Raymond L. Gindroz (Photo Credit: Ray Gindroz)
By Eric Osth
September 20, 2022
The ICAA is proud to announce the inaugural Gindroz Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing this year. The Award was named to honor the work of Ray Gindroz, FAIA, for his over fifty years of work in Affordable and Mixed-Income housing over his career at Urban Design Associates (UDA). As co-founder of UDA, Ray served as Chairman of Urban Design Associates (UDA) and led countless projects focused on transforming public housing into mixed-income neighborhoods. Ray showed significant interest in the policies, governance structure, and physical design years before it was a major issue.
Moving forward, affordable housing is a challenge that faces all cities today. The Gindroz Award is specifically targeted to recognizing organizations and groups that are practicing outstanding work in the Classical and Traditional Architecture. Eric Osth, AIA is the current Chairman of UDA, a Board Member and Fellow of the ICAA, and the Chair of Gindroz Award Panel.
In August of 2022, Eric interviewed Ray to learn more about his interest and passion in this area of practice.
Eric Osth: When did you first begin to get interested in transforming public housing into neighborhoods?
Ray Gindroz: When David Lewis joined the faculty at Carnegie Tech in the early sixties, I was introduced to several discussions in graduate school that had a significant impact on me and my career. The first would be Alvin Schorr's "Slums and Social Insecurity" which demonstrates how the physical form of the city can either make it easier for people to move up in the world or make it much more difficult. That made me look at projects and neighborhoods with three questions:
We also participated in community engagement, which was quite new at the time. Students were required to go out into the community, interview people on the street and participate in regular meetings with the planning committee of local civic leagues.
Obviously, David and I went on to form Urban Design Associates in 1964, and this became a cornerstone of the UDA process. At UDA, we participated in several key projects that shaped our approach and the direction for our practice. Interestingly, the first housing projects were done in rural settings without resident input, so we had no way of understanding ideas or the impact of our project. We began our robust community engagement processes for Public Housing in the 1970s.
One of our first projects of this type had some rowhouse building lining two streets and others on green spaces perpendicular to a main road. We talked to people on their front steps as we walked around. We held several public meetings. We learned that the units facing the street with high porches were the most desired, while the units on the greens were disliked. The residents felt safe on the streets because they were visible from the cars and pedestrians going by. On the greens, they felt isolated and easy targets for criminal and anti-social activity. Our designs added streets and a more walkable urban environment, and this approach led to a transformation of a “project” into a true neighborhood.
EO: When and how did you develop your interest in Mixed-Income housing?
In the early 1990's we began a collaboration with Richard Baron. As a legal aid lawyer early in his career, Richard helped public housing residents organize resident councils and other ways to solve problems in their projects. After a few years, he realized that this was not enough. To reduce concentrations of poverty, it was essential to attract an economically diverse population. This would be impossible without a fundamental change in the built form of the communities.
Richard had begun in St. Louis with a series of developments that mixed public housing units, moderate income units (workforce housing), and market rate or for-sale units. The developments were designed as parts of a neighborhood rather than a project, with the units in house-like buildings, lining tree-lined streets. The physical development was combined with intensive efforts to provide supportive social services, health and educational programs and job training. All of these were remarkably successful and dramatically increased residents’ ability to finish their education, find jobs, and succeed.
Our first collaboration with Richard was a ground-breaking project in Pittsburgh called Crawford Square. Richard Baron commissioned us to design a multi-family, mixed income development at the lower end of the Hill District at edge of Downtown Pittsburgh. It includes public housing, workforce housing, and market rate rentals in a mix of townhouses and small apartment houses with the image of a pair of large single-family homes. It also included for-sale single-family houses on small lots in a similar architecture. It was so successful that additional areas were re-developed which is bringing about a Renaissance for the Hill District.
One of the key characteristics is that there is no difference between the units for different income levels. In fact, they are mixed within buildings and change as new tenants move in. What began as a public housing unit, often is a market rate unit for the next family. The combination of public funding, city investment in infrastructure, foundation grants, federal investment and private investment attracted the interest of Henry Cisneros and ultimately became a model for the HOPE VI program.
EO: How did you play a part in shaping national policies, specifically the Hope VI program?
RG: Our influence was through demonstration of strong urban design principles. David Rice, the head of the Norfolk Regional Housing Authority (NRHA), asked UDA to help find the most effective use of an allocation of HUD funding for renovation of a distressed public housing project called Diggs Town. David did not think the standard use of the funds would do anything to solve the problems of crime, drug gangs, alienation, and poverty. He asked us to redesign the exteriors and the site plan to create a more neighborhood-like community. In the intense resident involvement process, residents said "we would like to have porches so we can see each other, be together so we can come together to solve our community's problems.”
We learned that residents needed places to park their cars within sight of their home, protected yards so they could plant flowers, and the opportunity to sit outside without being the target of gangs. The asked for white windows and porch columns, just like a real neighborhood. The results had a dramatic impact on children's self-image and school performance, employment, and the homeownership program. The design, combined with an effective community policing program, dramatically reduced crime. The police chief once said, "the best crime deterrent is a low fence, flowers in the front yard and porches--criminals decide there are easier places to work."
Porches were the key elements, but porches were not allowed under HUD (Department of Housing & Urban Development) policy at that time. They were considered a "luxury" rather than a necessity for the poor. After Diggs Town was put in place, I was invited to speak at several programs for HUD staff at HUD's headquarters. After the third time I went, a HUD staff person interrupted to tell me that they had changed the policy because of my previous two presentations. The HOPE VI program was just beginning, and I was invited to join discussions about design.
Another area of substantial impact was CNU’s Inner City Task Force. Peter Calthorpe encouraged Henry Cisneros to consider the principles of New Urbanism as a guide for designing HOPE VI projects. In 1996, the Charter of the New Urbanism describing 27 principles for traditional urbanism was created. Henry Cisneros was invited to CNU IV in Charleston to speak and to join the 100+ members of CNU to sign the Charter. In that session, he proposed a collaboration with CNU to provide design advice for the HOPE VI program. The CNU established the Inner City Task force which I Chaired. Our work included: (1) conducting training programs for the HUD officials who would be evaluating proposals for funding, (2) providing design advice to projects that HUD determined needed improvement, (3) publishing guidelines based on the CNU Charter with examples, (4) Presenting programs at the Annual Congresses on HOPE VI, and (5) Publishing guidelines for accessibity and visitability for housing. The task force and Shelley Poticha, the Executive Director of the Congress of the New Urbanism, recruited volunteers from the organization to do this work which continued for many years.
EO: Where did you encounter the most resistance to this approach, both on policy and implementation? What are a few of the lessons you learned?
RG: Richmond Randolph was one of our first projects of this type and remains one of the most ground-breaking projects of its time. Recently, I was able to visit, and it remains a true neighborhood, as we had hoped. The challenges were specifically that the housing "delivery system" was used to dealing with "projects", usually oriented around introverted green spaces. These were standard modern planning designs in which apartment houses or townhouses were grouped around an enclosed green with parking around the perimeter. Our plan for Randolph included the elements of a traditional city: streets, alleys, blocks, houses, front and back yards, all of which was considered radical and impossible to administer. To work through this issue, the housing authority organized a day-long working session with all the city departments and agencies involved. Here is an example: the public works department said the alleys and individual parking on each lot would be way too costly because of the amount of curbing along the alley and around each parking space. Then they remembered that these were "houses" in a neighborhood and not units in a project. There are no requirements for curbs around parking spaces on an individual lot, only for communal parking. All day long, the same thing happened for virtually every aspect of the project. In the end there were no changes to our plan. One of the many lessons we learned is that transformational projects need a process for consensus within city departments, and often our community process is applied to develop the systems that allow us to change paradigms.
Diggs Town, which we just spoke about, was challenged under the same "project"-oriented issues. We were challenged by the specification of wooden columns and the proposal of new streets.
First Ward Charlotte is another. The bureaucratic process was relatively smooth, but there was skepticism about the feasibility of market rate units in an area with 40 years of bad headlines. During the process, we shared examples of high-end New Urbanist projects that eventually won people over. Today, the neighborhood functions beautifully and remains another bright spot in the desirability of Charlotte. We learned that precedents are critical.
In the case of Broadway Crossing, we were met with significant opposition from the adjacent neighborhood which had never allowed public housing within its boundary. The design of UDA’s buildings was therefore critical—it could not look like public housing, and therefore we designed the architecture to fit the context and looks like it belongs in their neighborhood.
One of the most challenging projects was Faubourg Lafitte in New Orleans. This was perhaps the most controversial process since the 1960s. The effort took place one year after the hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in an atmosphere poisoned by HUD's decision to tear down five of their outdated and damaged projects at one time. Housing advocates from around the country, including a national TV series and Historic Preservationists, protested, often violently. It is important to note that these projects were unfortunate prior to the hurricanes, with the only exception being that they were built with brick, which provided a feeling of permanence and quality. Although disruptive, this was an opportunity to right a wrong. During the process, the key factor in building support was the resident leadership who believed life should be better than it had been in the project. Outsiders who objected were countered by residents who lived in the project. Residents were also nervous about "leaving the bricks" for fear they would wind up with nothing. The critical design issue was making a neighborhood of houses, not buildings. "We will be happy to give up the bricks for a house." From there, an often-bureaucratic approval process was easy. We learned once again to trust the UDA process in the development of neighborhoods.
EO: Thank you for the chance to look back on your long and storied career. To me, I have always been impressed that you were always thinking several steps ahead. As we look ahead, what do you see?
Affordable housing, or rather, affordable homes continue to be among the most difficult issues we face now and in the future. I see two general categories of solutions. The first is in the context of large-scale projects with large buildings. These provide good density and can be used to create good urbanism but cannot be made to be affordable without subsidy. They are built by large construction companies whose labor rates and overheads add to the cost. More importantly, multifamily buildings require parking facilities, amenities, and usually involve the rebuilding or expanding existing infrastructure including streets and sidewalks. Since subsidies are provided by one or more levels of government, there is some uncertainty about the permanence of the subsidy. In Virginia, however, tax credit financing is guaranteed for 35 years and can be renewed for another 35 years.
The second is small scale houses, cottages, tiny houses, and "detached apartments", all of which I see you working on at UDA across the US. Buildings of this scale can be built by small scale home builders. The construction costs are lower, and the amenities and infrastructure needs are less onerous. The design challenge is to provide sufficient density to create walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. At UDA, we had been doing the first type of project for a long time, but it is becoming more and more difficult to continue. That means the second type may be the most effective way to proceed with innovative design. Small buildings can be flexible building blocks in creating very dense communities and a series of rich urban spaces.
Pattern books are way of influencing small scale dwellings. In 2007, the ICAA received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to develop “A Pattern Book for Neighborly Houses” for Habitat for Humanity. The grant was funded based on several national research studies that found that people would accept affordable housing in their neighborhood if it fit in. Through our work at UDA, we have found this to be true. This was an important foundation for the Pattern Book: it told us that this was an architectural problem rather than a social one, as it is generally assumed. You and I, with the UDA team, took on the task of developing the book. It was a memorable project and a beautiful document with the potential for national impact. Although it was featured by the national press, it had limited circulation as a print document. Today, we have an opportunity to reach millions with a similar approach and updated typologies in a digital platform. Affordable Housing is a challenge that we can help address, and the ICAA can lead these efforts.
The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) is proud to announce the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara as the inaugural recipient of the Gindroz Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing. This ICAA national award recognizes organizations that have demonstrated excellence in the design and implementation of affordable housing in the classical tradition. The award panel considers the unique challenges of this practice, context, community engagement, social impact, and design in the creation of homes and neighborhoods for all.
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