Cover Story

In the East Village of downtown San Diego, California, a new multifamily residential project is 
addressing one of the city’s most significant deficits: affordable permanent housing.  San Diego’s 
homeless population is on the rise, and many families find themselves falling below the average 
median income level.  Meanwhile, rents show no sign of decreasing.  To make a positive impact on 
this issue, the nonprofit Affirmed Housing Group partnered with the San Diego Housing Commission 
to build a permanent supportive housing facility in the East Village.  Architectural, interior design, 
and branding practice Carrier Johnson + CULTURE collaborated with Affirmed Housing and the city to create a design that supports the mission of providing more than just shelter.
The result is Cypress Apartments, which offers on-site services to help formerly homeless residents achieve the stability needed to avoid becoming homeless again in the future.  Affirmed Housing’s previous successes with permanent supportive housing made the nonprofit a valuable collaborator on the design.  Their plan called for single-room occupancy units with rents at or below 40% of the area median income.  The units would need to accommodate residents with a variety of special needs, and with Father Joe's Villages, San Diego's largest residential homeless services provider, managing on-site social services, such as job training and outpatient treatment.
Bringing to bear previous experience with affordable housing projects, Carrier Johnson + CULTURE was able to prepare for certain challenges well in advance of construction.  For example, the team recognized the importance of creating a design for permanent, affordable housing that would be appropriate for, and sensitive to, the context of the East Village neighborhood.  To reflect and enhance the neighborhood’s aesthetic, the façade of Cypress Apartments combines zinc metal paneling alternating with windows, spandrels, concrete, and paneling in bold colors.  The façade design evokes a pixelated digital image that contributes to the East Village milieu of creative, artistic residents, and makes an enjoyable aesthetic contribution to the neighborhood.
The design team faced the difficult challenge of delivering on the client vision for the project on a very small parcel, less than 1/4-acre in size and surrounded by three other buildings in a tight adjacency.  Creativity was required to allow for optimal floor plan efficiency.  Solutions implemented include the distribution of shared common areas across all six floors, increasing access to these amenities for residents.  The design team achieved this programmatic goal while delivering 63 units that range from 275 sq.ft. to 350 sq.ft.
The heart of the project is a 4,000 sq.ft. open public gathering space.  The design of the space is informed by the concept of a tree canopy, an image of shelter against the elements from the natural world.  The space encourages residents and visitors to congregate and interact informally.  The design extends the canopy space visually and conceptually beyond the front entrance to an exterior gathering space sheltered by a cantilevered volume.
Designed to meet standards for LEED® Gold certification, Cypress also includes a number of other amenities for residents, including a shared kitchen, a private courtyard, two private terraces, an exercise room, and a Wi-Fi lounge, all in locations where they will encourage interaction and a sense of community.  The residence also includes offices, meeting rooms, and other support facilities for on-site social services aiming to assist residents in achieving stability and staying sheltered.  
The fusion of affordable rent, comfortable living, and ample social services will help to give many San Diego residents a chance for a new life.
Making Changes
Affordable Housing for the 
Homeless in San Diego, California
by Claudia Escala, RA, LEED AP, principal, Carrier Johnson + CULTURE
Architectural West Magazine
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