September 17, 2019 | 61° F

5 Rutgers graduate students take 1st place in Department of Housing and Urban Development competition

"Beyond the Threshold" plan revamps community in Ohio into affordable, sustainable housing


A team of five Rutgers graduate students, from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, created the "Beyond the Threshold" plan alongside their faculty advisor, Professor Tony Nelessen. (Rutgers Today)

Five Rutgers graduate students recently took first place in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Innovation in Affordable Housing Competition.

The team was comprised of four Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy students, Sharone Small, Chelsea Moore-Ritchie, Christine Winter and Jane Allen, and Kimberly Tryba, a graduate student in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

Their award-winning proposal, “Beyond the Threshold,” would turn an aging public housing development called the Woodhill Homes in Cleveland, Ohio into a community where residents can interact in public spaces and where mothers can watch their children play outside from their kitchen windows, according to Rutgers Today.

Ninety-six percent of the households within the Woodhill Homes community are headed by women, and building the new development in a “U” shape, with green space in the middle, would allow mothers to better watch their children, according to Rutgers Today.

The competing teams were challenged with addressing the social, economic and environmental issues facing the Woodhill Homes. The public housing site is a 478-unit family development operated by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.

Their plan aims to connect the residents with each other and with the neighborhoods around them, according to Rutgers Today. The current development is institutional, without transitions from public to private space.

“Creating a framework that responded to residents’ needs and promoted community, all within a realistic financing structure,” was the most important aspect of their design, Tryba said.

“Beyond the Threshold” calls for turning the existing buildings into residential commons, opening up unused public space, creating front porches, backyards and playgrounds, according to Rutgers Today.

“We proposed teaming up with nearby hospitals, universities and foundations to create a career-development center that would place residents directly in jobs and help the housing authority get low-interest loans for rehabilitating the site,” Small said to Rutgers Today. “We also proposed providing free internet, and our plan would make it easier to walk or bike around the site.”

The plan also proposed making the site more environmentally friendly through more energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, better insulation, passive solar design and more, which would lower residents’ utility bills, according to Rutgers Today.

Tryba said that it is not certain that their proposal, entitled “Beyond the Threshold,” will be implemented.

“It is up to Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority,” she said. “The CEO, Jeffery Patterson, attended the presentation, and he said that they would think about implementing the best ideas from all of the teams.”

The team drew on a variety of existing policy programs for the social services on site, Tryba said. The programs included the Urban Boat Builders in Minnesota, the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, the Global Music Initiative and various trends in planning and community development.

Tryba said their team did research, studied the demographics of the site to tailor the situation to meet the needs of the residents, set priorities and goals based on the competition guidelines, held collaborative planning decisions where the design, policy and finance arms worked together and reached out to industry professionals throughout the creation of their proposal.

They also worked with Professor Tony Nelessen of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, their faculty visor, and followed an extensive revision process, which included presenting before multiple audiences and incorporating their feedback.

“… Sustainable housing is imperative for three reasons,” Tryba said. “On a global scale, more efficient buildings will have a big role to play in reducing energy usage and emissions. This efficiency decreases utility costs, which create more financially viable projects in the long-term. Good sustainable design also makes buildings more pleasant, such as increasing indoor air quality.”

Alexandra DeMatos

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