussion of affordable housing issues from a developer’s perspective. In the afternoon, Crystal Palmer and Sharon Wheeler from CHA Resident Services described CHA’s resident engagement efforts across its services and programming. The site visit concluded at HUD’s Regional Office in Chicago, where students were invited to meet with HUD staff members.

 A student walking in a courtyard.
A student visiting the site, walking in center courtyard, pictured in front of one of two vacant buildings on the property.

The student teams revised their final presentations over the next several weeks based on information and feedback gathered during the site visit. On April 12 2023, the four finalist student teams presented their projects to a jury of practitioners at HUD Headquarters in Washington, DC. HUD invited staff, special guests, and members of the public to view the live event. Special guest Solomon Greene, principal deputy assistant secretary of PD&R, kicked off the ceremony by congratulating the student participants. Following the welcome and introductory remarks, each of the four finalist student teams delivered a 20-minute presentation describing how their plans respond to the economic, social, financial, and environmental challenges of the site. Following each presentation, teams were given 10 minutes to field questions from a panel of expert jurors from the planning, architecture, finance, and homebuilding industries.

During the intermission, HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman met with the student teams and asked them about their presentations and aspirations. Todman said that the Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition was a HUD event she looks forward to each year, and she expressed how much she enjoyed meeting with the members of the four finalist teams. After the intermission, CHA chief executive officer Scott congratulated the students and stated that she is “always excited to be around young people with young and fresh ideas.…” She asserted that “there is a need for affordable housing, and the need has never been greater. The only way we can do this is to innovate, innovate, and innovate.”

Group photo of the 2023 IAH winning team.
2023 IAH Student Planning and Design Competition Winning Team — Michael Cullen, Emily Etzkorn, Wen Po Hsu, Alexandra Pollock, Bailey Werner — from the University of Chicago Illinois — pictured on stage in the Brooke-Mondale auditorium at HUD with Chicago Housing Authority’s CEO and Representatives, and Solomon J. Greene, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy Development and Research. Photo credit: HUD photography

Image depicting the winning proposal of Garden City.
Garden City, the winning proposal from University of Illinois at Chicago Team.

University of Illinois at Chicago. Team UIC draws on student expertise in four disciplines — planning, city design, architecture, and public health — to imagine affordable housing that responds to the challenges and demands of the past, present, and future. In developing its project concept, Team UIC imagined a future for Chicago in which affordable housing is an asset to both residents and the community.

The members of Team UIC were excited to try their hand at designing and planning a development in their home city and to dive deep into the chosen site’s specific community context. Overall, jurors described Team UIC’s project as well rounded and consistently strong across all project elements; one juror, architect and historian Mina Marefat, found that the team members were able “to balance the needs of the community, the aesthetics of the structure, and the variety of uses that they had for the community.”

Being current residents of Chicago may have proved an advantage for Team UIC. The jurors asked team members what unique elements their local perspective brought to the project. The jurors were impressed by the responses from team members Bailey Werner and Emily Etzhorn, who described how they began their project by “thinking a lot about context” and about what the city’s social and political context (such as the recent mayoral election) meant for the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Framing their project design in this way helped Team UIC determine which opportunities would be most beneficial to public housing residents in Lincoln Park. In a similar vein, juror Jenny Carney, vice president of sustainability, energy, and climate change at WSP, praised Team UIC for “aligning their sustainability strategy with the Chicago Climate Action Plan.” The jurors also found the architecture of Team UIC’s Garden City project to be well designed. In addition, the jurors praised the team for being consistent across all areas of its presentation as well as its ability to balance the aesthetics of the structure with the varied and attractive uses designed to attract the community. Of the four finalists, Team UIC was most successful at addressing community and neighborhood needs.

Team UIC will receive a $20,000 award for its winning proposal.

Image depicting the proposal for Cabbage Patch Commons.
Students from the University of Texas at Austin are this year’s runner-up team for their comprehensive approach, native displacement model, and outstanding presentation on their Cabbage Patch Commons proposal.

University of Texas at Austin. The members of Team UTA share the goal of creating affordable housing that holistically integrates well-being, sustainable design, and human connection. The team envisioned housing as a human right and a foundation for opportunity, and the members incorporated this concept into their proposal by including social and programmatic elements in their design. The team’s Cabbage Patch Commons design creatively responded to real-life challenges and opportunities in the development process, maximizing future residents' access to opportunity while integrating the project into the broader community.

Across the board, the jurors were impressed with the quality of Team UTA’s well-rehearsed presentation. Unlike the other finalists who delivered scripted presentations, team members — Chase Bryan, Jonathan Lee, Natalie Raper, Maria Rubio Figueiredo, and Shaw Valier — presented without using notes. This contrasted with the other finalist teams who presented scripted presentations. Dr. Marefat later described the team’s presentation as “brilliant” and felt that the team’s “greatest asset… was the native displacement model, which was a way of reaching out to the community and wanting to give back native reinvestment of model housing.”

As the runner-up team, Team UTA will receive $10,000 for its proposal.

The two remaining finalist teams — Harvard University and the University of Maryland — will each receive $5,000.

As we conclude another successful year and look forward to the 2024 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition, we reflect on the importance of continuing this effort to expand housing opportunities for all and inspire the next generation of professionals to focus on affordable housing issues.

Watch the recording of the 2023 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Planning and Design Competition Final Presentations and Awards Ceremony here.

The 2024 IAH competition will commence this fall.

Published Date: 25 July 2023

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.