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2019 Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition Site Visit – San Antonio Housing Authority, San Antonio, Texas

Students in the four IAH finalist teams explore the vegetated project site along the river. A bridge across the river is visible in the background. On March 6, the four finalist student teams visited SAHA’s project site along the world-famous San Antonio River Walk.

This year’s Innovation in Affordable Housing (IAH) Student Design and Planning Competition generated more interest and visibility than ever before. During the initial phase of the competition, a panel of housing and development professionals selected four finalist teams: the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Maryland at College Park; Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech); and Yale University. These teams must consider the planning context (that is, zoning requirements), local economic conditions, a feasible financing plan, the built environment, and the larger social needs of the community as they create their final development plans for the competition.

The project site for the 2019 competition is located along the world-famous San Antonio River Walk. In 2009, a new section of the River Walk, the Museum Reach, added 1.3 miles of trails and walkways to the attraction. Museum Reach is also the site of a planned housing development from the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) called the Rex that will provide city residents with more affordable housing units and access to tourist hotspots.

Visiting the San Antonio Housing Authority and the Site

SAHA manages more than 27,000 housing units throughout San Antonio through three primary housing programs: 14,000 housing choice voucher (Section 8) dwellings, more than 7,000 mixed-income rental units in 46 communities, and more than 6,000 apartments in 70 public housing communities. The students were impressed with SAHA’s affordable housing portfolio and its role in expanding housing options and empowering residents through support services, for which the agency has received many well-deserved awards and commendations.

Students in the four IAH finalist teams stand in front of a building bearing a sign that says: “SAHA | San Antonio Housing Authority: Opportunity Lives Here.”The four finalist teams participating in the 2019 IAH Student Design and Planning Competition include students from the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Maryland at College Park; Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech); and Yale University.

On March 6, the four finalist student teams visited the site and found that SAHA had presented them with a considerable challenge. According to SAHA, the new Rex development will offer housing options for residents earning a range of incomes, with a focus on serving as workforce housing for families and individuals who reside near the River Walk and other tourist attractions. Because the tourism and service industries drive the local economy, the city’s need for workforce housing has never been greater. One of the teams’ biggest challenges will be to address transportation connectivity. However, as SAHA president and chief executive officer David Nisivoccia emphasized during the site visit, people come first. Anything that is built must consider how San Antonio’s residents are tied to community and cultural traditions. SAHA plans to oversee the construction of approximately 100 new mixed-income units on the 2.58-acre site along with commercial mixed-use space and amenities.

Tim Alcott, real estate and legal services officer at SAHA, explains that the housing authority “placed much thought and consideration [into] the scale and size of the structure and whether it would be suitable given its downtown, urban location along the River Walk, one of the city’s most famous tourist destinations. There are increasing expectations for new developments toward greener and sustainable developments [that] encompass features such as green roofs, greywater systems, environmentally aware materials, and locally sourced plants. There is also an expectation for new developments to focus on fostering community space and interaction with the neighborhood through cafés, pathways to transportation, and a mix of income ranges.”

Integrating the Project into the San Antonio River Walk

The student teams have been tasked with developing plans that comply with specific design criteria. Because the new development is near the River Walk, the students must ensure that it is well integrated into the social and urban fabric of the surrounding community. The existing zoning ordinance allows for the use of form-based codes, which, unlike conventional zoning, emphasizes the relationship between the building and streetscape and the importance of connecting people to place rather than the kinds of uses that are permitted or prohibited.

SAHA has also specified that the new development should consist of a mix of studios and one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units. Each unit should be a self-contained family dwelling that includes bedrooms, kitchen and dining space, living areas, bathrooms, and appropriate storage space. The units should exhibit exceptional environmental performance, including in energy and water use, indoor environmental quality, durability, and resiliency. Finally, the teams are encouraged to incorporate front porches, covered balconies, and similar amenities in their designs that promote passive surveillance and social interaction. The student teams are also strongly encouraged to go beyond physical aspects of the design and offer a compelling vision of how the new development fits the character of the River Walk community.

What’s Next for the 2019 IAH Student Competition?

Now that the four finalist teams have visited the project site, they will revise their plans, paying attention to the environmental, financial, and social criteria associated with the new construction sites. On April 17, the teams will present their revised proposals at HUD Headquarters.

Immediately following the student presentations, the jury will deliberate and decide on this year’s winning and runner-up teams.

The event is open to all interested parties and will be available via webcast. All who wish to attend the IAH Student Competition Awards ceremony on Wednesday, April 17, must register at www.huduser.gov/portal/event/IAH-Final-2019.html.

To learn more about this year’s Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition, please visit www.huduser.gov/portal/challenge/about.html.