This beautiful neighborhood is defying Section 8 housing stereotypes - take a look
Leanna GarfieldApr 1, 2018, 20:05 IST
Today's stereotypes of what public housing looks like originated four decades ago.
In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration created the Housing Choice Voucher program, also known as Section 8, which provides assistance to low- and moderate-income families to rent affordable housing built by local housing authorities.
You've likely seen some of these 1980s-era apartment buildings - characterized by their boxy shapes and shabby brick facades - which come with a number of negative stereotypes. A 2010 analysis points to five major public concerns around Section 8 units: a lack of maintenance, expectation of crime, disapproval of housing as a handout, reduction of property values, and physical unattractiveness.
A redeveloped public-housing neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin could defy those old attitudes. Called Westlawn Gardens, it features green lawns, a community garden, new sidewalks and stormwater drains, and attractive apartment units with bright exteriors and modern interiors. Milwaukee's housing authority contracted the architecture firms Torti Gallas & Partners and Kindness Architecture & Planning to redesign Westlawn.
The project won a 2018 Excellence Award from the American Planning Association, an organization comprised of urban planners from across the US.
The original Westlawn neighborhood formed in the 1950s as Wisconsin's largest public housing project. Spanning 75 acres, it consisted of 726 barrack-style housing units for 1,800 very-low-income residents.
But between 2009 and 2015, the city received grants totaling $260 million from HUD to redevelop the neighborhood.
Westlawn Gardens now features a mix of apartment buildings, townhouses, and single-family homes, totaling 865 units.
Trees line the streets.
And the city replaced Westlawn's outdated stormwater drains with new ones, making the roads less likely to flood.
The masterplan also includes a 10,000-square-foot pharmacy, 12,500 square feet of retail and coworking space, a community center, and community gardens.
The buildings are certified by LEED, meaning they meet certain energy-efficient standards. Here's the lobby of one of the apartment towers:
The interiors are simple but contemporary.
Westlawn Gardens won the APA prize for its modern design.
"You can't even tell it's public housing," Wendy Shabay, the National Planning Awards' jury vice chair, told Business Insider.
Before the redevelopment, Westlawn was physically and socially secluded from the surrounding higher-income neighborhoods, Shabay said.
She believes that Westlawn's design could be replicable for other cities around the US.
"There are a lot of areas across the country that face similar challenges with public housing," Shabay said. "[At the APA] we're looking at how to better integrate low-income residents into outlying, mixed-income neighborhoods in holistic ways."
Public housing has a long, contentious history in the US.
The aforementioned analysis by J. Rosie Tighe, a professor of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University, suggests the general public's negative view of public housing has historically made it harder for local governments to build it.
Public-housing developments often do not get much funding. This affordable apartment building in New York City has a similar aesthetic to many other Section 8 developments across the US:
Shabay said the redeveloped Westlawn's beautiful design rethinks public-housing architecture.